Mental Capital and Wellbeing at Work #CIPD15

I’m chuffed to be part of the official #CIPD15 blogsquad again this year. This year’s opening keynote is by Professor Gary Cooper.  Today, Professor Cooper is going to address CIPD conference delegates on the issue of mental capital and wellbeing at work; what are the causes and consequences of poor mental health and stress in the workplace and what re the bold HR solutions that will enhance mental capital.

Here is what we already know: mental health absence is a big problem in the workplace. 1 in 4 of us at some point in our lives will suffer from a mental health condition.   Absence surveys, including the CIPD’s own annual version, consistently shows mental health to be one of the top two drivers of absence from work, once you strip out the usual suspects like coughs, colds and stomach upsets.

At the same time, we are increasingly seeing wellbeing making its way onto the corporate agenda. According to the aforementioned CIPD absence survey, 1 in 5 organisations now have a wellbeing programme within their people strategy.  We have increasing interest too in topics like mindfulness and resilience and their application in the workplace.  So what does this all mean for HR?

Here is what Professor Cooper has to say:

Why is this issue so important?

We need an environment in which people want to go to work.  That they aren’t hoping for leaves on the line when they wake up in the morning

Mental health absence is a bottom line issue.  Presenteeism is a bigger issue to the UK economy than absenteeism.  Research shows that only one third of employees are healthy AND happy.

Mental health costs the UK £70bn per annum.  Only 2 in 5 employees working at peak performance. 15.2m sick days per annum due to stress, anxiety and depression.  A cost to employers of mental health absence of £1035 per employee per annum.

Fact.  If you consistently work long hours it will make you ill.  In the uk we work astronomical hours. Flexible working can help – for all, not just parents.  But women still apply much more than men, and men get turned down more than women.  We need to fix this. People are consistently working significantly longer than their contracted hours.  Plenty also don’t take their full holiday entitlement.  People who work more tha 45 hours a week see their children less than one hour a day.  Long hours also don’t make us productive.

Thousands of studies identify what makes you stressed.  Structure, climate, too much work, too little work, job insecurity, poor physical working conditions, time pressures and deadlines, too many decisions…… Relationships  – with boss, colleagues, subordinates.  Conflict

Emails are a huge problem.  People check them on the evenings and the weekends.  We have overload.  We talk about work life integration – but that often means work encroaching on personal time.

At the heart is management.  Do our managers and leaders have the right skills and training to mange people effectively? We select too often on technical skills still.  We need more socially skilled managers.  Relationships at work are fundmental, especially in a knowledge economy.

This is the key.  What can we do about this stuff?

Primary – deal with the stressors. EAPs.  They work.  But they don’t solve the problem or change the culture.

Secondary. Helping people to cope. Resilience training.  Evidence also shows this works.

Tertiary. Picking people back up – wellbeing interventions do work and can save you money.

My take? Of course managers are the key.  Of course we need more socially skilled leaders who understand this stuff.  We need interventions like EAPs and resilience training.  But if we know this and it is common sense why do we still have such an issue?   There is still a stigma around mental health.  There is still reluctance to talk about this stuff, go on resilience training, ring an EAP and ask for help.

Yes, managers are the key… But HR turns it in the lock.  We have to educate them, help them have the conversation, ensure that the dialogue of wellbeing is heard in our organisations.  Create the culture in everything that we do.


As this is a live blog, please excuse any typos!

Reflections #cipdnap15

Last week, I was at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership conference, blogging and tweeting, whilst listening to some inspiring speakers.

Here are some of those ideas, concepts and thought provoking moments, that have resonated for me.

From Ian Pettigrew’s session on Resilience….. Succeed in a way that is authentic to you. And oh so true… We need more compassionate truth.  Not all truth is created equal. 

A question from Sukh Pabial’s session on Positive Psychology……. When did you last feel vibrant? Sukh also introduced me to the concept of the third place.  A place just for you.  No judgement, no rules, a place from which you draw strength and positivity. Do you have a third place?  He also said this: Sometimes life is rubbish.  But it passes, or you find the strength to deal with it.

From Julie Drybrough’s workshop on The Power of Workplace Conversation, several ideas I am still reflecting on.  That within the silence before we begin to speak, anything can happen.  That the spaces in-between talking at people and the typical monologues we engage in, is where there is an opportunity for dialogue to begin.  That how some conversations hold, but others are like a leaky bucket.

From Ryan Cheyne, telling the story of Pets at Home…. How nothing about people stuff is really that complicated.  But perhaps somehow, we make it so.  Simple is just fine.

