What Wellness Programs Don’t Do for Workers

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    What Wellness Programs Don’t Do for Workers

    Today, more than 9 in 10 organizations across the globe offer employees at least one kind of wellness benefit, and more than 3 in 5 have dedicated “wellness budgets,” which are expected to expand by 7.8% in the coming years. But are these benefits really what we need to feel healthy, engaged, and supported at work? For all the attention (and money spent) on workplace wellness, the jury is still out on whether these programs are really beneficial to our health. In fact, a recent study suggests that corporate wellness offerings may resonate more with already-healthy employees, and even alienate those who are dealing with health issues in the first place, mental or physical. While there is no one solution to this problem, there are several steps we can take, both as organizations and as individuals, to make work a place of humanity and compassion. With trust at the center of employer-employee relationships, wellness programs can transform from shiny lacquer into authentic elements of an integrated, human system.

    The idea of employee wellness is not new, but it has not always been an $8 billion industry in which employer-subsidized fitness memberships, meditation classes, and catered meals are the norm. In 1864, the Pennsylvania Mine Safety Act was codified into law, promising Pennsylvania mine workers minimal ventilation to help prevent the black lung, and marking the beginning of occupational health legislation in the United States. A few years later, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts put a more proactive plan in motion and became the first state to institute a factory inspection program. By 1891, the federal government had caught on, mandating minimum ventilation requirements in mines across the country, and prohibiting operators from hiring children under the age of 12.

    Since then, particularly in the last 50 years, the conversation about workplace wellness has expanded dramatically as the economy has shifted from the industrial to the digital. Fewer jobs pose everyday threats to workers’ physical health and safety, but chronic stress is a specter that haunts us all. More and more employers are focusing on the importance of mental health; across the globe, mental health issues are the leading cause of disability and illness. And recent research shows that workplace culture is the biggest roadblock employees face in their efforts to feel healthier and happier. Beyond this, refusing to address these issues is expensive. In the U.S., one in five adults suffer from mental health challenges each year, costing companies 200 million lost workdays, along with $200 billion.

    As a result, many American employers are no longer just offering health insurance and complying with safety regulations. They are exploring ways to build supportive environments founded on the idea of “psychological safety” and optimizing employee well-being with a gleaming panoply of benefits often referred to as “wellness programs.” (The colorful play areas, themed conference rooms, and data-driven snack offerings at Google’s global offices come readily to mind.)

    In light of these trends, the consumer wellness industry has pricked up its ears. Many mainstream wellness products and services have shifted their business models, expanding from direct-to-consumer brands into corporate-benefit giants. Headspace for Work sells bundled subscriptions of their popular meditation app to companies worldwide, boasting a simple but important promise to employers: “Happier people. Healthier business.” FitBit Health Solutions is even more explicit: “Business leaders recognize the burden of rising healthcare costs to their companies and their employees.” Then, they offer “the good news” in the form of a sales pitch: “investing in a corporate wellness program…is good business.”

    They’re not wrong. From coal mines to conference rooms, employers’ motivation is simple: keep workers healthy, keep company costs down.

    But just because these programs can be positive for business outcomes doesn’t mean their primary purpose is to improve employees’ daily lives. For prospective hires, five-star Glassdoor reviews mentioning perks like free kale salads and onsite massages stand out like glittering constellations. But for employees, these benefits can feel like a tacit transaction. Ben, a designer and programmer I interviewed who has bipolar disorder, works at a company that offers a vast array of wellness benefits like culinary events (including fresh arepas!) and weekly afternoon yoga. “Company bulletins emphasize that these things are intended to offset work stress, and at the same time obliquely reinforce the idea that work stress is the inherent byproduct of being good at what you do and working hard at it,” he told me. “These things are often pitched as indulgent bribes to make up for the demanding expectations.”

    Today, more than 9 in 10 organizations across the globe offer employees at least one kind of wellness benefit, and more than 3 in 5 have dedicated “wellness budgets,” which are expected to expand by 7.8% in the coming years. But are these benefits really what we need to feel healthy, engaged, and supported at work? Do employers have our best interests in mind, or are they mostly focused on gaining a competitive advantage and protecting their reputations (and in some cases, their bottom line)?

