This week is World Wellbeing Week so, as an Executive Coach, I wanted to write an article on Wellbeing at Work to tie in with that.
The good news is that mental and emotional wellbeing at work have risen up the agenda in a big way in recent years which is excellent. However, the truth is that many companies are still only ticking the required boxes and playing the corporate game when it comes to wellbeing. More importantly, they are often only dealing with the symptoms and not the root causes.
If someone is experiencing unhealthy levels of stress at work, companies might give them access to counselling, send them on a half day course or, in extreme cases, sign them off for a few weeks.
However, how many companies are really holding a mirror up to themselves and asking:
“Why is this happening?”
“Why aren’t my people thriving at work?”
Be honest with yourself. Whether you’re a CEO, an HR Director or a leader who’s been round the block a few times. Even if you appear to understand and show empathy when it comes to stress in the workplace (because it’s ‘inappropriate’ not to in 2019), the truth is that privately you’re more likely to be thinking:
“Why can’t they get a grip?”
“This would never have happened in my day.”
“Why are millennials such snowflakes?”
And so on.
It’s about personal blame rather than what I call systemic thinking. Putting the onus on the individual rather than asking what is going on in the wider system to cause these personal challenges.
Well, after over a decade of coaching individuals at all levels struggling with stress and overwhelm, here are my personal views on the top 3 issues impacting wellbeing at work and what to do about them:
1. Poor Leadership
It’s rare that I come across a great leader. When I do, I literally rejoice. It makes my heart zing.
I know from personal experience what it’s like to work for a poor leader and I see the impact of poor leadership on my Coachees almost every day. It’s soul-destroying.
Whether they’re 60, 40 or 25 the issues are typically the same. A fundamental need to command and control. An inability to let go of the day to day, empower their people and let them fly free.
If you‘re sitting there now in denial “Oh no. That’s not me.” Then take a long, hard look at yourself and your behaviours.
- How flexible are you when it comes to how your team members plan their day or spend their time?
- How often do you tell them what’s required, how you want it done and by when rather than discussing it with them or getting their views/input first?
- How frequently do you step in to solve their ‘problems’ and save the day? Classic ‘superhero’ syndrome.
Research proves time and again that the majority of people leave their jobs because of their relationship with their boss.
As Simon Sinek said only recently in a presentation I saw, there is a “leadership vacuum” in this country which needs to be urgently addressed.
Poor Leadership – What To Do About It
At a company level you need to properly invest in your leaders – give them the training/coaching/mentoring they require to become brilliant leaders not just experts in their field. There is so much untapped potential in your business, but if your leaders can’t learn to let go and empower others it will remain untapped in your business or be harnessed elsewhere.
At an individual level, have the courage to let go. Reward results, not presenteeism. Treat your people with respect. They may not have your years of experience, but they are likely to have a different perspective and some great ideas to offer. Last but not least, use a Coaching leadership style. Ask, don’t tell. And get over yourself. Let them be the heroes of the day!
2. E-mail Slavery
If you haven’t yet realised the negative impact e-mail is having on your people and on yourself, then today is the day I hope it finally sinks in.
I call e-mail the “scourge of modern business” and I truly believe that to be true.
We treat e-mails like 999 calls. When we receive one we feel as if we HAVE to respond right there and then. Whatever time of day or night it is. We treat every e-mail like it’s an urgent request that requires an immediate response. After all, it’s what people expect, right?
Well, only if that is what they have come to expect. Only if your behaviour leads them to expect that.
However, this has a huge impact on your productivity and hence an even bigger impact on your mental and emotional wellbeing. What I call e-mail overwhelm.
Many of my Coachees, when I first start working with them, are managed by their e-mails, not by their manager.
- Firstly, their manager doesn’t speak to them; they e-mail them (even when they’re sitting almost next to them).
- Secondly, their e-mail inbox dictates what they do by when and for whom. They spend all day responding to e-mails rather than getting on with their own priorities and tasks at hand.
- Finally, they then spend all evening, when they’re tired and at their least creative, catching up on the work they needed to be doing to keep their bosses and clients happy.
This needs to stop.
E-mail Slavery – What To Do About It
At a company/department/team level, review your e-mail culture. Is e-mail preventing valuable face to face time? Is e-mail being used to avoid difficult conversations? Is e-mail dictating peoples’ agendas? Is e-mail preventing people from doing important aspects of their job? Are people sending e-mails at all hours of the day and night preventing others from ever switching off? These are big problems for efficiency, effectiveness and mental wellbeing which need to be addressed.
At an individual level, there are lots of things you can do. Switch off your e-mail alerts so you’re not distracted by them. Use your out of office when you need to. Have set times of day when you check your e-mails. Avoid sending non-urgent e-mails out of work hours. Set yourself some boundaries around e-mail eg, no checking after 7pmor 8pmetc.
Unshackle yourself and stop being a slave to your e-mail inbox.
3. A Culture of Stress
What often strikes me in businesses is that being stressed has become a badge of honour. If you’re not perceived as being madly busy or stressed, then you can’t possibly be pulling your weight. In fact, so much so that you’re worried you might lose your job.
When I ask my clients how they’re doing they almost always reply:
“A bit overwhelmed”
Or other words or phrases to that effect.
It’s as if they’re not allowed to be anything but – and that includes CEOs and senior leaders.
In fact, how would you feel if you asked one of your team how they were doing and they said:
“Feeling pretty chilled, actually”
“On top of everything”
What would your instinctive reaction be? My guess would be to give them more work to do.
Sometimes that would be appropriate. People experience hypno-stress as well as hyper-stress. Hypno-stress is when you don’t have enough to do, when you don’t feel challenged or don’t feel like you’re learning and growing. You feel bored, enervated, frustrated.
However, at other times, it might be more appropriate to give this person a pat on the back, give them a bit of breathing space or even some time off. Perhaps they have been mega-efficient. Perhaps they have worked their butts off to achieve something. Perhaps you’re just playing to their strengths and they’re enjoying the ride.
Hyper-stress, like any negative energy, is contagious. It reduces productivity, limits creativity and impacts relationships. It is bad news for business.
A Culture of Stress – What To Do About It
At a company/department/team level, challenge yourself on this issue. Are you creating/encouraging a culture of stress? Is saying you’re stressed a badge of honour? Is everyone expected to be working flat out or they’re not deemed to be doing their job? What can you do to change this?
At an individual level, recognise that feeling highly stressed a lot of the time is not good for anyone. You, your team, your family, your friends. Ultimately everyone will suffer. Try to avoid “stressed” being your default response. Explore your feelings more fully. Perhaps you’re feeling nervous, apprehensive or anxious? And remember that feelings like nervousness/anxiety and excitement are very similar. However, if you are feeling unhealthily stressed and unable to cope, reach out and ask for help from friends, family and colleagues. You’ll feel much better when you do.
There are many reasons why so few people experience good mental and emotional wellbeing at work. Sometimes it’s not even work issues; it might be personal issues which, contrary to popular opinion, they can’t just leave at the office door.
However, over recent years I have come to the view that poor leadership, e-mail slavery and a culture of stress are the 3 key things impacting wellbeing at work. Each one of them will take a lot of effort and energy to overcome at both an organizational level and an individual level, but one won’t happen without the other.
Businesses need to take wellbeing at work seriously; leaders need to consider their own impact on their departments and teams and individuals need to take personal ownership for their own wellbeing.
When these three areas are addressed, from the top down and the bottom up, your people, your teams and hence your businesses will thrive.