Lets Focus on Human Engagement in the Workplace


Before I launched Cooleaf with my amazing co-founders, we all spent a lot of time in the corporate world.

Here’s the thing. I had autonomy. I had focus. I really enjoyed driving forward many of the business initiatives that I was involved with in my prior roles. And guess what? While I wasn’t focused on bringing clean water to the 3rd world or saving the rainforest, I believed deeply that many of the products I was helping to launch would have a tangible and meaningful impact on their respective industries.

But there was something vastly different from my position at a company in New York City versus a job that I held with a large healthcare IT company in Atlanta.

In New York, I had an opportunity to really get to know my colleagues on a personal level. We spent time hanging out. We became friends and did a lot of fun things together on our own or as a team. On the other hand, in the corporate job in Atlanta, I didn’t know anyone. I had extremely limited opportunities to get to know anyone.  People came into their cubes and offices and kept to themselves. Yet, my creativity was being exercised every day, I had autonomy, and I had great visibility to decision-makers in the organization.

I’m not a complete extrovert but certainly not an introvert either. For me, even with autonomy, creative thinking capabilities, and projects that were meaningful, these two positions couldn’t have been more different in my mind.

For me, it was a matter of relationships.

Relationships matter. In a massive study by George Vaillant (that follows a cohort of Harvard graduates throughout their life), there is one factor that stands above all others in determining life satisfaction. That factor? Relationships and connection to others.

Along with my co-founders, we believe that isolation runs rampant in the corporate world.  But this isn’t just our hunch.  Recent Gallup research revealed that only 18% of people work for companies that provide enough opportunities to develop friendships on the job.  What about existing solutions? Enterprise “social” (quotes are mine) networks have failed (for the majority of organizations) at alleviating this pain. It’s time for a new approach.

It’s time for people to feel like joining a company means they have joined a community. Guess what? You already have something in common with the folks at that company (you both work there). But I’ll bet you didn’t know that you probably have a lot more in common with many of the folks at your company than you thought.

Enjoy mountain biking? Did you know that guy in Finance one floor below you lives 5 blocks from you and is a huge fan of mountain biking as well? Are you a film buff? There is a woman sitting five cubes away that knows just as much about film as you do and you’ve never spoken to her.  We need to change these scenarios. You spend the vast majority of your adult life working yet many of us hardly know anything about the human side of those around us in the workplace.

Here’s the kicker.  There is an important business reason to focus on friendships.  People with close friends at work are 7 times more likely to be engaged at their job (Gallup).  Engaged employees are more productive and produce superior business results for their organizations.

If existing solutions fail at this approach, we need to change the way we approach the problem. We need to get people out of their shells. We need to make everyone (including leadership) vulnerable and sharing more about themselves to everyone inside their workplace community. We need to expose the human side of the people inside of an organization and get them to feel like they really belong to a community of like-minded people. Our approach at Cooleaf (with clients and for us internally as a team) is based in this philosophy and we believe it to the core. 

We believe that if you can tackle relationships and friendships then you will be making a significant step in tackling the problem of disengagement. Of course, you must look at ways to increase autonomy, mastery, purpose. But without community (rooted in friendship and connection), you will only get part of the way to the goal of being (in the words of Josh Bersin): “An Irresistible Company”.


The Key to Effective Team Building Activities


atltechvillage rockclimbingThe concept of ‘team-building’ activities has existed for years.  However, the days of trust falls and mandatory scavenger hunts are over.  Our approach to engaging teams in organizations large and small often starts with looking at what types of activities/events are currently in place to bring team members together.  Often times what we find is a ‘top-down’ and ‘ad hoc’ approach to activities that are meant to engage the team and foster camaraderie but often fall short of expectations.

We prefer a ‘bottom-up’ approach that is driven by the team itself.  While many of our clients are interested in the Cooleaf platform to better manage, organize, and derive insights from their existing activities and events, a number of organizations we’ve encountered (particularly small & mid sized businesses) have limited bandwidth to craft and execute an activity ‘strategy’ that makes sense for their organization.

To this end, our first step with organizations interested in a more engaging program of activities & events is to ask their team what they’re looking for in a program.  While some teams have a penchant for Dodgeball and adventure, other teams might prefer Yoga and Pilates.  No two groups are exactly the same and we believe it’s critical to create an activity program that is based on the data that the team provides us through our survey methodology.  It’s important to note that you can’t make everyone on the team happy but our approach balances feedback directly from team members to ensure that everyone has at least some activities that align with their interests.

If you’re interested in a free assessment and recommendation for your organization or team, feel free to drop us a line at mail@cooleaf.com

Rethinking employee engagement


Lately, it seems like everyone is worried about the Millennial generation and how to ‘engage’ them in the workplace. The whole idea of trying to ‘engage’ employees (whether Millennials or any other generation) strikes us as a bit awkward. It’s as if the executive leadership of so many organizations wears white lab coats and looks at these ‘employees’ as lab rats that are responding (or more likely not responding) to various stimuli and carrots and sticks.

