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

Dad Life

Yesterday new research was published by Deloitte about the millennial father (I am going to forgive the terrible title on the basis that the data is interesting). You can find the report here.

The research looks at the experience of working fathers. Here’s a few points of note from the data that stood out for me.

  • 1/3 of fathers surveyed reported having left a job for one which will allow them to spend more time with their children.
  • Another 1/3 of fathers are currently looking to do just the same.
  • Only 1 in 5 of those who requested flexible working had their request approved.
  • A 1/3 of fathers experience tension when needing time off to attend appointments or illnesses.
  • The tension felt by fathers doesn’t just come from the organisation itself (and its managers) but colleagues too.
  • 37% of fathers say that they have experienced negative impacts on their mental health as a result of trying to balance work and being a parent.
  • Guilt is a prominent emotion for fathers – guilt with line managers, partners, children, colleagues.

This headline findings within this report are loud and clear.

This is a talent issue.

This is a wellbeing issue.

This is a 2019 issue.

I’ve talked to fathers who have been subject to banter, inappropriate pressure and outright discrimination for wanting to work more flexibly, do the school run or take shared parental leave.  The not-so-subtle glance at the watch, the casual ‘part-timer’ comment.

This is Not Good Enough.

Few fathers really want the old model of fatherhood of the semi-absent dad, doing all the long hours and leaving the wife to go the school events. Dads want to be involved in their kids lives – shock.

But the old attitudes within organisations and too many individuals still exist.

Many employees now understand that there’s more to life than work. Now it’s time for employers who haven’t realised this too, to catch up – or lose your talent.

This really isn’t hard unless we make it so.

The report tells us what fathers want. More flexible working, better policies, improved manager attitudes and behaviours, more information on the leave and pay available to them.

Shall we just get on with it?

dad

Reflections on learning

I’m currently studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. It’s been a fascinating course for many reasons, partly for the content but partly because of the delivery and assessment methods the course employs.

I wanted to share a little of my experiences here – and reflect on why it works so well for the learners. It is my full intention to borrow heavily from the approach for learning I’m currently designing for the workplace.

The overall approach is a flipped classroom. Reading, watching and consuming content done in your own time.  The face to face classroom element was about exploration, debate and discussion.  Learning together, not side by side.

For my most recent module, the assignments were submitted in blog form (my joy was unconfined). They were posted over on Medium, tagged to the course.  The reading list for this year’s students included the blogs written by the previous cohort.  Next year’s students will read ours.  We were encouraged to reference and build on the ideas of past learners.  Working out loud for the win.  I wrote about my own approach to open learning and MOOCs.  In the spirit of openness I’ve included the links if you’re interested (they haven’t been marked yet, just so you know).  I’m currently designing some new learning and I’m planning to include this approach as a final reflection piece for the learners. It brings together the benefits of personal reflection and sharing learning experiences and ideas with others.

blog

Much of the pre course reading was provided online via Medium. Instead of doing your pre-reading alone and bringing your notes along to the classroom learners were encouraged to reflect online first, open for all to see.  These ideas where then developed later, together.

There was encouragement to use social media tools to enhance learning. The course used a wide range of tech tools.  Padlet, Popplet, Camtasia, podcasts, video. We were also encouraged to undertake some MOOCs alongside the primary course content,  with specific recommendations made by the course tutors.  There were minimum requirements for the learning, but how much or how little you interacted with outside of these requirements was in the gift of the learner.  There was a great deal of signposting to content – but nothing compulsory.  There were deadlines, but much of the pace of learning was within your control too.

Recognising that most of the learners on the programme had busy day jobs, there was no formal requirement that you would make the face to face lectures. Everything was recorded and available online afterwards.  No fancy film crew required,  most of it was done by simple tech.

Finally, when it comes to assessment, there was plenty of freedom. You could choose to do the standard essay format, or pitch something you felt was more you.  For my first assessment I wrote the first three chapters of an e-book that I intend to complete when the course has finished, which will be made available to new colleagues as part of their induction.  For another module, I submitted a storyboard and a screencast – this is now about to become an in-house MOOC.  The aim was to centre your research and assignments within your own areas of interest and work at the organisation – and then most importantly, do something with it.  We’ve all been on a training course that uses hypothetical case studies that lack context, or established an action learning set that quickly died out.  Letting students direct and focus their learning to their specific interests has led to real action across the cohort – surely the aim of all learning programmes.