From Clive Wilson when introducing the concept of the purposeful organisation…. asking the delegates to respond with…. What is your single most powerful thought?

From David Clutterbuck…. We have put too much faith in things that have no evidence.  It is nothing more than HR Bling. 

From Perry Timms…… we are heading to a future most social. 

From Sally Roberts in a session on mindfulness……  In life there will always be waves, but we can learn to surf. 

From Stephanie Davies of Laughology….. Do you know a mood hoover? If you don’t, have you ever considered that it might be you?

From Peter Cheese….. We need to move from control to enablement.

I was reminded of the power of passion; how learning and sharing can be created by people that are committed and care about their profession.

And the final thought goes to Julie again.  Think about joy.  In the midst of change and when things feel difficult, find your joy. 

You can find a curation of more from NAP from Ian Pettigrew here, and even more reflections from Mark Gilroy from the event here.

Building a Profession for the Future #cipdnap15

visual minutes

I’m at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership conference.

Every year, eight branches from the North of England get together and host a two-day event, organised entirely by volunteers.  There is usually a great line up of speakers, a wide range of workshops to choose from and, my own particular conference essential, quality sweets at the exhibition stands.  If that isn’t enough to tempt you to a future CIPD NAP, we also have a gala dinner in which there is wine and dancing.  And wine.

This year, our theme was ‘Creating Amazing Workplaces’.  On Saturday, Peter Cheese is addressing the conference, talking about building a profession for the future.  So here is my live blogged summary of what he had to say:

There are key themes shaping the future of work. Economic change. Technology and digital. Workforce and demographics. Different ideas about work and life and balance. Different ideas about who is a leader and a role model. New norms arising in the world of work.

At the same time, Scientific Management is alive and well.  Low paid work that lacks empowerment and purpose. Jobs that lack meaning. We are still using old models at work like the change curve and dated methods of recruiting.  We still have policies telling everyone what to do like they are children not adults. It is time for change. It is time to challenge our fundamental ideas about what work is about.

Where is the HR role in all of this change? Simply, it is an opportunity for us.  We have to drive value from HR.  In most organisations the cost of HR 1-3% of cost base, but we still find ourselves trying to reduce or justify the cost of HR.

It is time to go back to our roots, the very heart of HR: people. We talk of neuroscience and positive psychology and wellbeing. Understanding human and organisational behaviour.  How we make decisions and judgements. These subjects are gaining more interest and prominence. The truth is we have known some of this stuff for decades – we just haven’t acted upon it.  We certainly have known this stuff in our profession – this is after all where the CIPD began.

This is all the stuff that HR needs to do, think about, prepare for.

We need a profession for the future. This includes a base of knowledge, competencies and capabilities that HR professionals need to have. We need to keep our skills current and invest in ourselves. We need standards, metrics, career growth, learning, qualifications and recognition.  We need to build stronger HR functions.

To be a HR professional, it is all about identity, being socially and ethically responsibility, commitment, and situational judgement. We must continue to build our knowledge and put our imprint on all of these new ideas like neuroscience in order to fulfil our purpose: to champion better work and better working lives. There can be no bigger agenda than that.

Peter then quotes Gandhi. We need to be the change that we want to see.

It is time to go back to our roots.

You can find more blogs from the conference on our dedicated event blog or from event blogger Emma Browes.

If you’d like to come along to the NAP conference next year, follow the twitter account for more details: @CIPD_NAP

Better Working Lives? #CIPD14

My final thoughts following the 2014 CIPD conference.

Better work and better working lives. The purpose of the CIPD.

I spent two days last week blogging and tweeting from the annual conference, and I have been reflecting on what I heard ever since.  What does this mission mean?  And what the role of each of us within it?

The session that had the most impact on me was on day two. A panel session on the labour market with Norman Pickervance, Michael Davies (UKCES), Paul Novak (TUC) and Peter Cheese.  Pickervance struck a chord with me, as much of what he said aligns closely to my own views about HR and our core purpose. He mentioned the ever present search for a seat at the table.  He talked about the unintended consequences of the move from a personnel approach to one of human resources; treating people like they are just a resource on a balance sheet, to be done with as the company sees fit.  He suggested that leaders had divided people up into people who mattered and people who didn’t.  People who mattered include those who are defined as ‘talent’.  In the best boxes of the nine box grid.  And then there are the people who don’t matter.  The ones we have outsourced.  The ones on the zero hours contract.  The invisible agency worker.  The bogus self-employed.  We seem to think it is okay for them to have a different set of rights, be treated in a different way.