It seemed to us here at the founding team of Cooleaf that there had to be a better way to improve employee engagement. How about we first start by eliminating the word ‘employee’ and starting with the person? See that’s our philosophy and one we can feel good about when we go to bed at night. Each one of us brings nuances, quirks, and our own characteristics to work whether we know it or not.

It’s time for us to put the human back in employee engagement and take the white ‘lab coats’ off. We’re all in this together and we need to start recognizing the full spectrum of human nuances in designing programs that create an environment where one is more likely to be engaged. Stay tuned for some real world ways we put this philosophy into practice.

See how Cooleaf powers Top Workplaces

We’ve found that leading organizations understand that their single sustainable competitive advantage is their people. Companies are faced with the business challenges of attracting and retaining the best talent (especially with Millennials), building an innovative culture, and creating a sense of community where teams are actively engaged to achieve business goals.


We’re driven by a mission to humanize the workplace and create a community that attracts and retains the most talented team possible. 


Cooleaf’s web and mobile platform is branded for our employer client and allows HR leaders to empower their teams to more efficiently organize all internal employee activities and events, automate a rewards and recognition program, and collect participation and engagement data across their organization.

We’ve had the opportunity to do some great work with clients such as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia State University, and DeKalb Medical.  Below is a short video that highlights some of the work we’ve done with a few of our awesome customers.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us at mail@cooleaf.com.

Don’t Let Gluten-Free Become the Next Fat-Free

 Jack Spratt could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean.

So begins the popular children’s nursery rhyme about a couple that between the two of them “licked the platter clean.” Reading these words today, you might think Mr. Spratt sounds like a victim of the bad advice we got in the second half of the last century to eat a low-fat diet, and Mrs. Spratt sounds like a follower of the trendy meat-heavy “Paleo diet” loved by modern CrossFit worshipers and couch potatoes alike. Do you immediately identify with one half of the couple more than the other? Are you anti-saturated fat or pro-saturated fat? Are you pro-gluten or anti-gluten?

Well, if you are like most Americans, you’re likely to lick the Spratt’s whole platter clean by yourself. The truth is most of us aren’t very good at following strict low-fat or strict low-carb diets even if we proclaim to be solidly in one camp or the other.

Now that we hear saturated fat may not be bad for us after all but whole wheat bread may be slowly killing nearly half of all Americans (see anything written by public television staple and Grain Brain author David Perlmutter), we are again presented with a seemingly stark choice about what type of diet to follow. And once again we could be headed down a dangerous dietary path due to a total misinterpretation of (or complete inability to follow) the latest advice. Last time we did this, we got a lot fatter and sicker. Read these profound words Dr. David Katz, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, posted in February:

The advice we got decades ago to cut dietary fat was never intended as advice to eat low-fat, high-starch, high-sugar cookies … The advice to cut fat was intended to direct us to the naturally low-fat foods that existed at the time, namely vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, whole grains, and lean meats.

Dr. Katz goes on to explain that we didn’t even really reduce our fat intake. It seems the percentage of calories from fat in our diets went down slightly after dietary fat was deemed a public health threat, but this was only because we increased our total calorie intake by adding low-fat empty calories to our diet under the impression that we were doing something positive for our heart health and our weight.

So let’s take a deep breath before we switch to a diet of butter and bacon. Even if Dr. Perlmutter and other bagel haters like William Davis, M.D., the author of Wheat Belly, and Dr. Loren Cordain, the founder of the Paleo movement, are correct about the pervasive dangers of gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye) and high carbohydrate foods in general, does this mean we should immediately switch to a diet high in saturated fat? A common mistake dieters make is assuming that because something is not bad or perhaps even good for you, a lot more of it must be really good for you (hence why cereals marketed as whole grain take up nearly an entire aisle in the supermarket). As we learned from watching bellies expand on doctor recommended diets rich in healthy whole grains, this isn’t usually the case.

I eat a fairly high-fat (mostly the unsaturated variety) and low-carbohydrate diet. As a health coach, I suggest this way of eating to my clients and recommend all-natural, pastured (not from factory-farmed animals fattened up with antibiotics) animal products as part of a healthy diet. I try to eat as little flour as possible, but I enjoy whole carbohydrates like legumes, quinoa and brown rice in moderation because I love these foods and derive energy from them. I don’t forbid any food group, but I follow and advocate what I call a “real food diet” because I believe it’s nutrient-dense and far less inflammatory and more satisfying than a diet high in low-fat, processed wheat products. But I fear many people will hear the current trending advice to worry less about fat and more about gluten and make the same mistake Dr. Katz referenced.

If you opt to eat a higher fat diet, make sure you are actually eating a lower-gluten, lower-carbohydrate diet; otherwise, you are just eating more, period, and excess calories convert to fat. Switching from a supersize muffin to eggs for breakfast is a positive dietary change, but opting for eggs and bacon and then eating a muffin on a coffee break isn’t going to be a recipe for weight loss. This sounds obvious, but so does what Dr. Katz says about the advice to eat less fat — in hindsight. The average American indeed added a lot more empty calories from wheat-based carbohydrates and fat-free sugary treats but forgot to eliminate the fatty foods, thus creating the ultimate recipe for obesity and our modern healthcare crisis: a high-fat, high-carb, high-calorie diet.