I’ve experienced plenty of learning over the years.  I’ve done full time study, part time study and distance learning. I’ve attended lectures, undertaken role plays, completed e-learning and written essays.  In terms of experience, this has been by far the best – and the one where I have most fully transferred the learning into practice. It’s improved the day job – and that should always be our aim.

Learning with the learner at the heart.

 

 

The great homeworking debate

Homeworking is in the news.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows a jump in the numbers of homeworkers over the last ten years. This isn’t all that surprising if we consider how much technology has moved on during the same time frame.

The BBC covered the story here.  It references concerns from Mind about the loneliness and isolation that can result from home or remote working.  The article does the typical thing of finding some people who think working from home is awesome, and some who find it a challenge for a range of reasons.

Here’s the thing.

Wellbeing is individual, personal, contextual, changeable.  We are indeed socially driven, and research from the New Economics Foundation has found that connecting with others is a driver of wellbeing.  But we are all different.  For every one of us that thrives in being around others and engaging, there will be someone else that craves quiet and time to themselves.  One size only fits one.

For me, my regular working from home is a benefit to my wellbeing. My long and stressful commute is challenging, so a day without it is a boost. My office days are usually frantic and coffee fuelled, food grabbed on the go. Working from home gives me time to focus and breathe.  Proximity to the biscuit tin aside, I usually also eat better, and fit in some exercise too.

But that’s me. This is an anecdote, not evidence from which we should draw any wider conclusions.

Instead of trying to decide whether homeworking is good or bad or something in between, instead we need to enable people to work in the way that works best for them; their productivity, their wellbeing, their efficiency and their personal commitments. For some that will be in an office, for others it’s their sofa.

Let’s just focus on adult to adult.

What and how the work is done, not where and when.

home working

Asking better questions

A little while ago I put a call out to HR folks via Twitter, asking them for their best open ended questions for employee surveys.

Now I am something of a cynic when it comes to surveys. I believe in the importance and power of employee voice, I’m just not convinced that a survey every year or two is the best way to get it – or the only way to get it at least.  Voice should be a dialogue.  Surveys have a part to play but organisations have a tendency to over rely on them – and then when it comes to taking action – seriously under deliver.

One of my key issues about surveys is the often used approach of including one or two open form questions at the end. Most organisations use very similar wording.  There will usually be something about the best bit about working at [insert name of organisation] and an opportunity to say something that you think ought to be changed or done differently.  Hardly ground breaking.

I’ve rarely found an organisation that seriously looks at the ‘things I’d change’ text and does anything meaningful with the data. I have however seen shrugs and eye rolls.  Suggestions often get dumped into one of two categories – stuff we know about and can’t / won’t change or stuff that we justify not changing because the employees got it wrong and we know better.

It’s my view that asking people two questions every couple of years with a limited character count ain’t employee voice.

I wanted to take the opportunity to ask some better questions the next time around. So I asked for help and my network delivered.  In the interests of sharing my learning, I’ve detailed them here.  In an example of shocking form I noted the question but not who suggested them and this is now lost forever in my twitter history.  Apologies to you if you gave me one of these cracking questions and I’ve  not give you credit.  Here’s the list:

  • What one thing should we do between now and the next survey to get your score to be significantly higher?
  • What is the one thing we should have asked you but didn’t?
  • What is the best piece of advice you have been given since you started here?  Or, what is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting here?
  • What gives you joy about working here? (I guess there’s a risk with this one that some people might say ‘going home)
  • What do we do that would help you be awesome at work?
  • How could we better support your career?
  • What is the biggest and smallest thing that we could do better?
  • What is the most challenging thing about working here?
  • What has happened in the last month to make you happy at work?
  • What is it about your job that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
  • What would you do if you were leading the organisation.

My personal favourites are the top two. Questions to get people thinking, not writing the same old stuff that they did last year that you took no notice of.  Of course, a good question and fresh perspectives can’t prevent organisation inaction – but just maybe they will provide you with a whole new set of ideas and challenges.  Just try and do something with the feedback…….

 

pexels-photo-263532

Where’s your flexible working policy?

Almost all organisations will have a flexible working policy, even if all it’s doing is stating the minimum requirements of the legislation.

But where is it?