    I am personally not convinced that lunchtime yoga and mason jars of trail mix are the antidote to our global epidemic of workplace stress and burnout. For all the attention (and money spent) on workplace wellness, the jury is still out on whether these programs are really beneficial to our health. A recent study examining over 30,000 employees at a U.S. warehouse found that those exposed to a workplace wellness program reported no significant differences in absenteeism, healthcare spending, or job performance than those who were not — though they did report greater rates of some positive health behaviors, like engaging in regular exercise.

    In fact, another recent study suggests that corporate wellness offerings may resonate more with already-healthy employees, and even alienate those who are dealing with health issues in the first place, mental or physical. Consider that 97% of large American companies (5,000+) offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) to workers seeking support from a mental health professional. Given the climbing prevalence of mental health issues in the U.S., you might assume employees are putting EAP benefits to good use. However, a recent EAP industry trends report shows that only 6.9% of people actually use them.

    This is, in part, due to lack of education about available mental health resources. As a marketing consultant who has worked for an array of health and wellness companies across consumer and corporate markets, including a digital behavioral healthcare company, I know from both sides that it’s easier for companies to promote sexy office perks, like happy hours and kombucha on tap, than the byzantine and bureaucratic world of behavioral healthcare. For people with acute mental health issues, the disproportionate focus on wellness benefits can be, at the best of times, irrelevant, and at the worst of times, a trigger for more pain.

    “The only job I’ve ever had that promoted wellness treated me the worst when I was at my least well,” Lauren, a former chef at a world-renowned retreat center, told me. The center offered employees free access to the gym, discounts on spa treatments, private nutritionist sessions, and catered meals. But mental health leave — of any length — was out of the question. When Lauren, who has bipolar disorder, was hospitalized for three weeks after what she describes as a “mental breakdown,” she was fired for missing too much work.

    Lauren’s story is just one example of what many people experience in the workplace. During my own tenure at a wellness company, while I was dealing with the vestiges of anorexia, the leadership team invited a specialist to our office to talk about the benefits of intermittent fasting. Although I was no longer restricting calories, I was fixated on regaining my discipline, and constantly blamed myself for “giving in” to my hunger. As I listened to the speaker, I felt shame. My deepest insecurities were validated, and I starved myself the rest of the day.

    Looking back, I understand the company considered this access to a health expert a real privilege. Even at the time, I understood. Still, employees — like myself, like Lauren, Ben, and so many others — need support, not dogma, when they are most vulnerable.

    While there is no one solution to this problem, there are several steps we can take, both as organizations and as individuals, to make work a place of humanity and compassion where individuals can bring and accept their full selves, mental health challenges and all. With trust at the center of employer-employee relationships, wellness programs can transform from shiny lacquer into authentic elements of an integrated, human system.

    Many organizations rely on rhetoric to establish and encourage “Team Values,” whether through all-hands meetings, or company-wide emails and events. While it’s generally positive that more employers are talking about mental health at work, declaring its importance is not enough to make people feel safe opening up about their struggles, nor does it educate them on who they can talk to, how they can ask for help, and what resources are available to them. Likewise, it doesn’t prepare leaders for how to have those conversations should an employee choose to confide in them.

    Through mental health education, companies can teach employees at every level how to build the vocabulary that is necessary to seek and offer emotional support. Investing in these kinds of initiatives also shows, as an organization, a collective willingness to change and grow in order to better support employees’ needs.

    “Leaders can say that they value mental health because maybe they really do want to value it,” said Dr. Monica Worline, a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. “But they often don’t know what to do other than saying that, so it can seem like they’re just giving it lip-service.”

    “Talking the talk” without “walking the walk” is a likely byproduct of ignorance, even for those with the best intentions. Ignorance not only perpetuates a broader societal stigma about mental health, it also creates a culture in which leaders and employees feel ill-equipped to support, and even identify, emotional distress.

    Structurally, flexible policies and benefits can give employees the freedom to make independent choices that foster their mental health. In their research, Dr. Worline and her colleague, Dr. Jane Dutton, professor of business and psychology at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, have found that employees’ performance and well-being thrive in environments with flexibility around where and when work can happen. “These environments allow employees to adapt to their circumstances — whether around mental health or any other challenges happening in their lives,” Dr. Dutton told me.

