Why Wellbeing Matters 

Business, Culture, depression, HR, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, Uncategorized, values, Volunteer, workplace

Some of my more enlightened readers will be thinking – of course it matters, I don’t need telling why – but believe me when I say that you would be surprised by how many organisations don’t prioritise wellbeing. For them, wellbeing goes into the “nice to haves” category, rather than the “absolutely goddam essential” category, as it should be in my opinion. 

So why do I think it is goddam essential? I’ll tell you, if I didn’t practice self-care I wouldn’t be at work. I’ve had to learn about prioritising wellbeing the hard way. From trial and error, finding out what’s worked for my mental health and what hasn’t, what’s helped me live with my chronic pain and what hasn’t. I want to help people before they find themselves down the hole and help them get back out again if they’re already down there. That’s why wellbeing is top of my agenda for me as an independent learning & development consultant. 

The kind of people who categorise wellbeing initiatives, programmes and interventions as “nice to haves” are often the people that describe L&D as “fluffy”; there’s nothing fluffy about wellbeing. The alternative to not prioritising your staff’s and your own wellbeing is not good. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England quantify the cost of mental health presenteeism to UK employers as £15.1 billion annually, which equates to an average of £605 per employee – can your organisation afford that? At any one time, nearly 1 in 6 people in the UK workforce is affected by a mental health condition such as stress, depression or anxiety. MHFA claim that 31% of the staff that they have surveyed are considering leaving their current job in the next 12 months if stress levels in their organisation did not improve. 

So with that in mind, what has helped me? 

  • Getting a dog – there is now a whole other being that needs me to get out of bed everyday to feed and walk her. Training my puppy Iris (a border collie) has taken a lot of time and a lot of patience as they’re not an easy breed. Having Iris also means that I get daily…
  • Exercise – I walk Iris everyday, come rain or shine which also means I get the added advantages of being out in nature, down by the canal or on the racecourse, getting some vitamin D. Keeping active and mobile also stops my back from seizing up, so win win. 
  • Making an effort with my appearance – if I look down and out, it makes me feel even worse. Looking like you’ve fallen on hard times isn’t going to cheer anyone up, nor is people looking at you like you’ve lost your mind because you’ve not brushed your hair and you’re wearing crumpled clothes to the office. Making an effort also includes regular showering, it might sound gross but for a lot of people struggling with MH problems, showering is one of the first things to go. 
  • Connecting with people – it is really easy to fall off the grid when you’re struggling with life but it doesn’t help to isolate yourself. Get in touch with a friend or family member that you don’t mind seeing you in your pjs, and tell them how you’re feeling. Sometimes just talking to someone can help you get some perspective. A sympathetic ear can make a world of difference, believe me. 
  • Consciously interrupting negative rumination – this one is easier said than done for sure, but once you can do it, it can be a real game changer. Taking time to think about what you’re grateful for in your life can really help to lift your mood. You might have seen the #3goodthings going around SoMe, join in, pick 3 good things that have happened today and take time to be thankful and appreciative. They can be small things too, no matter how bad your day is going you can always find 3 things, maybe its a nice brew, or a funny tv show, or talking to a friend – it can be anything. Interrupting negative rumination takes a real conscious effort but it is worth it. 
  • Volunteering – going to Uganda last year and volunteering with homeless children changed my life. From that experience I now know that volunteering is something really important to me and that I want to do more of it. Although it was a tough experience, it was also incredibly fulfilling. 
  • Having colleagues and a line manager I can talk to – not having to worry about being judged at work makes going to work so much more manageable, less stressful and more enjoyable. You can only have this if the organisation you work for doesn’t stigmatise MH problems. Your organisation needs to actively support people experiencing health problems (be it psychological of physical) in coming back to work when they’re ready. When it comes to my back, I can feel really embarrassed and self conscious about asking for help, because I’m young and I don’t look disabled. So having people at work who care about me, and think to themselves – Alice will need help carrying these boxes to the car – made a huge difference and stopped me from feeling embarrassed about not being able to do something.

I hope trying a few of these tips can help you, if you do try them then please let me know, and equally, if you have any different tips that have helped you then please let me know that too. 

