Reflections on training. 

A few weeks ago I attended a training course. It wasn’t anything to do with my usual work, but was about learning to help children with Down Syndrome to navigate the transition to teenage years. 

As someone who regularly delivers training, I take part in learning as a delegate though that lens, experiencing it as a learner, but looking too at way the leaning is designed and delivered. The course left me with much to reflect upon, from both perspectives. 

The training itself was of the type that we now so often criticise. It was PowerPoint heavy, led from the front of the room by experts, and there wasn’t a huge amount of delegate activity. It was definitely low-tech.  There were no signs of flipped classrooms or action leaning sets or planning for knowledge transfer.  Just lots of content. 

There was an ice-breaker. A term second only to ‘role play’ for striking fear into your typical training attendee. From the oh so old school ‘introduce the person next to you’ routine to assembling pasta and marshmallows, we’ve all been there. But this was an ice breaker in every sense of the word. It was a question: ‘what word do you use with your child to describe their penis or vagina?’  Result – laughter, heads in hands, ice broken – but with an important point underneath used as a platform for serious discussion. (Children with learning disabilities should be able to have the appropriate descriptive words for their body in case they need to use them, for example to a doctor or the police). 

How often do you see an ice breaker at a learning event that either really breaks the ice, or is relevant to the learning itself? 

The extensive content was brilliantly delivered by two trainers who quickly established both their credibility and knowledge, but also their personal passion for the people that they help and support. They created a space in which it was safe to talk about difficult, deeply personal challenges. A room in which emotion could be expressed. 

It didn’t matter that the training room was bland. That it was a Sunday. That there was lot of PowerPoint and a cramming of content. No gimmicks. No workbooks or handouts. Just people who wanted to learn being taught solid content by people that understood.  

As a trainer, facilitator and occasional lecturer, I love to introduce new stuff to learners. I’m a fan of unconferences and Open Space, using technology in the classroom, MOOCs and flipped classrooms. 

But this course was a reminder, that underneath all the shiny and the new, what really matters is the quality of your content and the desire to learn from the people in the room. 

Symptoms or Causes

My good friend Fiona McBride has recently become a qualified yoga teacher. She has blogged about how, somewhat unexpectedly, she had found a connection between her yoga teaching and her work as a facilitator and coach. You can read her post here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/crossover-fiona-mcbride.

The post resonated strongly for me as a few years ago I qualified as a Personal Trainer. Completely removed, or so I thought, was this learning from my day to day HR and coaching work.

But not so much.

Good and less good people stuff has similarities – whether we are talking about work or wellbeing (or indeed both).

Too often, personal training tackles symptoms and not causes. You want to get fit? Here’s some cardio. Want to tone? Have some weights. Lose weight? Here’s a diet plan. All laudable, but the missing piece is what lies beneath – and is where you can make a real difference. One that will sustain.

Why someone put weight on in the first place. Why someone suddenly wants to change their lifestyle. How they got to where they are today. Motivation, commitment, will.

Goal setting, starting with why, starting with the end in mind, identifying success, asking good questions, understanding, encouragement, appropriate challenge. Individual coaching, personal training…. the two are often the same in terms of approach. That one takes place in a work setting and the other in a gym barely matters.

But in organisations too, we see similar themes. We see a problem and want a quick, shiny solution. We don’t always take the time to really understand the true nature of the issue or how we got to where we are. We don’t do the deep work. We don’t seek the evidence. Treating symptoms and not causes. Instead, we use unhelpful phrases like ‘we are where we are’.

Whether we are talking about a fitness regime or the latest change initiative, quick fixes don’t work, and neither does ignoring the journey to now.

Doing the deep work is what makes all the difference.

5 reasons why employees don’t engage with wellbeing at work

I’ve been out and about talking to people about wellbeing at work. Talking to employees about why they do or why they don’t engage with wellbeing initiatives, activities and programmes where they work.  I am particularly interested in secondary and tertiary wellbeing initiatives; tools to enhance or boost wellbeing, tools to help people cope.  From mindfulness classes to resilience training, onsite fitness classes to events, health checks and counselling, what makes employees get involved – and what are the barriers to taking part?

These conversations have led me to find there are five main barriers to engagement with wellbeing at work.

I’m too busy.

We are all busy. Many of us like to make sure that other people know that too. Some people say that they simply don’t have time to engage in this sort of thing at work (or indeed at all). But the Personal Trainer in me questions this narrative – because this often what people say when they really mean that they don’t want to, don’t see what’s in it for them, or simply aren’t prepared to prioritise it. It’s a reason many people gave me (usually the first reason), but scratch the surface and you’ll often find something else instead. Sometimes, it is something else in this very list.

Stigma.

