London’s Calling (or is it)

I recently attended a work life balance event for International Women’s Day. Inspiring female academics spoke about their experiences of balance, wellbeing, of finding their way through the challenges of demanding careers, family and all of the other life stuff. There were a few things that stood out to me, that are at the forefront of my mind a week later. I wanted to share some of those thoughts and ideas here.

We talked about whether you can really have it all. The conclusion….. yes. Probably. Just not all at the same time.

Work life balance means different things to different people at different stages in their lives. It’s important to work out what it means for you and what resources, whether individual or organisational, exist to help you. I hear this…. as a wellbeing coach, I always begin with new coachees by talking about the meaning of wellbeing to them. There is no one answer. There are a few formal definitions if you go googling, but wellbeing is contextual, personal, changeable.

Back to the speakers. We must recognise and move through the tough days. Acknowledge when you are having a tough time and take some steps, no matter how small, to support self-resilience. Connect with the people around you. Others will have experienced this too. Do some physical activity, take time for yourself and your leisure. Find time to do nothing.

Share your tips with others. In the organisation, set a good example. We change culture through small actions. Don’t join in with the evening and weekend emailing.

Create discipline within your working day – this is both a simple but difficult thing to do. Time is a precious resource. We need to protect it. Time is not a free gift, it’s finite. Some people say yes to everything they are asked to do. This will not serve your wellbeing. There are other, better ways to prove yourself than turning up to every meeting. Work out the ones that matter and go to those. Brevity is key.

We need to let go of trying to be a superman or woman. Let your standards in housework drop if you need to. You don’t need to be perfect and you need get comfortable with that.

And here comes my favourite tip from the session. Pretend you are in London for the day. Tell everyone you aren’t around. Shut the office door. Block the time out. You’ll be amazed at what gets done in your absence.

I think this session resonated with me so much, as I am pretty bad at this stuff. Despite coaching others on wellbeing, I’m not so good at taking my own advice.  Over committing is my downfall.  Here is what I have learned about wellbeing and trying to have it all, even if I don’t always put it into practice.

  • No is a complete sentence.
  • Guilt is a useless emotion. It hurts you and keeps you stuck.
  • Work (knowledge work at least) never actually ends. It just pauses until you come back to it.
  • The Queen is probably not coming for tea. Even if she does, she’s been a working mum, she will understand.
  • It’s not me/you that is at fault for finding this balance stuff difficult. It’s the system that we operate in.
  • If you don’t take care of your own wellbeing, who will?
  • Protect your you time. That thing that sustains you, that gives you a sense of wellbeing, or just reduces your stress, do that.  Deliberately, proactively and without guilt.

Or…..just tell everyone you have gone to London.

london 2

 

If you are interested in fitness, health and wellbeing I also write a blog over here

On hugs.

I watched the recent Ted Baker hug story with interest. For those who haven’t seen the headlines, their CEO has recently resigned following a leave of absence, after staff spoke out about harassment including forced hugs and asking female staff to sit on his knee and cuddle him.  The resignation statement on the Ted Baker website talks about learning lessons and making appropriate changes.

The story resonated with me because I have been there. My first proper job after graduation was with a recruitment consultancy.  The owner and CEO was what some people might describe as ‘touchy feely’.  He would often walk into a room and hug you and kiss your cheek, let his hand linger on your back. There are worse forms of harassment in the workplace, but those hugs were a little too close for comfort for my liking.  I’m sure that there are some people who won’t see this as all that bad.  At the time it was generally laughed off as ‘just what he is like’ and ‘he doesn’t mean anything by it’.  Excuses for inappropriate behaviour.

I’m all for a hug. With people that I like.

And there’s the thing.

It’s not about the hug or the kiss or the cuddle.

It’s about the power. It is about someone with the power that comes from seniority, choosing to use it.  Underneath every unwanted hug or kiss from boss to subordinate is the subtext that the individual on the receiving end doesn’t have that power, and can’t say no without fear of consequence.