    While allocated sick days and bereavement policies are common, most workplaces don’t make it easy for employees to access paid (and even unpaid) leave. “Accessibility is really important because it gives people the room they need to manage significant mental health challenges,” said Dr. Worline. To make sure all employees are aware of their benefits, managers and HR professionals need to prioritize making these policies visible and clear. Beyond this, organizations can show their support by sharing stories about those who use them. According to Dr. Dutton, doing so lets others know it’s safe to do the same.

    This may seem excessively simple. After all, connecting with others doesn’t require updates to the policy handbook, nor does it produce valuable data for corporate benefit vendors.

    Yet compassion at work brings “results” — for individual well-being and business outcomes. Research shows that when leaders encourage vulnerability and cultivate compassion at work, they enhance positive feelings and trust among workers — and that trust in leaders not only improves worker performance, it also helps employees feel safe opening up to their managers about personal challenges. A culture like this encourages workers “to bring their full assets and gifts to work as well as their foibles, weaknesses, and inevitable vulnerabilities,” said Dr. Dutton.

    Further, employees who work in compassionate environments are shown to be more innovative and adaptable, delivering higher-quality and more consistent work. In the longer term, compassion has been shown to help organizations attract and retain its most talented workers. It’s a win-win, both in terms of employees’ mental health and organizational success. 

    A simple (but not always easy) way leaders can strengthen their compassion muscles and develop greater trust among team members is by exposing their own vulnerability on occasion. Sociologist Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent her academic career studying human connection, explains that vulnerability involves uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. For leaders, vulnerability may mean opening up about a personal challenge, taking responsibility for something gone wrong, or reaching out to a team member who seems like they are struggling without trying to change or solve the issue. If managers are more open about taking mental health days, for instance, then the rest of their teams will feel empowered to do the same.

    The more employees are able to regard their managers (and each other) as vulnerable, the more work can become a place of humanity.

    For employees, offering “help” and “support” to peers may actually be simpler than it sounds. Compassion is not a science, but an ongoing experiment. It is “interpersonal work,” according to Dr. Worline, who enumerated several ways we can all practice what psychologists call “holding space” for those we see experiencing emotional distress — at work and beyond:

    The stigma — around mental health and vulnerability more broadly — is not going to be solved simply through better data, nor can it be overcome through an array of shiny amenities. We must learn to accommodate people who are dealing with challenges that are often invisible, undefined, and very difficult to talk about. We must show them that we care and, at the very least, are trying to understand. While I remain skeptical about the economic underpinnings of workplace wellness, I do believe organizations can and should continue to support employees in this way. My argument is not that employers should stop investing money and time in team spin classes and gluten free snacks — but they must recognize that these benefits are nice-to-haves, not must-haves. The rhythm of capitalism may be indifferent to fluctuations in human well-being and productivity. But as humans, we are not.

    Whether we’re the CEO or an intern, we are all wired to care, to recognize that emotions are not problems to fix, but questions to explore and challenges to strengthen us. With that exploration and strength comes resilience, patience, curiosity. This is more than a benefit or a perk — this is the real work of being human.

    Charlotte Lieberman is a New York-based writer, editor, and content consultant. You can find her work in The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review, Marie Claire, and Guernica, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter @clieberwoman.

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    Who Watches Neighborhood Watch Programs?

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    Who Watches Neighborhood Watch Programs?

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    Boris the Burglar may not be a household name, but his face has been plastered across cities, towns and suburbs throughout the U.S. since the early 1970s. And if you’ve ever wandered around a neighborhood marked with orange-and-white signs bearing the image of a man dressed like a villain out of a 1950s noir film, then you’ve seen him too. These signs are often labeled with the words “NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH.”

    But just what, exactly, are neighborhood watch programs? Following an increase in crime in the late 1960s, the National Neighborhood Watch Program was established in 1972 under the umbrella of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), according to the National Neighborhood Watch’s website. The organization established guidelines so that local neighborhood watch groups could register with the National Neighborhood Watch and properly set up programs in communities across America.

    Although neighborhood watch programs originally started in order to respond more effectively to burglaries, the concept of neighborhood watch has evolved over time so that local residents serve as the ‘eyes and ears‘ of law enforcement by keeping a watch out for suspicious behavior in their neighborhood and reporting potential criminal activity to police.