Where on your intranet, where in your managers guidance, your welcome booklet or your induction material?  Where in your recruitment material and processes?

Is it next to the maternity, adoption and parental leave policies?

If the answer is yes, what lies underneath that decision? And what message do you think it sends to the people that work for you?

Flexible working is for parents. And for everyone else.

This article I spotted last night hits all the nails on the head.

Flexible working is about inclusion, wellbeing, talent attraction and retention and engagement. It’s also about sustainability (just how many people do you have travelling unnecessarily into a city for a face to face meeting that they could do on Skype just because that’s how you’ve always done it?).  Flexible working is also key to addressing the gender pay gap.

The placement of your policy speaks to your intention – and your bias.

If your flexible working policy is sat next to your maternity leave policy, then I’d respectfully suggest you think about moving it to somewhere a little more inclusive instead.

flex 2

Top 10 commuters to avoid

It’s a funny old thing getting the train to work. It is, quite often, a fairly miserable experience. The unreliability, the cost, the dilapidated trains.  But most of all, the biggest challenge is often the fellow commuter.  Here is my list of the worst of the worst.

  1. The one who has their bag on the seat next to them and pretends they can’t see all the people standing up. Note to this commuter. This isn’t going to work. It really isn’t, no matter how much you harrumph or how slow you move your stuff. Be fair to others.
  2. The one who watches video on their phone without headphones.   This should be illegal. I tolerate quite a lot on the train, but this is the one thing that I will ask someone to stop. With, it must be said, varying levels of success.
  3. The manspreader. Nuff said.
  4. The one with the excessively loud ringtone. Most often accompanied with and excessively loud conversation when answered. I’M ON THE TRAIN.
  5. The one who breaches the GDPR. I am amazed what people do on the train. I have seen people assessing CVs, reading legal papers, sending emails about other people, all with personal data on display. I’ve also overhead people getting interview feedback.   I recently sat next to a legal type and read his court papers over his shoulder. It was fascinating stuff, but I bet the claimant wouldn’t have been all that happy about it.
  6. The ones that are drunk. Whether it’s the Christmas party season or that lone dude who is nailing can after can of Stella Artois, this is never the commuter to sit next to.
  7. The one who only gets the train occasionally and loudly reflects how they are glad that they don’t have to do this every day.  Lucky you.  And just for the record, we already know how awful it is.
  8. The one who won’t give way with their laptop. You are sitting at a table trying to do a little work on your laptop. Only the person opposite to you has their laptop out too and is taking all the space. Note to this commuter. If you are sitting opposite me, it’s going to get a shove.
  9. The one who talks to strangers. The person sitting next to them is a new potential friend!  AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
  10. The one who overshares. You know the one. They spend the entire journey on the phone to their mum or their BFF and you know everything about them. Including lots of stuff you never, ever wanted to know. Shhhhh.

These aren’t the only challenging commuters; there’s the ones who bring stinky food, the ones who take their shoes off, the snorers, and those who have dubious personal hygiene.

I hope if you are reading this, you aren’t one of these commuters. I don’t think I am.  Although I do crunch Werthers Originals all the way to the office.  Which means that somewhere, I’m probably on someone else’s list of people not to sit next to.

 

PS: commuting is a wellbeing issue. It is stressful, expensive and takes away from people’s time with their family.  Flexible working is a potential solution.  Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. 

train

 

Hanging out the washing

I was chatting recently with some female colleagues, and we got to talking about flexible working. In particular, we talked about some of those negative perceptions of people who work flexibly, especially those who work from home for some of the time.  Flexism.

The idea that we are skiving. That somehow we are less committed. That it’s alright for some.  That we are probably watching Homes Under the Hammer.  We talked about how when we do work from home, we feel that we do deeper, more focused work.  We are more productive, without the constant disruptions of office life.  We have time to think, plan, create.

And then one of my colleagues said…. ‘well of course, I also do the washing’.

One by one we all agreed. One of the key benefits of working from home is getting your washing done.

A conversation of epic domesticity followed.  Get a load in first thing.  Get it on the line at lunch.  If you are organised, you can get two loads done and dry in a day.  The joy!  Each of us nodded along, completely understanding because we do it too.

Behind the humour, a serious point. This is just another small way in which domestic labour falling on women is taken for granted.  Another small way in which we are constantly balancing the work stuff and the life stuff.  Fitting it in. Because this is where the bulk of it still falls.  On women.