In my case, the 20 something year old me was straight out of university and skint. I needed that job. So I didn’t feel that I could tell a man in his 50s, who owned the company that ultimately paid my rent, to get the hell away from me.  There was no one to complain to.  So like most of the other women in the office, I put up with it.  It’s not something I would do today, but I’m older, and wiser and have more power of my own.

This stuff wasn’t acceptable 20 years ago and it isn’t today. The more we talk about it, the more we highlight cases like these and the more that we show that there are consequences for inappropriate behaviour, the more we empower others to tell those that choose to exercise their power in harmful ways that they can hug right off.

That’s nice.

From time to time I run workshops for managers and leaders about wellbeing. We explore what we mean by wellbeing, what a well team looks like, the role of the manager in enabling staff wellbeing, and how to have wellbeing conversations.

Typically, the delegates are self-selecting, so to some extent I am preaching to the converted – or at least the curious and interested. The question often arises in some form or another about how we reach those who aren’t so interested. Because in many respects those are the folk that we need to reach the most.

Recently, this discussion came up in the form of comment.  A delegate shared the responses she had received when telling fellow managers that she was attending my workshop.

That’s nice.

She didn’t think it was nice. Neither did I.

We thought it was necessary.

Kittens are nice. So are fluffy bunny rabbits.  Also, wine.  And biscuits.

Wellbeing isn’t nice. It’s serious stuff.  Work can be a force for good.  It can also be a source of stress, ill-health, pressure.

Caring about the health and wellbeing of the people that work for you is the right thing to do. As a people manager or HR professional we have responsibilities in this space.

It isn’t nice to be capable of having a conversation about mental health. About working with wellbeing in mind.  Role modelling, tackling behaviours that can negatively impact upon health, promoting a healthy culture.

It isn’t nice, it is a critical part of management responsibilities.

If you want nice, here are some cute rabbits.

bunny

Flex is for women. And everyone else.

The Labour party has announced today that should they return to government they would introduce flexible working from day one. Apparently there would be a presumption for flexible working with all roles.   It’s hard to see how this could work in practice.   But of course it all depends on what we actually mean by flexible working.

Talk of flexible working brings with it a range of assumptions and biases. Many people take flexible working to mean working part time – very often for family reasons.  Something of interest primarily to mothers. In that definition it could be possible to have a legislative framework in which any full time job should be considered as suitable for working fewer hours.  The 37.5 hour working week is after all, a fairly arbitrary invention.

But flexible working is so much more than that.

All too often we look at it through the family friendly lens. This article from the Guardian illustrates that nicely.  Check out the accompanying stock image.  A woman in a business suit, baby on shoulder.  Flexible working isn’t something that mums want when they have a small child – but this is how it is often portrayed – both in the media and within organisations.

There are so many reasons people want to work flexibly. Some of these are practical; caring responsibilities, financial reasons (just consider the cost of commuting), disabilities, children.  Others are lifestyle or wellbeing choices.  Combining work with study or hobbies, the desire for greater life work balance.  None is ‘better’ or more important than others.

Yes, women do the bulk of the childcare in our society, and broader care responsibilities too. That’s part of a bigger problem.  The solution isn’t to make it easier for women to get flexible working, but to make flexible working an accepted norm.  The 26 week wait to request flexible working is undoubtedly a barrier to flexibility.  The statutory framework could also be much improved, not least because it’s all too easy to reject a request on the flimsiest of grounds.

The real issue however, is attitudes.

Too often, when it comes to flexible working, the answer is no, now what’s the question?

A belief that flexible working will be exploited. That it’s an excuse for skiving.  That there’s nothing in it for the organisation.  That men don’t need it, and those that do are somehow weak or available for jokes.  That those who work flexibly are less committed and motivated.

This is the stuff  that needs to change, perhaps more than the legislation.

Perhaps we can start with our stock images – and our own internal framing. Where’s your flexible working policy?  In with your employee benefits – or next to the maternity and adoption policy?

enabler 2

Domestic Abuse and the Workplace. A collection of notes.