We all know that when it comes to mental health many employees are concerned about stigma. According to Mind, about a third of employees wouldn’t want to tell their manager if they are suffering from a mental health issue.  But the people I spoke to felt this about broader wellbeing activity too.  Going to a wellbeing event might make people think you can’t cope, that you need help, that you aren’t up to it.  It’s not what serious, successful people do, don’t you know. They are concerned about the potential reputational impact of being seen to need wellbeing support at work.

Cynicism.

As I’ve blogged before, many organisations work to support their employees in boosting wellbeing or dealing with the symptoms of ill-health when they arise. But they aren’t always quite so quick to tackle the big, strategic, organisational culture related stuff that works at the preventative level.   This in turn can to cynicism on the part of employees. The organisation isn’t serious, it’s all just window dressing, there’s no substance, no desire to do the difficult stuff.  It’s just care-washing.

Lack of awareness.

I recently organised some focused wellbeing activity for an internal event. I communicated on every channel known to a HR professional.  Several times.  I covered emails, intranets, social media and some old school posters too.  Why didn’t you come along? I asked people.  Didn’t know about it, came the reply.  It doesn’t matter how much you think you have communicated and communicated, your message won’t necessarily be getting through to the people that need to hear it.

Lack of management support.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, a lack of role models (especially at a senior level) talking about wellbeing, being seen to (really) care about it, or even attending some of those activities for themselves. The second aspect rests with the actions of the immediate manager in terms of encouraging their team to get involved, creating the permission and providing the time. Where managers and leaders are aware of wellbeing and their role in enabling it, this can make all the difference.  Where it doesn’t happen this will impact on take up.

 

When it comes to wellbeing at work, there is no silver bullet.  There is no single solution to supporting people, engaging people, even tackling that bigger strategic stuff.  Wellbeing is personal, contextual.  What it means to live and work well is different for each of us.  There will be some who will never choose to get involved and that’s just fine.  But for those who just might want to but feel constrained or unable, tackling some of the stuff on this list of barriers is a good place to start.

 

Wellbeing: start where you are

wellbeing

This meme (and some similar variations) has been doing the rounds on social media for a while.

I get why it’s amusing and why it has been so widely shared; because for many of us it is likely to feel a little bit true about where we work.

Wellbeing interventions in the workplace are generally defined as being of a primary, secondary or tertiary nature.

The secondary stuff is about helping people to cope and health promotion. It’s resilience training, mindfulness classes, fitness and free fruit.  The tertiary stuff is about supporting people who are already unwell or in a crisis situation.  Occupational health, EAPs, counselling services.  Both secondary and tertiary initiatives address symptoms.  These initiatives focus and place the responsibility on the individual.

I’m seeing increasing criticisms of organisations who are operating only in the secondary and tertiary spaces. This is of course, the basis of the meme.  But there can be real value in the secondary and tertiary.  This stuff helps to shift culture, give permission, create conversation.  It can give people valuable skills and information, and nudge them to work with wellbeing in mind.

Wellbeing at work is a tripartite relationship; it involves the individual, the manager, and the organisation itself. So the secondary and tertiary activity will always need to be a big part of any workplace wellbeing focus, whatever else is going on.

Of course the primary intervention…. that is where the magic happens. Primary interventions are strategic.  Tacking the big issues, whether that is systemic, sector wide, structural or cultural.  It is tackling the causes of organisation ill-health, and not the symptoms.  Primary interventions focus on the organisation, not the individual.  This is the hard stuff.  Much harder than handing out free fruit or offering some desk based massage.

To be truly effective, a wellbeing strategy needs to have all three types of interventions. This is where real change will be felt because together they address both the source of any negative impact on wellbeing as well as the consequences.

But if you aren’t there yet, that is okay too. Start where you are and with what you have got.  And if that is a mindfulness class, that will do for starters.

Train life: the rules

At the weekend I came across a train etiquette guide. It was, in my opinion, far too brief.  I have therefore compiled my own guide, issued with thoughts and prayers to everyone who has to commute to work via the train.