Back to the myths and the stereotypes of flexible working. All too often we see flexible working through the ‘family friendly’ lens.  It’s something that mums want, when their children are young.  It’s something that skivers want too.  We don’t think about it as being for wellbeing, inclusion, talent attraction and retention, engagement, a potential key to tackling the gender pay gap.

We got it wrong. Turns out, flexible working is for people who want to do the laundry.

wash

 

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?

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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.

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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).

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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……

From resources to human beings #cipdace

John Amaechi believes that HR is increasingly becoming the moral compass of an organisation, with a responsibility to preserve organisational integrity.  I really don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand there have been times during my carer that I’ve been the person in the room arguing from feeling, arguing for the right thing to do.  But should we need a moral compass? What does it say about our organisations if we do?  Should integrity be the role of a department – or everyone’s responsibility?

This talk is about how we humanise our workforce to develop healthy and ethical organisations.  I’ve never liked the ‘resources’ part of HR. It’s not how I think of people, it’s not how I want people to think about me. So I’m listening.

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This is what John has to say.

We are custodians of culture.  Senior colleagues often think that our job is to create compliance, procedure, policy, legal frameworks.  We know that stress is everywhere.  People are constantly talking about AI and robotics. These conversations seem to be about making robots who look and behave like humans.  Think about what we already have – Alexa and Siri.  We have gendered AI right from the beginning.  We aren’t asking Alexa to tackle the big problems, just to turn the lights on and off.

We are turning our people into things in our workplace.  We are allowing it to happen.  It is being caused by our environments and our leaders.

All too often we treat our people like vending machines.  Like job descriptions.  We make them feel invisible.  We don’t see them or hear them unless we need something from them.  Do this, do that. We don’t see them as individuals, but we so need to do so.

Go on any company website.  They will all say the same sort of thing about their values. About how they are diverse and inclusive.  That want people to feel engaged. They want innovative thinking.  We have a great working environment at our place.

These are supposed to illustrate what it is like to be in our organisations.  As people who work with people, we have to maintain some congruence between the rhetoric of our statements and the reality.  How many people believe their company values – research suggests about 27%.  For many, the promise and the experience are disparate.

If we are in a relationship with someone and the lie to us, we leave.  If we promise values, experience, but then do not deliver, people will move on.

We have values, but then allow people to behave like jerks and not live them. We allow people to poison these values. If managers allow or create toxic environments, we will remember, we will not forgive them.

HR must be the custodian. We have organisations that are saying the right things, now it is time to make sure we live up to them.

Right now, disruption roars around us.  Leaders that roar should be resisted. It is tempting at times of disruption to look to autocrats, people who a strong, give orders. There are still too many people like this in senior positions.

You are more powerful in HR than you think. People may want to put you in your place. We may think that our actions are inconsequential.  This isn’t so. People will look to us to set the tone and live the values in our organisation.  We have a dual responsibility to not only do our jobs but deliver the promised experience.

Because no one will work for someone that lies to them.  This is how we reverse the trend of low productivity, low engagement.  We have to do this all the time.

We cannot predict and prepare for the important moments.  We cannot always see them coming, we do not even always know when they happen until after they have gone. We must always be vigilant and mindful.

We must always make time to connect with people.  Give them moments of our time.  Human connection is what will make us thrive, not policy and procedure.  Whether we see each other as real people.  We must demand it of ourselves and our colleagues, all the time.

I loved this session.  It was delivered with humour and style, and personal reflection. There were no slides (I love this).  There is nothing to disagree with.

In HR we have a unique position. We can create the culture.  We might not always think that we can, but we do have influence – perhaps in ways we do not always appreciate.  Whatever our context and situation, whatever our organisational power, there is something else that we can do – we can role model.  I know it is a cliché, but we can truly be the change that we want to see – at work if not in the whole world.  Even if the people around us don’t live the values, we can. Even if the people around us don’t uphold an ethical approach, we can.   Whether we realise it or not, people will look to us, will see our shadow.

If I didn’t believe these things, then I wouldn’t do the work that I do.

It is also a cliché to talk about putting the human into human resources.  But after listening to this talk, it doesn’t suddenly feel quite so stale.

This is a live blog post. Please ignore any typos!