Years ago I wrote a toolkit for managers.  One page guidance on a whole range of topics that might come up in the day to day, from how to do a return to work interview to what to do when someone raised a grievance.  One of those simple ‘how to’ guides was about domestic violence.  I wasn’t an expert.  I had simply lifted some good practice advice and signposted some sources of help and support.  A few months later I went to the ladies toilet in one of our offices.  On the wall was the domestic violence one page guidance.  I talked about it with one of my HR colleagues.  We hadn’t asked anyone to put it up.  HR hadn’t done it.  My assumption was that a concerned colleague had been responsible.  Maybe they thought this was a private space where someone could note down a number. Maybe someone was trying to send a signal.  I really don’t know.  But I know that no one ever took it down.  It was there for years.  I have no idea if it ever reached the intended recipient, but I have never forgotten it.

Today I’ve been on a training course about supporting staff experiencing domestic abuse. I want to share a little of what I learned during a day that both challenged, angered and saddened me.

What is domestic abuse? All too often a silent epidemic.  According to the WHO, 1 in 3 women will experience physical abuse in their lifetimes, worldwide.  In the UK, 1 in 5 children have been exposed to some sort of domestic abuse.  Those children will carry that trauma into their adulthood.  1 in 5 teenagers have been abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men experience domestic abuse.  It is not just men who perpetrate and women who endure.  It’s not just about spouses and partners.  It happens between siblings, parents and children.  Elder abuse is an issue too.  2 women a week are killed by a partner or former partner.

Domestic abuse includes power and control, coercion, stalking, financial, emotional and physical abuse, sexual abuse. It includes honour based violence and female genital mutilation.  It often has an escalatory element.  When you see a poster of someone with a black eye, that is an anomaly.  It isn’t always physical, and when it is, it is more often on a part of the body that can’t be seen.

Although not typical in all relationships, there is often a cycle of abuse. At the start of the relationship things are great.  But there might be a strong, quick involvement.  Early ‘I love yous’.  Significant amounts of attention.  Then comes the tension building stage.  Arguments, emotional and psychological abuse, criticism, name-calling, intimidation, minor physical abuse.  All this starts to create fear.  There are ‘I’m sorrys’.  The final stage is the acute battering stage.  Verbal, physical or sexual violence, leaving the individual wounded either physically or psychologically.  The cycle continues, but the frequency speeds up.  Domestic abuse can be systematic, deliberate.

Societal views are a problem. Why doesn’t she just leave?  It wouldn’t happen in this family.  Boys will be boys.  She’s too smart to let this happen.  It’s a substance abuse issue.  It’s a women’s issue.  She was asking for it. We call it domestic abuse, but it isn’t just about what happens at home, it happens everywhere.  These are the narratives and perceptions that we need to change.

So why don’t people leave? A question so often asked. Full of judgement.  But the answers are complex.  Shame, fear, confidence, money, children, having nowhere to go.  It is of course, also dangerous.  The most dangerous time where physical violence is concerned.

Why is important to include workplaces when tackling domestic abuse?  75% of people who are abused are targeted at work.  They are in a known place.  This targeting might include excessive phone calls or texts in the workplace.  It might include unwanted visits. It’s about increased absence and presenteeism.  It’s about the resulting depression and stress.  It impacts colleagues and performance too.  Domestic abuse costs the UK economy 1.9billion a year.  So this is very much a workplace issue.

What do employers need to do?

First of all, you need to give people permission to talk about this stuff, because some people just don’t want to go there. Why don’t people tell their employer? Lots of reasons.  They don’t know who to tell.  They don’t see it as a workplace issue.  They are scared of being judged.  They are worried about what people will think.  So first of all, we need to create the knowledge that this is a conversation you can have at your workplace.