Wellbeing is so important, looking after yours can be the difference between surviving and thriving, and that is why I’m so passionate about it, and also why I’m so excited about helping others through my wellbeing programmes. If you would like to learn more about wellbeing for yourself or for your team or organisation then please get in touch at AliceLsAndDs@Outlook.com. 


Keeping Up With the Joneses

Business, depression, HR, L&D, Leadership, mental health, Perfectionism, Uncategorized, values, workplace

I don’t think we’re honest enough in business, or in life but this blog is about work. We’re all so caught up with keeping up with the Joneses or in saving face but what does that actually help? 

There is, of course, a need to remain ‘professional’ whatever that means, and we also need to ensure we don’t overshare and make people uncomfortable. Like, ‘here comes Tina into the tearoom about to tell us in graphic detail about her IBS’ – no thanks, Tina. 

What I mean by saving face or keeping up with the Joneses is this desire to portray absolutely everything about our jobs, or our businesses as perfect. Again, I’m not saying to be a moaning Myrtle about things but why not be at least realistic. It surely can’t be good for you to pretend everything is perfect when it isn’t.

Here is a typical example:

‘How’s business, Joan?’ Asked Lee. 

‘Oh brilliant, I am just so busy!’ Says Joan.

*Little does Lee know, Joan hasn’t had paid work in months and isn’t sure how she’s going to pay her mortgage.*

Ok so that’s a little extreme but the point remains that saving face to this extent just cannot be healthy for Joan. Also, maybe if Joan admitted to Lee that things had been slow for her recently he might be able to help in some way. Of course context and their relationship makes a difference but please, lets try and be more honest. Is it any wonder so many people are struggling with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression when they potentially feel like the only person that they know who isn’t succeeding? Social media is rife for this as many have pointed out, seeing the idealised version of people’s lives, their utopic workplaces and stepford families is enough to make anyone feel inferior. 

Don’t let it get you down though, you’re not the only one struggling as much as it might seem that way sometimes. Maybe if you’re more honest with your friends, family and co-workers, you’ll find that they do the same and we can all start having real conversations, and helping and supporting each other. 

I know that it might seem scary and pretending you’re fine is a hard habit to break, it is the British way after all, stiff upper lip and all that. 

With that in mind, I’ll start; I’ve just gone independent and I’m scared. 

Yes, I’m excited but I’m also nervous. I’ve gone from knowing I’ll be paid on the same day every month to hoping I have a good enough reputation and network to ensure that I’ve got regular work. I’m fortunate though, as I know I have a great support network of people who I can be real with, who I can ask for help from, and who can be relied upon to celebrate with me or commiserate with me. 

Try opening up. Don’t accidentally (or otherwise) make people feel like the only ones that are living less than perfect lives. 

I’d love to know your thoughts. 

Experiencing “Other”

Africa, Business, Charity, HR, L&D, Race, Uncategorized, values, Volunteer

The really important thing is to see connections. It is only when we see real connections that we can meaningfully talk about differences, similarities, and identities.                                                          

– Borders & Bridges, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

Recently on a trip to Uganda (volunteering with homeless children and using HR skills to help local staff in case you haven’t heard 100 times already) I had my first experience of feeling “Other”. I won’t discuss the critical theory and postcolonial theory surrounding Othering, but if you’re interested in learning more see the works of Michel Foucault and Edward Said as good starting places.  A disclaimer – this blog is not intended to illicit sympathy (poor white girl got stared at), but simply to share a moment of new experience creating a different and enhanced perspective.

One evening walking to buy water with my Brit friend in Kampala we drew a lot of attention. I am VERY white, with orange hair, and I’m pretty tall too at around 5 ft 10 and the average height of Ugandan women (according to google) is about 5 ft 2. I felt very different. Being a typical Brit I also did not speak any of the local languages. I didn’t feel in danger I hasten to add, but I felt like a spectacle, something to be stared at – why was I there? During this I had a moment of empathy for my boyfriend; we live in a very white town in North Yorkshire and he is mixed race (Afro-Caribbean & White British) and he feels different and unwanted (especially as our town voted to leave in Brexit). I’ve always been sympathetic to his situation but I had a moment of clarity and empathy whilst in Kampala. We live in the same house, in the same town and yet we’re both living a completely different experience as I’ve always found the town friendly and welcoming.