I hear lots of talk amongst the HR profession about how work needs to change. About how it is going to change, in the future.  And it does and it will.  We know there is plenty about the modern workplace that doesn’t work.  Heirarchy, meeting culture, effective leadership, skills shortages, disengaged employees. Add to this list as you see fit.  I hear talk about how we need a revolution in the world of work.

I agree that there is plenty wrong with work and working lives.  Try some of these examples:

  •  We live in an economy where a great deal of work is low paid and of low security.
  • 1 in 5 UK employees are considered to be low paid – that is 5 million people.  And once you are in a low paid job, it is difficult to get out of one.
  • The gap between the wages in the boardroom and the wages on the shop floor is growing.
  • More working households live in poverty than households where no one is working.
  • More and more work is disappearing entirely, as it is outsourced or automated.
  • We have structural, serious youth unemployment .
  • There is still a significant pay gap between men and women, 40 years after the Equal Pay Act.
  • Employment rights, and the ability to enforce them when they are breached, are slowly diminishing.
  • Wage growth and pay settlements are still well below the level that they were before the recession.
  • Carers struggling to balance work with care.
  • Low levels of engagement.
  • Thousands of women facing discrimination every year when they become pregnant.
  • A race to the bottom to pay the national minimum wage.
  • Workplaces filled with stress – an epidemic of it according to the panellists.

Michael David from UK Commission for Employment and Skills summarised the problems in the labour market as getting in, getting up, and getting on. Pickervance said that leaders in many organisations have become disconnected from what is happening in the world.  Maybe HR has too?  Maybe we are so busy worrying about whether we are strategic enough that we aren’t doing what we should be doing: making work and working lives better for the people at our place.

Some of the stuff in the list above is undoubtedly big stuff, challenging stuff.  Outside the hands of the individual HR practitioner.  Or is it?  Certainly not all of it. There are things, even if they are just small steps, that we can all do, at our place to tackle these challenges.

Coincidentally, the CIPD conference took place in Living Wage week. A campaign that calls on employers not just for minimum pay but reasonable pay. A campaign that asks employers to recognise that whilst they could get away with paying less, this isn’t the best thing for business, for people, for society.

So here is where my head is at right now. You can keep your holocracies and your unlimited vacation days and your democratised workplaces.  Because whilst I know stuff is changing, at least for some in this future of work, a bad work situation is many people’s everyday reality.  Waiting for pay day. Waiting to see how hours there will be this week on the zero hours contract.  Wondering where the next job is coming from.  Wondering if you are going to get made redundant when you get back from maternity leave.  Wondering if it is really safe to tell someone that you are struggling under the pressure.  Hoping, desperately, for a pay rise.

Talk of the need for revolution at work? This is my revolution. This is what better working lives means to me. This is where HR needs to lead the way.


You can read more about this session from the CIPD conference in this blog post from Tim Scott.

Just one final thing about CIPD14. The CIPD conference was blogged and tweeted by an amazing group of people.  They gave freely of their time, their annual leave, their sleep and their diets to provide all of the social coverage.  Massive appreciation to them all. Ian Pettigrew has collated all of the work in this post for your reading pleasure.  Until next year……

All this behavioural stuff #cipd14

Last week I spent two inspiring days at the CIPD annual conference. There was a whole range of content throughout in the neuroscience and behavioural science space. How the brain works stuff.

PC quote

I blogged from some of the sessions myself; you can find them here and here. Some of my fellow blog squaders also wrote about the sessions they attended.  Try these from Phil Wilcox, Helen Amery and Julie Drybrough.

The content that I saw for myself, and that which I caught online from blogs and tweets was fascinating. But I have a concern or two, all the same.

Firstly, let me say that I have a genuine interest in these topics. I am curious about everything to do with the brain and how it works.  Some of this interest springs from a professional place, and some from a more personal one.  Learning more about these subjects has helped me understand more about myself; decisions that I made in the past, why I did some of the things that I did and how I ended up in the space that I did.

I recognise how  improving understanding of behaviour and neuroscience within HR, applying it to that people stuff that we do, could influence and change our thinking and our approach. And its not just about us HR folk, it has the power to help all leaders in the roles that they hold.  It has the potential to challenge much of that stuff that we accept as best practice, the way we have always done things both in organisations in general and in HR specifically.  It can help us break through the perceived wisdoms.  Take Drive by Daniel Pink.  An evidence based book that told us many of the ways that most organisations traditionally do reward focuses on entirely the wrong things.  These are fundamental challenges.