When people do leave an abusive relationship, there are many implications. Just on a practical level, you often leave everything behind. Money can be an immediate problem. Safety too.  A good employer and manager can help someone navigate through this time period.  You can take practical steps.  If you have an EAP, use it – remind people that it is there.  Be flexible about hours of work.  Talk to the individual about they need.  Address security concerns if you need to.  Divert phone calls.  Change phone numbers. Move locations.  Consider discretionary time off.  Think about where you have meetings; can people be seen from the street?  Do the walls have glass? Help people move bank accounts quickly.

There are warning signs to watch out for. People who don’t want to go home. A change in appearance.  Withdrawal.  Absence.  Never taking a holiday.  Changes in behaviour. Changes in weight.  Change of clothing style.  Actual physical signs of violence.

Some other things to think about……

Start with the language that you use. Don’t use the word victim to describe someone enduring domestic abuse.  It’s a label.  It isn’t all of who the person is. It can be a word that stops people moving forward.  It has judgement.  Allow people to define their own language.

It will take time. You will need to work with people for a while.  The manager will need to be involved.  HR too.  There are boundaries to find.  There are some things that an employer should do, must do.  We need to empower people, not disempower them. Encourage people to take steps, not do it for them.  Don’t advise – it’s not our place.  Keep records.  If stuff happens on your premises, record it.  It may help the individual in due course to have that information.  Get the input of professionals.  Refer, direct, signpost, support.  Walk by their side.  Always listen.

There are many people in an organisation that might find themselves talking to someone about domestic abuse. It  might be a manager, someone in HR, a colleague, occupational health.  The person might be approaching someone for the very first time.  Can you educate or train the person who might get that disclosure?  Can you provide resources that they can access on demand, when they need them?  There may also be people who are witnesses or concerned colleagues who may also need information, someone to ask for advice.

The manager is critical. They may be the one that sees the signs. They may be the one that gets the disclosure.  They may need to get involved in support or decision making.  They will need support too, and this is where HR will come in.  Some will need guidance on policies or what discretion they can exercise.  They might also need someone to check in with them too, as this is not easy stuff to deal with.

Giving permission to talk about this stuff raises awareness. It  might also mean that you hold up a mirror to something previously unseen.  That your employees see that this might be them too, perhaps for the first time.  The facilitators today told us stories about how often this happens.  By going on training, reading guidance, seeing examples of just what domestic abuse includes, sometimes people will realise they need help.  Be ready.  You may need to move quickly in these situations.

The final thought….. employers can be part of a whole system approach. They are part of the solution. We don’t know who is experiencing this stuff, what challenges people are facing when they go home at the end of the working day.  There is much we can do. Employers can help save people’s lives.  And we start with awareness.  We start with action.  We start with all of us.  This stuff is hard.  But there is hope.

 

The training was provided by the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence. You can find their website here.  I cannot recommend it more highly.

The top, the middle and the bottom

This morning I was at an event talking about wellbeing in the workplace. Again.

Someone said to me that wellbeing started at the top. That senior leaders needed to take action for anything to change.

Well yes. And no.

Wellbeing in the workplace is a three part relationship: organisation, manager, employee.

The organisation can set the strategy. Provide the direction and the resources and give permission.  They can tackle the big stuff; the systemic and structural issues that exist within the culture, and help others to do the same.  Senior leaders have a significant role to play here too, particularly when it comes to acting as role models and challenging negative behaviours.

The people manager has an even more critical role.  As Prof Sir Cary Cooper said at the same event, managers can be dangerous to your health. Managers can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of the people that work for them.  How they communicate, the deadlines that the set, the support that they provide, the emails that they send, the flexibility that they will allow.  They can enable, and they can detract.  This is why training on wellbeing issues is critical for everyone who holds a people management role, from the practical to the bigger picture stuff, wherever they sit in the hierarchy.

Finally, it is about each and every individual.  When it comes to our wellbeing, if we don’t take ownership of it, then who will?  There are things that we cannot control or influence, but much that we can.  We always have choice in how we respond.

Wellbeing doesn’t start at the top. It starts there, at the bottom, from the sides and everywhere in between.  We all have a part to play.  Every one of us can positively (or otherwise) impact the wellbeing of someone else by the way that we choose to behave, interact, communicate or support.