Another instance of feeling a spectacle was when the group of us white Brits (and one Ozzy) walked through the slums. Although we were in Kampala to help it was hard not to feel like a voyeur walking through the slums, knowing that we could leave any time we chose and could go back to our nice hotel. Everybody in the slums, especially the children were lovely, friendly and welcoming and I felt like Princess Diana and that was surprisingly uncomfortable. We must have seemed like royalty, those living there assuming that we were rich and could potentially help them out of their poverty should we be in the mood to help. I don’t wish to belittle or in anyway diminish the great work we did out there (for Retrak charity) but I think it is important to critically think about perception, culture and Othering.

In a twist to the original theory of Othering, I experienced being Other from a perceived position of power. It is hard to express in words how that felt. Ultimately I experienced “White Guilt” – as Jean-Marc Ferry observed, “[w]e have to remember, in a critical way, the violence and humiliation we have inflicted on whole peoples in every continent in order to impose our own vision of humanity and civilization.”. This is something, having studied postcolonialsim, I’m acutely aware of.

I want to end this blog post on a positive note, I wholeheartedly agree with the quote I started on of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o – that we need to see real connections, and as Maya Angelou said –

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

L&D In Uganda #ConnectingHRAfrica

Africa, Business, Charity, HR, L&D, Leadership, Management, teamwork, values, Volunteer, workplace


Now that I’m back in the UK I feel that I’m much more able to reflect on my time in Kampala volunteering with the charity Retrak. I’ve got huge respect and admiration for my companions who blogged during their experience, but I didn’t feel emotionally able to at the time. So here goes…

Part of the reason why we went to Africa was to utilise our HR & L&D skills to train and coach the staff who work at the children’s centres in Kampala for Retrak. Centre managers, social workers, counsellors, programme leaders, volunteers and so on. It was a truly humbling experience to be able to, in some small way, help those incredible staff members to feel valued, supported, cared for and listened to. These are people who are truly dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable children. Children who are homeless, abused, frightened and alone. Can you imagine how much resilience, passion and determination it takes to continue to deliver excellence to these children day in and day out? I’m going to cover more about the amazing work they do in my next blog.

We did sessions with the intact teams who worked together in each centre. One day I co-facilitated on a session around resilience, teamwork, communication and pacing. We always offered follow-up 1:1 coaching sessions should they wish to continue talking to us on an individual basis. Below is a picture of me and my wonderful coachee Juliette:


Juliette is one of the amazing social workers at the girl’s centre. We also ran a day’s programme for the head office staff. My topics were on communication, respect, values and leadership.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had such an attentive and appreciative audience.

I was also struck by the universal nature of problems in the workplace. Some of our participants were telling us about their issues assuming that they were due to the cultural differences of Uganda – but I can tell you, from having worked with organisations all over EMEA – we all experience the same problems and gripes as one and other. Some at a more extreme level than others, sure. Ultimately though, we all want to be and to have high performing teams, effective leadership, we want our staff to live and breathe our values, we want commitment and motivation, we want engagement, respect, diversity and resilience. I can say unequivocally that ALL of the Retrak staff that I met were high performing, dedicated and inspiring.

Ultimately I was left feeling like I want and need to do more for these wonderful people. If you’re interested in finding out what you can do to help them too then please get in touch. There must be more!

Here is the rest of the wonderful team I facilitated with:

The team.jpg

Please remember that it is not too late to donate too!

Maybe it is time for a move…

Finding Your Joy

Business, depression, HR, L&D, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, values, workplace

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle

I think a lot of us in L&D spend time helping others find their joy at work, usually referred to as something along the lines of improving engagement and motivation. How often do we think about our joy? Our motivation? It is about time we practice what we preach!

Imagine, if you will, that you were having a conversation with your boss (be it manager, partner (!) etc.) – what small changes could you make (if you were allowed) to your day to enhance your workplace experience? Could it be something like:

  • Allocated time to work on certain projects.
  • Introvert time where you can work in a quiet space on tasks that need concentration.
  • Hot-desking, going to work around the building in different departments, enjoying the different dynamics and conversations.
  • Working from home a certain amount of time per week or to work on specific topics.
  • Flexible working to allow you to pick up the kids or play a sport.
  • Giving back; being able to, in some way, pursue philanthropic endeavours either through work or with work’s support. A sense of a greater purpose matters.

