As National Mental Health Awareness Week drew to a close last week, I feel positive in the knowledge that health and well-being is slowly moving into the sphere of consciousness for many organisations.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported in April that 61% of people feel that employee well-being is on the agenda for senior leaders in their organisation (compared to only 55% last year) and the subject is a hot topic for many of this year’s summits and events in the sector.
The theme for the Solace Leadership Forum earlier this year centred on well-being, and the speakers who so candidly shared their own personal experiences on this subject, inspired me to consider my own well-being and that of my team at Solace. In fact, on the train on the way home I felt duty-bound to buy a crosstrainer on Amazon (which thankfully was – and still is – out of stock!). Having subsequently spent last week at the Public Services People Managers Association (PPMA) conference exploring a similar theme of topics, I feel not only compelled to act but also equipped with some of the knowledge, tools and techniques needed to make a real change.
As a recruiter I am not programmed to focus too heavily on my own health and well-being. When I joined the industry more than 15 years ago, I clearly remember sitting in an interview, being asked to sign a waiver to agree that I would work in excess of the standard 37-hour week. At that moment I realised this industry would take its pound of flesh. I was contracted to work 8.30am to 6pm and would regularly work in excess of this. I would rarely call in sick and my holiday entitlement was never fully utilised. Interestingly, I was never told that this was expected of me…I just took my lead from those around me. If others worked late, then so would I and if others came to work ill, then I would too.
At the PPMA conference last week Maria Paviour, an occupational psychologist specialising in engaging employees, explained that she feels it is capitalist society telling us these behaviours make us effective, when in reality operating in this type of pressure culture can in some cases lead to the brain effectively shutting down.
At Solace, because we don’t use individual targets and commission, our culture is somewhat different to that of a typical recruiter. This said, we do operate in a highly competitive market and in a commercially driven industry and we all want to be the best. This in itself can take its toll on individuals in a number of ways.
Developing a culture where we respect one another’s health and well-being is becoming more and more critical, and relies heavily on the modelling of positive work behaviours and creating a culture where employees feel safe and engaged.
Ms Paviour talks about the brain’s natural response when under threat; skills like problem solving, decision making and cooperation become immobilised. She urges senior leaders not to blame people at work for their brain responses but to take responsibility for the culture they create. She advises showing vulnerability and acceptance to drive courage and also champions the creation of a safe, learning culture.
Jamil Qureshi, an expert in performance enhancing psychology, advises focusing not on how employees act but how they think. Changing the way they view their role and the value contribution they make to society, will positively affect their actions at work. Not only does creating this type of culture support a healthy and engaged workforce but according to Mr Qureshi learning faster and better than your competitors also creates sustainable competitive advantage.
Beverley Alimo-Metcalfe, a leading professor of leadership studies believes that engagement holds the key to a happy and healthy workforce. As part of this she agrees that a culture of psychological safety and a focus on learning and therefore mastery are critical to well-being. She also talks about autonomy being a main driver in reducing stress, as well as the importance of showing appreciation and ensuring employees experience meaning and purpose in their role.
So, what am I going to do differently? What small changes can I make to improve the health and well-being of my team? Well, firstly I will allow myself to focus on my own health and well-being and model the behaviours I would like to see in my team. I will start working on that ‘safe’ culture by showing my own vulnerability and admitting that I don’t know all the answers here. I will commit to not allowing myself to feel immobilised by the huge task of ‘culture change’. Instead I will focus on making one small change per day. I will use my lunch break to take a walk, get some exercise and relax. I will ask the difficult questions and accept the answers I might not want to hear. I will look out for the signs that a colleague might be struggling and I will talk openly about these signs and how to spot them and I will encourage my team to look out for one another. I will drive a renewed focus on learning to facilitate mastery and I will encourage autonomy by creating a safe environment where mistakes can be made, learnt from and forgotten.
Improving the health and well-being of an organisation sounds daunting and it would be easy to bury your head in the sand and continue driving performance and efficiency at whatever cost. I am making a commitment to myself and my team not to do this. I don’t believe improving health and well-being needs to be time-consuming, complicated and costly.
I think changes, however small, can make a real difference.
Jessica Mullinger is head of interim management at Solace