Wellbeing starts with you, and with me too.

wellbeing

 

A year in (book) review

At the beginning of 2018, I set myself a target to read 100 books. I can’t for the life of me remember why.  I didn’t make the number.  I did read 65 (and 1/3) though, which isn’t too bad.  For completeness, I also read 52 editions of Take a Break magazine, quite a lot about learning theory for my post graduate course, and a large amount of children’s books (aloud as bedtime stories, I’m not weird).

books

The books have been, as ever, a real mix. Some serious stuff, some HR related stuff, some fitness stuff and some utter beachside romantic trash.  But I thought maybe someone out there (hi Mum) might be interested in a few recommendations.  So out of everything I read this year, these were my favourites.

Eve Was Shamed, Helena Kennedy

I read Eve Was Framed whilst at University, at the age of 20. It had a significant impact on me, and how I viewed the world.  It made me a feminist.  I was then thrilled to find that Helena Kennedy had written a follow up book.  This is the story about how British justice is failing women. It is brilliant, depressing and frightening.  I cannot recommend it more highly.

Deeds Not Words – the story of women’s rights then and now, Helen Pankhurst

The title says it all. A journey from the suffragettes to #metoo. A historical perspective as well as a call to action.  Statistics, quotes, facts.  Another great read (I may be saying this a lot).

The Elemental Workplace, Neil Usher.

I am a fan of everything Neil Usher writes, so this was always going to be a favourite. The impact of the physical space and place in which people work, in my humble opinion, is all too often overlooked by HR professionals.  It shouldn’t be.  This book is a must read for anyone who works in HR.

The Angry Chef, Anthony Warner

When I am not doing HR or social media stuff, I am also a Personal Trainer and Wellbeing Coach. I have a keen interest in diet and fitness BS, of which there is plenty.  This is a brilliant take down of much of it.  Never go on a diet regime or start an eating plan without reading this.

The Wonder Stuff Diaries (Vol 1), Miles Hunt

I love the Wonder Stuff. Their music is wrapped around my life.  So I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into the early years of the band based on the diaries of lead singer Miles.  I’m already onto Volume 2 which is just as good, and taking me on a trip down memory lane.

In Your Defence – Stories of Life and Law, Sarah Langford

A criminal law barrister, Sarah Langford describes some of her real life cases and the real people behind the legal processes. Beautifully written with both humour and compassion for the people involved in the stories.

Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken, the Secret Barrister.

I guess if you haven’t heard of this you have been living under a rock. This should be read by pretty much everyone.

Born to Run, Christopher McDougall

I do love a fitness book. To read the stories of others who have achieved amazing things with their bodies is inspirational.  This one is about the ultra runners.  Those folks that run unbelievable distances, putting their bodies under extreme pressure.  I’m never going to be one of those people, but I can marvel at them from the sofa.

Hired – Six Months in Low Wage Britain, James Bloodworth

This is another of those books that HR professionals ought to read, but that also should make each of us reflect as consumers. What does it mean, for the person at the other end of the process, when we click ‘buy’ on our Amazon order?  What is it really like to try and make a living driving an Uber?  And what is it like to not know where the next pay cheque or gig is coming from?  A sobering read.

Feminist Fight Club, Jessica Bennett

A survival manual for a sexist workplace (and world). Funny, thought provoking and practical.  If you work and you are a woman there is something in here for you.

Columbo – Seasons Greetings

This is a late addition, the final book I completed this year. Columbo is my guilty pleasure.  My wonderful OH tracked this down in a rare book store.  Written in 1972 and being very much of its time, this provided an amusing Boxing Day afternoon – but let’s just say the author could have benefit from a little bit more of the feminist reading I’ve covered…..

This is the first time I have kept a list of the books that I’ve read over a time period.  It has been interesting to go back – some of them I can’t recall at all, others have taught me new things, others have moved me.  There is already a 2019 stack by the side of my bed.  See you next year……