 

Back to Human #CIPDACE

I’m at the CIPD conference listening to author Dan Schawbel. He’s talking about how technology has created the illusion that we are connected at work, but, while useful, virtual communication has contributed to a greater sense of isolation than ever before.

Now as a social media enthusiast I instinctively dislike this suggestion.  Social media is where I met my partner and some of my very favourite people.  It is where I found my tribe, my community of practice, my PLN.  I passionately believe in the power of technology to connect us at work and beyond, regardless of geography, access, timezones.

So…. will I like when he has to say?

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Dan argues:

The illusion of connection is that we are forming strong bonds but they are weak ties. Voice is gone, you have to send a text message.  We look at our phones every 12 minutes (Note from me- nah, more than that). Technology and apps and devices are designed to get us addicted. The more we use them, the more we tap our phones, the more money organisations make.

Half of Americans would rather break a bone than their phone. Technology is a double edged sword. We need to know when, where and how to use it.  We need to ensure we aren’t overusing it.  If you are in a meeting or a social event and looking at your phone, you are not present.  You are physically there but not in any other way.  So why did you bother showing up? Do you panic if you have no mobile signal? We miss moments as we are so busy posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook, looking for likes from people who aren’t there, that we might not even like.

Not having your phone is the new vacation.  We are lacking human connection.

Remote working is something that is increasing.  We talk about benefits of it, but not the dark side.  We can save on commuting costs and time.  It is the most desired benefit – but at the same time this privilege to work wherever we want has come with its inbuilt issues.  Remote working can impact team commitment and connection.

We are addicted to email. We would rather send an email than talk to people. (Note from me – yes, I would. Don’t ring me).

You can have a lot of Facebook friends, but are they real friends, or are we lonely?

Work is impacting our life.  We need to recognise people as people and not workers – and this is going to become even more important as the technology in our work and lives increases.

We need to integrate our lives with our work.

Social integration is important, but we are removing it from our society.  Consider self service checkouts.  We don’t have to engage with another human being.

With all the talk about technology taking over jobs, what matters is our humanity – what makes you, you.  Use technology where it appropriate, but stick to being human.

There are four key employee engagement factors that relate to each other.  The first one is trust.  The second is belonging – people want to feel that they belong at work.  Third is purpose – people need a reason to go to work every day.  Finally, happiness.  Without these factors this is not a healthy environment.

People want to bring their full selves into the workplace, and we have to meet them where we are.  We need to get back to human.

 

I just don’t know how I feel about this whole session……..  I get that we need breaks from work.  I get that technology can be as problematic as it is freeing and positive.  But I have genuinely never felt the need for a digital detox.  My phone is where my friends are, where I connect, learn and engage with people I wish I could see more but can’t.  It is the place where I see my beautiful god-daughter every day, even though she is geographically far away.

For me, it isn’t the technology but how we use it.  We do have agency and choice.  Remote working doesn’t have to mean working from home everyday, not connecting with others.  It can be part of a mix.  Technology doesn’t have to prevent communication and discussion, but facilitate it.  Being in the office can also be isolating, depending on where and how you work.

So much of this is contextual.  What works for one person, doesn’t work for everyone.  not everyone needs or wants work friendships.  Not everyone has a lot of transactional Facebook friends.

For some of us (e.g. me) chatting to my friends in my social spaces, through my phone, makes me happy.

Using technology doesn’t mean we aren’t empathic.  It doesn’t mean we can’t bring our whole self to work.

This stuff is undoubtedly complex.  Late night and weekend emailing can be pressuring, damaging to health, indicative of problematic organisational culture.  It could be that someone is working flexibly at a time that works for them, when they feel most energised.  What we need to do is empower people.  To turn off the tech when they need to.  To work when and how they need to, but at the same time tell others that this doesn’t mean that they need to do the same.  If your phone and the technology isn’t serving you well, put it down.  You have choice.  I don’t want me emails to be automatically deleted because I am on holiday, or my colleagues to be banned from emailing me out of hours – I am an adult.  And that just perpetuates the idea that there are ‘normal’ working hours rather than recognising that a healthy, balanced approach might mean I can work when it works for me.

Connect in person. Connect virtually.  Both, for me, are human.

Reflect.

Put down your phone if you need to. And if you don’t feel that you have a problem, then proceed as you were.

This is a live blog.  Please ignore any typos!