    “The general concept was that the police cannot be everywhere. So if you can keep an eye on your neighborhood and report what you see to the police and report to your neighbors, then it becomes beneficial to law enforcement,” says John Thompson, a retired law enforcement officer and the former Deputy Executive Director of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

    According to the National Neighborhood Watch’s website, the concept of neighborhood watch stems from the Chicago School of social disorganization theory, which links high crime to specific neighborhoods that have weak social structures and little community control. Neighborhood watch groups theoretically step up to provide that community control. However, the concept of ordinary citizens serving as ‘eyes and ears’ of the police has also been criticized by advocacy groups for failing to create meaningful trust between neighbors.

    The mandate of the National Neighborhood Watch shifted slightly in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when the NSA received a grant from the Department of Justice to rebrand the organization as USAonWatch in order for residents to share information regarding homeland security concerns. But when that grant ran out, National Neighborhood Watch returned to its roots of dealing with community-specific crime, Thompson says.

    It’s not entirely uncommon to see reports in local newspapers of neighborhood watch groups that have helped police apprehend suspects, as in the case of this woman who was believed to have stolen an RV in Franklin County, Missouri. But could neighborhood watch groups be helpful in not only reporting and solving crime, but also preventing it from happening? A paper published in 2006 found that 15 out of 18 studies on neighborhood watch groups showed some evidence that neighborhood watch groups reduce crime. Proponents of neighborhood watch also argue that their groups prevent crime. The first line of deterrence starts with the classic neighborhood watch signs.

    “You’re walking through the neighborhood, and … you get to a gate, and it’s got a big sign that says ‘beware of dog.’ Are you going to go into the gate? I wouldn’t,” says Thompson. “So, yes, the signs are a deterrent — bottom line. If I was going to break into a house, why would I break into a house in a community where I know people are watching?”

    So how exactly are neighborhood watch groups organized? Traditionally, neighborhood watch groups would recruit members and schedule meetings in conjunction with local law enforcement to discuss community concerns. A well-structured group might have a law enforcement liaison, a group coordinator and block captains to supervise the program on each neighborhood block. Some might even conduct neighborhood patrols and hand out information on crime prevention to their neighbors. Some communities organize larger oversight bodies beyond individual neighborhoods, such as the Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade County. You can find more information on organizing neighborhood watch groups in the official training manual.

    But in reality, the organization of each neighborhood watch group depends entirely on the needs and expectations of the specific community. Some groups might be focused more on community beautification efforts like removing graffiti, whereas others might be concerned with more serious concerns like drug-related violence or homelessness. Others might be concerned with organizing responses to natural disasters.

    “I don’t have any personal recommendations, because I don’t think there is a one-size fits all [solution]. In my neighborhood, what we need to do may be totally different [than] what you do in your neighborhood,” says Thompson. “So it can be from something as simple as people sharing [information] to a fully blown organization.”

    Although the National Neighborhood Watch organization offers training and resources, they don’t have the means to provide oversight of each of the thousands of registered groups — not to mention the countless, loosely organized crime watch groups that aren’t registered with the organization, which may be operating under their own informal principles. This lack of oversight has spurred concerns over the years that some residents are taking the law into their own hands through vigilante methods, instead of allowing trained law enforcement officials to handle crime situations, as the National Neighborhood Watch advises.

    “Let me just say that neighborhood watch pops up all over the place. It doesn’t mean they follow our guidelines and the things we tell them they should do,” says Thompson. “Now, a lot of people just say, oh, we’re a neighborhood watch. And they turn into a vigilante group. Well you can’t control that. But that’s not sanctioned by anybody. It’s not recommended.”

    The most infamous example of such vigilantism is the case of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Sanford, Florida in 2012. Zimmerman was reportedly a volunteer in a neighborhood watch group, though Thompson maintains that Zimmerman’s group was not registered with the National Neighborhood Watch through the NSA.

    According to the National Neighborhood Watch, there are more than 28,000 neighborhood watch groups currently registered through their website, though not all of them may be active. But increasingly, neighborhood watch groups are shifting to the digital sphere in the form of informal group texts, Facebook pages, as well as social networking platforms like Nextdoor. Corporations like Ring — a home security system owned by Amazon — are also partnering with law enforcement and neighborhood watch groups to solve crime. Are these online methods degrading the purpose of formal neighborhood watch groups? Not really, says Thompson. It’s just the reality of crime prevention in the age of social media.