Adding foods higher in healthy fat to your diet should increase your satiety, naturally leading to you eat less empty calories. Whether or not you have to watch your weight, adding sensible portions of higher fat foods like avocado, eggs and nuts to your diet are positive changes because these foods are nutrient-dense and have health-promoting properties, but if you gain weight easily, be sure to take some empty calories OUT too. Yes, it’s common sense, but temptations often lead to poor justifications. Simply put: Eat some nuts, but don’t go nuts.

Guest Blog Post: Lindsay Hill, Author of The Get Real Diet


Lindsay Hill is a board-certified health coach, a graduate of TheInstitute for Integrative Nutrition, and the author of The Get Real Diet, available on Amazon.com.


Taking Pride in Learning, Health, and Community

For those working in academia, learning is a lifelong process. Teachers can learn from their students just as much as their students learn from them. Perhaps this is why Woodward Academy employees are so excited and motivated to take advantage of opportunities for growth, whether they be professional or health related.

Woodward Academy takes pride in being a top workplace for employees. For the 2013 Fall semester, Dr. Stuart Gulley, President at Woodward Academy set out to further bring employees together with a sense of community but also in a way that betters the health and overall well-being of employees. The center piece for Woodward Academy’s wellness program are before and after school boot camps led by Sam Mugavero, founder of Smugs Fitness. The employees joined the boot camps to get fit but also built friendships with their fellow employees along the way. Regardless of their fitness level, they cheered on and showed genuine care for one another.


Requested by so many, a waiting list was created for the bi-weekly onsite yoga sessions. Half of the participants were new to yoga and quickly learned the mental and physical benefits that the practice provides. Soon thereafter they realized bi-weekly sessions was not sufficient and weekly classes were added. The sessions were so inspiring that some employees began practicing yoga in the community. Practicing stress management techniques is not only improving the quality of the employees’ lives but is also enhancing their instruction as they lead by example.


Woodward also focuses on family by providing family activities like a weekend rock climbing outing at Stone Summit. This was a great opportunity for employees from different campuses and departments to meet, try something new, and achieve a quality upper body workout while having a lot of fun.


For those wanting to get active on their own time, the six week run/walk challenge encouraged people to incorporate more activity into their daily lives through a team competition. They were able to track their steps everywhere they went 24/7. The administration brought in a running coach from Big Peach Running Co. to help teach participants about proper running and walking form in addition to proper footwear and attire.

The program at Woodward Academy will continue with cooking classes and onsite chair massage sessions for employees to wrap-up the semester. So why do employees enjoy this program? The answer may be partly the desire to improve their health, but it’s also about having fun through experiences that allow employees to meet their colleagues and gain a stronger sense of being part of a Woodward Academy team.

Leaders in Patient and Personal Health

Health care employees focus their time and energy caring for patients’ health and wellness, and often forget to take care of themselves. This trend is changing at DeKalb Medical, where employees continue to focus on patient care while improving their personal health.


An employee health and wellness program, I REACH! 4 Health, represents the health care organization’s values (Integrity, Respect, Excellence, Accountability, Compassion, Helping Hands) combined with four changes to employees’ lifestyles – eat healthy, reduce stress, get active and improve sleep. Powered by Cooleaf, this health and wellness program shines with passion, pride, and promise. The passion begins with hospital executive leadership, such as Chief Financial Officer John Katsianis, who walks over three miles every morning, and Employee Health Solutions Executive Director Shealynn Buck, M.D., and her multi-faceted team that includes a wellness committee that creates ideas to engage and motivate the employees. The true purveyors of culture change, however, are employee “champions” who take leadership roles at the grassroots level and serve as motivators and engagers of co-workers. This led to a successful I REACH! 4 Health Corporate Run/Walk Challenge, a six-week first-of-its-kind employee health and wellness initiative


DeKalb Medical can take pride in the following statistics from the initiative:


  • 325 employees registered to participate
  • 186 employees invested in a Fitbit pedometer to track their steps
  • Employees combined for over 40 million steps
  • Several employees reported losing between five to 20 pounds in only six weeks
  • Kim Bentley, Director of Patient Care Services at DeKalb Medical at Hiillandale, won the overall female award with a time of 18:39 at the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk & Fitness Program 5K race

Excitement for the I REACH! 4 Health program has been established around the three-campus health care system, and excited employees are inquiring about future events and challenges. This program shows promise for higher employee engagement and an increase in their physical, mental and social well-being. Employees use The Wellness Center, an on-site gym at the North Decatur campus that offers state-of-the-art cardio equipment, resistance machines, and free weights, and various classes and fitness programs as they reach for better health. Further, boot camps, self-defense classes, healthy cooking classes, and nutrition and injury prevention workshops are available. With a better understanding and stronger commitment to health, DeKalb Medical employees are becoming community leaders in patient and personal health.