  1. If you don’t regularly get a train during rush hour, try not to comment incredulously on the state of the railways to more regular commuters. Phrases such as ‘is it always this bad?’ and ‘I couldn’t do this every day’ will not be welcomed.
  2. Always, and I mean always, have your ticket ready to go through the station exit turnstiles. Try not to leave getting it out of your purse as you approach said turnstile when there are 45 other frustrated people behind you.
  3. Don’t speak to fellow commuters unless there is an absolute emergency. In my case, for the avoidance of doubt, this should only be if I am on fire and you are certain that I have not noticed.*
  4. When [insert useless train company of your choice] don’t sent enough carriages and you are forced to stand with your body so uncomfortably close to a total stranger that you can tell what they had for lunch, you will both pretend that this is not happening. There will be absolutely no eye contact.
  5. Take the following items on a train journey: tissues (to blow your nose – no sniffing, ever), headphones* (no, we don’t want to listen to your videos and Facetime calls) and something to read (this also helps with points 3 and 4).
  6. Do not take: smelly food, smelly dogs, smelly feet (retain shoes on feet at ALL times).
  7. If you take a large suitcase with you on your journey, please store this in the appropriate place. The appropriate place can vary from train to train, but is not ever a) on your seat when there are people standing, and b) in the middle of the bloody aisle so no one can get passed it.
  8. Don’t buy the coffee on the train. This has nothing to do with etiquette. It’s just always vile.
  9. Try not to use the toilet. See above.
  10. Wait for people to get off the train BEFORE YOU TRY AND BOARD IT.
  11. Please, oh please, don’t have loud business conversations on the train. If you need to form, norm and storm, sell several tonnes of steel, provide interview feedback or pick some low hanging fruit, do consider doing this somewhere (anywhere) else. It’s both a potential breach of the GDPR and deeply irritating.
  12. If you leave a train part way through its journey, consider taking your rubbish with you and putting it in an actual bin so that another traveller doesn’t have to sit next to your empty cans of Stella.
  13. Aftershave.  Don’t bathe in it before you leave the house for your commute.
  14. TAKE YOUR BAG OFF THE SEAT. Do not wait to be asked. Just do it. Or be aware that I will sit on it.

 

*A colleague gets my train regularly. Most days we then get on the same bus at the other end.  Sometimes we even sit next to each other.  We have never, ever spoken.  This is the British way.

**Headphones can also be utilised as a defence mechanism for people who break rule 3. You don’t even need to be listening to anything.

On Kindness

This is a story about kindness, and the difference that you can make to someone else without even knowing it.

My mum works in a supermarket. Recently while she was at work, a stranger walked up to her and spoke her name, took her hand. ‘I have wanted to see you again for nearly 40 years’ she said.

When I was a young child, my mother had been involved in the local community baby and toddler group. One day they had held a sale of pre-owned children’s clothing.  The woman holding my mum’s hand had been a young, single mum, struggling for money.  This was the late 1970s.  She told my mum how she had often experienced negative reactions to her single mum status.  Judgement and disapproval.  My mum had chatted to her just for a little while, been kind, and given her some of my old baby clothes and didn’t charge her for them.

This woman remembered my name, my mum’s name, every detail of the encounter. She told of how she had wanted to say a proper thank you during all of the years in between.  She had never forgotten a moment of kindness from another mum.  It doesn’t surprise me that my own mum doesn’t remember this particular meeting, because this is just who she is, every day.

We should remember that no act of kindness is ever wasted. People will always remember how you make them feel.  We can make a difference to others as we walk through the world.

Be kind, always.

kind

Employee Engagement: A Rant

I’ve recently been asked to deliver a workshop on employee engagement. It’s been a while since I’ve run a session like this, so I dug out my material and refreshed my thoughts.

And got very grumpy.

Now I know that there are issues with the concept of employee engagement as it is often presented. There are many unanswered questions too.

What do we actually mean by the term?

Exactly what are we asking people to engage with? The job, the company, the mission statement, their profession?

Is employee engagement anything new or is it just re-mixing and updating the old theories about motivation and job satisfaction?

Can we measure it? Especially if we don’t know what it is?

Can a feeling ever be a percentage?

Has Engage 4 Success ever said anything useful?

Is it even a thing, or is it snake oil?

 

But it struck me that there is a bigger, more fundamental question.

However we label it, we know lots and lots of stuff about what people like, want and value about and from work. We also know plenty about what demotivates and disengages people too.

So why don’t we apply it?

I’ve worked in HR for more than twenty years. During that time, in no particular order, here is a list of people related stuff, all of which contributes to creating good work and good workplaces and making people happy that I have seen side-lined, budget removed from, ignored and paid lip service too:

  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Flexible Working
  • Learning and Development
  • Leadership development
  • Candidate experience
  • Supporting working families
  • Fair approaches to remuneration
  • Recognition
  • Decent toilets and basic facilities like somewhere to make a nice cup of tea.

If we want employee engagement, job satisfaction, effect employee experience, motivation, self-actualisation, discretionary effort or just simply happy people, we know much of the theory.

So the big question is simply this.

If organisations want employee engagement so badly, why aren’t those same organisations doing the things that we know will get us there?  We can make an industry out of this stuff, make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Or we can get on with it.

 

Here’s a stock image of some people looking really happy at work. Cos, you know, engagement.

engagement