    “I don’t think fewer people are involved [in neighborhood watch].” I think it’s evolved and it’s changing,” says Thompson. “But people are still participating. It’s just not formalized.”

    So what should you do if you’re interested in starting your own neighborhood watch group? Thompson says the first thing you should do is head to the National Neighborhood Watch website and register your group. You’ll also get access to resources to assist you in forming your own group, like this training manual. You can also locate existing groups in your area.

    And neighborhood watch programs aren’t just a thing in the U.S. They’re in pockets across the globe, from the U.K. to Australia to the Netherlands. So wherever you live, you might find a neighborhood watch group in your own community.


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    If Your U.S. Money Gets Shredded, You’re Not SOL

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    If Your U.S. Money Gets Shredded, You’re Not SOL

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    So, you got a little forgetful and left your day planner with tickets to a baseball game and $200 cash on the roof of your car. And that day planner just happened to fall off at a railroad crossing.

    Everything got mangled when the 4:05 freight train went barreling through the crossing. The baseball tickets are gone, the planner is a lost cause and all that’s left of the cash is a chewed up $20. You can’t possibly use it can you? Or can you?

    Actually, most damaged U.S. cash — whether it’s shredded by a train, damaged in a flood or even if your dog eats it — the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) has you covered through its Mutilated Currency Redemption Service.

    But it takes a lot for a bank note to be considered “mutilated.” Bills that are dirty, limp, defaced, torn or “clearly more than one-half the original note” don’t go far enough. The BEP defines mutilated currency as bills that have been “severely damaged — to the extent that its value is questionable or security features are missing.”

    That means if the $20 bill from our railroad example is simply torn it’s no problem. Get out the tape and spend away.

    But, let’s say you find a cache of cash buried in your yard (I mean, this happens all the time, right?). The bills have deteriorated to the point that security features such as watermarks, color-shifting ink, security thread or 3D security ribbon are no longer visible or destroyed. Now things are a little more complicated.

    In cases like this (again, this happens all the time, right?), you’d have to submit what’s called a mutilated currency claim to the BEP. It’s basically a letter describing how the currency got damaged. You’d include its estimated value and other contact information, including your banking information.

    You’d also need to send the money to the BEP where they’ll exam it. This process can take anywhere from six months to three years depending on how complicated the case and how damaged the currency.

    The Treasury Department has guidelines on its website about how you’d package up the cash for shipping. But in general, you need to send it in the exact same condition you found it. If the currency was flat, keep it that way; if it was in a roll, don’t try to straighten it. (One caveat: Defaced coins shouldn’t be sent with currency. They go to the U.S. Mint for evaluation and aren’t redeemable for cash value; only the value of the metal.)

    So how much can you get back for your damaged cash? That depends on what the BEP examiner finds.

    Treasury Department regulations state that U.S. currency can be exchanged for full value if more than 50 percent of the bill is identifiable as U.S. currency, and enough of any relevant security features remain. OR if 50 percent or less of a bill is present and Treasury examiners are convinced that the missing portions have been destroyed. Basically, that means, you should receive the full amount if what you’ve turned in is recognizable as cold, hard American cash.


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    Botanigard Maxx 1 Gallon Beauveria bassiana

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    Botanigard Maxx 1 Gallon Beauveria bassiana

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    How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief at Work

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    How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief at Work

    Publication Date: August 14, 2019

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    How to Take a Productive Yet Refreshing Vacation

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    How to Take a Productive Yet Refreshing Vacation

    Publication Date: June 04, 2015

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    How to Take a Productive Yet Refreshing Vacation

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    How to Take a Month Off

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    How to Take a Month Off

    It’s an elusive dream twinkling in executives’ eyes: what if I could take an entire month off? The lure is obvious: the chance to truly unwind, to recharge your creativity, and to visit faraway places you can’t reach on a week-long jaunt. For many Americans, especially, it’s just not possible because of draconian vacation policies (my first job out of college gave me two weeks a year, which I had to “earn” over time, so I virtually couldn’t take any time off for an entire year). But for others — those with more generous employers, longtime employees who have saved up their days, or entrepreneurs calling their own shots — the hesitation is internal: What would happen to my business while I’m gone? Wouldn’t I alienate my clients? What if there’s an emergency? How can I afford to be gone that long?