None of the above are radical ideas. We know happiness in the workplace matters.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 12.08.12.png

I had a conversation with my manager recently about the types of work I prefer, and how I can do more of what I love (being out and about talking to clients and prospects, attending and exhibiting at conferences) and less of what completely drains me (being in the office on my own doing paperwork). I appreciate that there are days I need to be in the office, writing contracts, submitting travel forms but on those days maybe I can also schedule some time to work on projects that motivate me (like keeping up-to-date on the latest critical theory surrounding relevant L&D topics, or looking after our SoMe) – that would help. So simple and yet I would be so much happier.

So what simple changes could you make to your workday to find your joy?

Stop and take the time to be self-reflexive and really think about where you’re most energised, where you find your flow and then take positive steps towards doing more of that. If you’re able to help someone find their joy – do it!

Action for Happiness tells us that:

Happiness doesn’t just feel good. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans

Why wouldn’t you try to find your joy?

I would love to hear from you about where at work you’ve found your joy.

Play “The Game” or be Disruptive?

Business, Disruptive, HR, L&D, Leadership, Management, Perfectionism, teamwork, Uncategorized, values, workplace


Hmmm what to do?

We all know that the reality of any workplace is that if you’re not liked (by decision makers) then you’re going nowhere fast. So, to an extent, we have to play “the game”. What’s “the game” I hear you ask? Its making sure that the right people like you, it’s showing that you’re dedicated and willing to do more than pretty much anyone else, its supporting decision makers and ensuring that you appear to be the logical if not the only choice for any upcoming promotions or development opportunities. Well that’s all very well and good and I’ve certainly done my fair share of playing “the game” but sometimes shit needs to be said.

Ask anyone who has ever worked with me and they will tell you that I’ve got a fair few opinions, a lot of ideas, and I tend to speak my mind. So, the question is, can you play “the game” AND be disruptive?

By disruptive I mean not sitting back and letting bad decisions be made without offering your insight. Quite often you’re words of wisdom will not be acted upon (depending on your position and organisational culture) but you’ll at least have the satisfaction of know that when things do go wrong, it isn’t through lack of you trying to intervene. You did your best.

Sadly, sometimes in the workplace people will resent you for offering your opinion, even when you’re right (especially when you’re right). You’re going to have to make the decision as to if it’s worth giving it anyway. Only you can make that decision.

In my case, I will always do more than is needed or even expected. I’m flexible and willing to get the job done no matter what. That’s not because of “the game”, though – that’s through pride (and being brought up proper!). I take pride in being excellent at any role I take on, whether or not I feel rewarded by the company, that’s just how I am (see my blog on my perfectionism for more about weird old me).

In my opinion, and its just my opinion of course, sometimes its worth getting into a bit of hot water with the boss to say what needs to be said. If you’re anything like me, this is for your own wellbeing more than anything else. I can’t stand to watch people make bad decisions especially when I’ve already made them (and I’ve made plenty). Thankfully I work in a role where I’m considered to be an expert (!), and I am fortunate enough that my advice is more often than not welcomed, after all, its what you’re paying me for. The skill, of course, is in guiding people towards a path of insight rather than dragging them there and the same is true for inside of your organisation too (it’s a skill that’s not just for clients!).

It’s a tough balancing act, getting ahead at work without compromising yourself in some way. Especially when you’re at the start of your career.

For those of you looking for advice I would say this:

Take pride in a job well done, let that be it’s own thanks; if you don’t feel proud of your work, it’s probably time to do something else. Sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and crack on in the world of work. Use your knowledge, expertise and experience to say what needs to be said. If they don’t take your advice, take it on the chin, dust yourself off and keep doing what you’re doing.

What do you think?

In Pursuit of Perfect

Business, depression, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, Perfectionism, Uncategorized, workplace

Why is perfectionism a problem?

You hear a lot of people talking about perfectionism along the lines of – “well its my high standards and hard work that has got me where I am today”. Well, yeah sure, to an extent. But perfectionism by its very definition is unrealistic:


Perfectionism blog image


So what’s the problem with perfectionism?

Perfectionism is associated with a range of psychological problems, including depression, generalized anxiety and worry, social anxiety and shyness, obsessive-compulsive problems, anger difficulties and issues related to body image and eating

(M.M. Antony & R.P. Swinson 2000: 29).