But there’s the thing. I’ve blogged before about the HR profession’s propensity for jumping on a bandwagon and I don’t want this to be the next one.  That thing that we think is the answer, that thing that will change how the profession is seen, that thing that will the next big thing.

When reflecting on the conference, the thought that occurred was this. Is neuroscience the new employee engagement?  I’ve blogged before, in the employee engagement rant series, about how I feel we jumped on the engagement bandwagon as we were desperate for some sort of proof.  And the so-called proof (noting the lack of actual, you know, evidence) that engagement would lead to improved financial performance gave us something that we could use to prove that the people stuff had a ROI.  That it was our ticket to the often fabled seat at the table. I don’t want behavioural science to go the same way. I don’t want it to be the next employee engagement.  Embraced and then tired of.

I think that we should be developing behavioural science as a key part of HR and leadership practice. But I don’t want to see someone trying to explain cognitive dissonance in an infographic.  I don’t want to read ’10 ways you can get employees to use more than 10% of their brain’ on LinkedIn Pulse.  Behavioural science is not the place for platitudes or fragmented clichés. It is a serious subject and we must treat it as such, rather than devalue it. I’d like to see formal qualifications.  I’d like to see it be taught as part of HR education.

And here’s the next thing. We need to think carefully about how we bring this stuff into our organisations.  I’ve been there and talked to leaders.  About mindfulness, positive psychology, emotional intelligence, resilience.  I’ve been on the receiving end of the ‘what is this fluffy stuff is she on about now?’ look.  And this is anything but.

To take this forward in a constructive way, avoid the bandwagon and aid understanding, we need some common language.  We need to help HR professionals understand this stuff and then how to apply it, how to start the conversation, at their place. Going back to the Daniel Pink example for a moment.  I reckon there are plenty of HR folk who have read his book.  But how many have actually gone back to their place, and changed how they do their reward stuff?  Started to challenge the way its always been done?  It isn’t easy to know where to start.  Conference sessions that raise awareness give us a great start.  Now we need to decide what comes next.

But whatever we do, no infographics.  Pretty please.


Image from @IIPTweets

CIPD MOOC. Working digitally – social media and HR

Today, the CIPD launches its first MOOC.  That’s a Massive, Open, Online Course.  If you have not come across the term before, then you might find this short video helpful.

I’m here at the launch, listening to Perry Timms (you know, the excitable one) talking about MOOCS, their place in learning today, and most importantly, this new offering from the CIPD, a course created to raise the game of the HR profession in using social and digital tools.

Four key areas of content for the learner to journey through.  It will teach you all about putting digital to work.  Digital technology and the changing world of work.  Digital tools for HR professionals. How to put this stuff to work in practice. About coping, creating, collaborating, creating.

You can enrol now. You don’t have to be a member of the CIPD to access this learning. You can do it at your pace, and create your own learning journey. Oh, and the best bit. It’s free.


Because I’m happy. #CIPD14


Happiness at work. Laughing and humour in organisations. That sound a bit pink and fluffy doesn’t it?

Well, no.

I’m at CIPD 14 listening to a session called The Science of Happiness. Again, we are talking about the impact of how you feel in the work place. But this isn’t about that engagement stuff. This is about how our feelings impact our brain, impact our abilities, impact our health, impact our levels of success, our flow, our confidence, our ability to cope.

Laughter and humour have several functions. They are a communication tool. They strengthen social interactions. They get the neuro transmitters in the brain fired up. They are a bonding mechanism.

When we feel positive and upbeat, we can cope with the stuff that life throws at us. When we feel good we can think well. On the converse, when we feel bad, are stressed, the brain does not function well, and we do not perform well.

When we reward and recognise people, all sorts of funky stuff happens in the brain. Which is my way of saying I couldn’t capture it all during the session. But this stuff makes us feel good. And when we feel good we do good work. The science behind it might be complex but the idea is fairly straightforward.

If we are happy we can control our thinking rather than have our thinking control us. We can break thought patterns. Stop creating the worst case scenario. Stop defaulting to the way we have always done stuff.

I get it. I like it. But I can’t help thinking that there will be plenty of non HR folk out there that would take some convincing. Some organisations where if you started to talk about the need for laughter and humour the joke might be on you. This is a challenge we need to think more about.

Peter Cheese said yesterday that the heart of HR was understanding human behaviour. I agree with him. It’s about how people feel. HR understands this, and we need to help our business leaders do the same.

Stephanie Davies leaves us with a thought at the close of the session. You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘ some people bring happiness when they enter the room, and some when they leave.’ You have a choice. Which one do you want to be?

And if you still need a little inspiration, watch this…….


Cartoon by Simon Heath.