    Those were my excuses, too, and the reason my longest vacation since the end of graduate school — well over a decade ago — had only lasted ten days. But last fall, I changed all that and spent a month traveling around India with my girlfriend. No question: my “mega break” entailed sacrifices and a lot of planning. But it also afforded me an opportunity few of my countrymen get to experience: seeing Mumbai firsthand, from its gilded corporate headquarters to its slums, and traveling throughout the less-visited southern part of the country. In fact, it was a cool enough experience that I’m planning to do it again — and perhaps you should consider it, too. Here’s what I learned about how to take a month off:

    Plan far in advance. When most people say that taking a month off just isn’t possible, they’re telling the truth: it’s not feasible in the immediate future. There are too many work commitments and other obligations to fulfill. But all that drops away if you’re planning really far in advance. I informed my clients nearly a year out that I’d be taking a month off in Fall 2011 — a time so remote, it probably didn’t seem real to them. By the time September rolled around, they were twitchy at the thought that I’d be gone soon — but they’d already agreed to it, and I hustled to get everything completed for them before I left. You’ll want to think about your work obligations (can someone else cover for you?), your social media (I scheduled an entire month’s worth of tweets on Hootsuite to cover me while I was away), and pet/house care (through social media, I found a retired meteorologist from Virginia who wanted to explore New England and offered to stay at my place).

    Decide how reachable you want to be. This is a crucial question to decide early on. It’s not much of a vacation if your clients are pinging you every day — but how far do you want to go in the other direction? Will you check email or voicemail at all while you’re gone? Sometimes it’s a matter of logistics — my cellphone worked almost everywhere in India, but that won’t be the case if you’re trekking through the Amazon. I warned my clients I’d be completely off the grid, but did end up checking email about every four to five days, depending on whether our hotel offered easy access.

    You’re going to lose money — deal with it. This is perhaps the most painful part. Everyone knows trips are expensive; the airfare alone to India costs over $1,000. But, given human psychology and our innate aversion to loss, the really tough stuff is the earnings you forfeit. I was working with two retainer clients that fall; by taking the month off, I shrugged off $20,000 that would have otherwise been in my pocket. A speaking engagement in New York would have netted me thousands more; I referred it to colleagues. But if money’s your entire frame, let’s face it: you’d never go anywhere because it’s a lot more cost effective to stay home and work. It’s bitter medicine, but if you truly believe that life is about experience, you’ll have to swallow.

    Give yourself permission to wander. I thought I might have time during my travels to write up a new book proposal. Didn’t happen. I thought I might pen a few blogs about my experiences on the road. That didn’t happen either. In fact, it was all I could do to check Facebook now and again. But in my month of travel, I read a dozen books about Indian history and culture, business, and sociology — fuel for an entire new wave of ideas. Two days after I returned to the States, I sat down and penned what turned out to be my most popular blog post ever for HBR. Often, innovation and creativity don’t follow a linear path (as I discuss in an interview with fellow HBR blogger Michael Schrage). You may not accomplish what you explicitly set out to do — but what you see, read, and learn will make your ultimate work richer.

    So — are you ready to take a month off? What’s necessary to make it happen? And where are you going?

    Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You, and Stand Out. You can receive her free Recognized Expert self-assessment.

     

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    How Fish and Chips Became England’s National Dish

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    How Fish and Chips Became England’s National Dish

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    The irresistible combination of a thick hunk of battered cod resting atop a mound of steaming hot chips (known as french fries in America) is the quintessential British comfort food. Whether eaten on a plastic lap tray in front of the “telly,” or gobbled down from a makeshift paper cone on the way home from the pub, a meal of fish and chips is like a serving of deep-fried nostalgia with a sprinkling of salt and vinegar.

    At the dish’s peak popularity in the late 1920s, there were 35,000 fish and chip shops in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Today, there are still 10,500 “chippies” in the U.K. serving 360 million meals of fish and chips every year, the equivalent of six servings of fish and chips for every British man, woman and child.

    The golden-fried combo is so deeply entrenched in British culture that it’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a fish and chip shop in every neighborhood. But travel back a mere 200 years and you’d be hard-pressed to find fried fish or chipped potatoes anywhere in the British Isles. The delicious duo came together in the mid-19th century thanks in large part to the culinary contributions of immigrants.

    The practice of breading and frying fish is credited to Jewish communities originally living in Spain and Portugal. Known as Sephardic Jews, the Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula thrived there since the eighth century, much of it under Moorish Muslim rule.

    The situation changed dramatically in the 15th century. First, the Spanish Inquisition outlawed Judaism, sending Spanish Jews fleeing to neighboring Portugal. Then, in 1496, the Portuguese King Manuel I married Isabella of Spain, who insisted on the conversion or expulsion of Jews from Portugal, too.

    Some Jews chose to remain in Spain and Portugal, many of them feigning conversion but living in secret as “crypto-Jews.” But others chose to flee to other parts of Europe where they could live their religion freely. And wherever the Sephardic Jews traveled, they brought their rich culinary traditions.

    Cooking is not allowed on the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), which begins on sundown Friday night and ends on sundown Saturday. So Sephardic Jewish families would prepare food on Friday afternoon that would last the next 24 hours. Fried fish, lightly battered with flour or matzo meal, tasted just as good a day later.

    According to the author and food enthusiast Simon Majumdar, Jewish immigrants to England took to selling fried fish in the streets from trays hung from their necks by leather straps. As early as 1781, a British cookbook author refers to “The Jews’ way of preserving salmon and all sorts of fish,” and Thomas Jefferson, after a visit to England, wrote about sampling “Fried fish in the Jewish fashion.”

    Even today, some hints of the Jewish origins of British fried fish remain. The sign hanging above Booba’s Fish and Chips outside of London advertises “Matzo Meal, Batter, Grilled.”

    But it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that Jewish-style fried fish fully made the cultural transfer from the streets of East London to the broader British populace. And for that, says historian Panikos Panayi, you can thank the railroad.

    “For people without historical perspective, the internet is revolutionary, but the railway changes everything,” says Panayi, author of “Fish and Chips: a History.” “Now you can transport fresh fish from the sea to anywhere in Great Britain within a few hours. That’s when fried fish really takes off.”

    Nobody is entirely sure how fried potatoes became a staple part of the European diet. We do know that it took a really long time for fried potatoes — or potatoes of any kind — to make their way to England. The exotic tubers, first brought to Europe by South American explorers in the 1500s, were considered inedible for centuries.

    In Belgium, the story is that fried potatoes also originated in Spain in the 16th century and were brought north to a region called the Spanish Netherlands, which is near modern-day Belgium. There, in the 17th-century, fisherman who struck out at sea would carve potatoes into fish shapes and fry them up for a stand-in supper.

    Payani wasn’t able to pinpoint the precise arrival of fried potatoes to England, but it was definitely much later than the Belgian accounts. He believes that frying potatoes didn’t really take off in Great Britain until the 1860s, which is right around the time that we see the very first fish and chips shops.

    So when exactly did these two fried friends get together?

    There are competing claims for being the first British fish and chip shop. A Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malins is believed to have opened his chippy in the London neighborhood of Bow in 1860 after selling the classic combo in the streets for years. And up north near Manchester, the fish and chip stand owned by John Lees in the town of Mossley was already doing brisk business by 1863.

    Panayi says that by 1900 fish and chips were a staple food in the U.K. Their widespread appeal was about cost and convenience as much as flavor. The advent of industrial-scale trawl fishing in the North Sea meant inexpensive fresh fish could be sent by rail to all corners of Great Britain to feed hungry factory workers and their families.

    By 1910, there were 25,000 fish and chip shops in the U.K., and they even stayed open during World War I. In an effort to boost morale at home, Prime Minister David Lloyd George made sure that fish and chips stayed off the ration list. The same practice was observed during World War II, when Winston Churchill famously referred to a hot meal of fish and chips as “the good companions.”

    According to the National Federation of Fish Friers (yup, that’s a thing), British soldiers storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day would identify each other by yelling out “Fish!” and waiting for the barely coded response, “Chips!”

    In the modern, multicultural U.K., there is plenty of competition for the “national dish” — chicken tikka masala makes a strong claim — but London-born Panayi says that fish and chips is “still regarded as a culinary symbol of Britishness.”

    Some chippy traditions have changed over the years. For example, during the war years, paper rations meant that fish and chips were served in cones of yesterday’s newspaper. That practice went out of favor in the 1980s. And traditionally, fish and chips were accompanied by salt and malt vinegar, but younger generations have turned to curry sauce and even ketchup.

    “I wouldn’t dream of doing that,” says Panayi of the American fast-food condiment.

    In Northern England, the classic side dish at the chippy is mushy peas, a gray-green concoction of well-boiled field peas that tastes much better than it looks. And any chippy worth its salt will throw in a sprinkling of “scraps” for customers savvy enough to ask. Those, of course, are the crispy bits of loose batter floating around in the fryer.


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    Thomas Stone National Historic Site

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    Thomas Stone National Historic Site

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    Habre-de-Venture, a 1771 Georgian mansion near Port Tobacco, Maryland, was the home of Thomas Stone, a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is now known as the Thomas Stone National Historic Site.

    In 1775, Stone became a Maryland representative in the Second Continental Congress, which was meeting in Philadelphia. His legal knowledge and writing skills made him a valuable member of the Congressional committee that completed the first draft of the Articles of Confederation in 1776. Though he is a little-known political figure in history today, Stone was important to the development of Maryland and the United States.

    Stone’s Habre-de-Venture plantation was made a national historic site in 1978, one year after fire swept through the main block of the house. The National Park Service restored the house to its late-nineteenth-century appearance, opening its doors to the public in 1997.

    Habre-de-Venture is a five-part colonial plantation house; two hyphens connect the central block of the house to its east and west wings. The wings of most five-part houses extend in a straight line, but the wings at the Thomas Stone House form a graceful arc.

    Thomas Stone National Historic Site Information
    Address: 6655 Rose Hill Rd., Port Tobacco, MD
    Telephone: 301/392-1776
    Hours of Operation:

    Admission: Free

    Learn more about these other national historic sites:­

    Saint-
    Gaudens National Historic Site

    ­

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

    Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.


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    Top 5 Most Extreme Bungee Jumping Destinations

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    “Hey John, you wanna go bungee jumping?”

    My colleague Dave had a way of making me do things I didn’t want to do. We worked on the same newspaper nearly 20 years ago. He was the most talented photographer the paper had. We spent countless hours chasing fires, criminals and covering prison riots. Dave was always in search of the perfect photo. I was always in search of a page 1 story.

    At first, I hesitated. “All right,” I finally said. It would be a nice afternoon away from the office. My Sunday editor loved the idea. Dave and I were off.

    Driving up to the site, I noticed the 200-foot (61-meter) crane in the distance. It was framed by the gently sloping foothills of the Catskill Mountains. The sun was bright, the air was warm. A nice day to die, I told myself. Underneath the crane was a pond of questionable depth. “If the fall doesn’t kill me, the water will,” I nervously said. “I don’t know how to swim.”

    Dave laughed and readied his equipment. I grimaced and confessed my sins. I asked the owner of the site dozens of questions about the ability of the bungee cords to hold a falling mass of human sinew. He assured me all was well. He then tried to school me in the best way to fall — call it Gravity 101. My attention, however, was focused on the crane, the tall, tall crane. He mentioned something about a swan dive. I knew nothing about diving and less about swans. What I did know was swans don’t actually dive. They just dip their skinny necks into the water. I didn’t want my skinny neck getting anywhere near the water.

    If nothing else, I’m trooper. With the bungee cords securely fastened to my ankles, I jumped. Forget the swan. I plummeted through the air like an off-course Soviet space capsule. Feet first, head last, my eyes shut tighter than a bank vault. Eventually, the cord reached its limit. I felt a snap. Then a jolt. Then I took the Lord’s name in vain. I opened my eyes. The world went upside down. I went head over heels. My feet ended up where my eyeballs should have been. “Dude,” I’ll never forget the instructor saying. “I do that when I really want to get a rush.”

    Dave laughed like he was watching a Three Stooges movie. Then it was his turn. With camera in hand, Dave, who passed away in 2009, dived like a swan, hands outstretched his camera at the right angle. He snapped away. The photograph was incredible. He framed his face in a miasma of wind and joy. Dave was actually enjoying this. In the distance was the top of the crane, its umbilical cord suspended in air. We laughed for days. That was my first, and last, attempt at bungee jumping. Read on to find out the top bungee jumping sites in the world. I can guarantee you won’t be seeing me at any of these locations.


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