Yes, yes and yes to pretty much all of that other than I’m not shy.

How do you know if you’re a perfectionist? Well here is a story from my life for you, see if it sounds at all familiar:

Back when I used to play netball (before retiring from injury) one evening my team was playing to win both the league and the cup. We won one and lost the other. That night I was so livid and so upset that we didn’t win both that I actually threw up, and I couldn’t sleep. I was just replaying in my mind what I could have done differently, what my team could have done differently. My housemate at the time couldn’t understand why I wasn’t chuffed that we won the league – and, of course, she had a point but I couldn’t see it. My achievement was entirely overshadowed by the loss and it made me sick. I have so many stories such as this from my life that I could relay to you.

So, in a nutshell, that’s the problem. Its the same whether its sports, business or your relationships – you can’t celebrate your successes, you’re never satisfied because you always could have done better. In this area I see such a strong correlation between sports and business, just as I do around all kinds of leadership theory, teamwork, motivation and resilience; more blogs to follow on that.

Not only is perfectionism tough on you, but it’s tough on almost everyone else around you too. They have to see you struggling to achieve utterly unrealistic goals, and quite often they’re held up to the same ridiculous standards. A great example of early “socially-prescribed” perfectionism was seen in this year’s series of Child Genius – the pressure the parents put on their children to win was too much for any child to take and needless to say tears ensued, “[w]e have to ask ourselves as parents when we’re pushing our children, whose agenda are we running?”. (J.Bluestein 2015: 40) – here, here.

As Dr Jane Bluestein states:

Perfectionism is not a good thing. I’ve witnessed (and experienced) its toxic and corrosive effects on our thinking, our bodies, our relationships, our work, and our sense of worth. […} It’s the voice of the inner critic that screams “failure”, “loser”, “fraud”, regardless of the authenticity of our efforts, progress, or success.

(J.Bluestein 2015: 04)

So what can you do about perfectionism?

Firstly you have to recognise your perfectionistic tendencies. It often helps to have a good friend to point this out to you – is that a realistic goal? Are your current emotions reasonable by someone else’s standards? Helpful questions to ask yourself.

You’ve got to know which areas of your life your perfectionism is at its peak. For me it is sports, any kind of competition and my career. For you it might be your children, or your relationships, your artwork – it can affect almost any area of your life.

Check yourself, don’t allow yourself to have that endless negative self-talk – “I could have done it this way and then maybe it would have been better” OR “why didn’t I do it like that?”. Don’t berate yourself, try and keep perspective and always, always celebrate your successes (and if you’re a leader, the successes of your team!).

Be mindful!

Be kind to yourself and remember that comparing yourself to others is very rarely helpful, relevant or realistic. Practice self-care, it is so incredibly important, although, arguably, one of the hardest goals to achieve for many of us (myself included).

As always I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Any comments of feedback would be greatly appreciated.

For further reading:

Never Good Enough: How to Use Perfectionism to Your Advantage without Letting It Ruin Your Life by M.R. Basco (Simon & Schuster)

Overcoming Perfectionism by Jenny Gould (Ventus Publishing ApS)

Perfectionism: What’s Bad about Being Too Good? By M. Adderholdt-Elliott, M. Elliott, & J. Goldberg (Monarch Books)

The Perfection Deception: Why Trying to Be Perfect Is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage by J. Bluestein (Health Communications Inc.).

When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism by M. M. Antony & R. P. Swinson (New Harbinger Publications)



The Emotional Cost of Charity Work

Africa, Business, Charity, L&D, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, Volunteer, workplace

Well there’s around 6 weeks left before I go to Africa with a great group of people all volunteering their time (and money) with Retrak charity #ConnectingHRAfrica. A huge thank you to everyone who has donated or sponsored me so far, I truly appreciate it. I’m committed to raising £2k by the end of August and I’m currently at £1,125.

However, not only do I want to thank everyone who has donated and sponsored me (I truly can’t express how grateful I am), I also want to talk about the emotional toll volunteer work like this can have on you. I’m going to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned and hopefully these lessons can help you should you ever choose (which I really hope you do) to volunteer with a charity.

Firstly, I honestly wasn’t expecting this to be so hard, I mean, clearly I was very naïve. I thought to myself, sure, I can commit to raising £2,000, I’ll pay for my flights to Uganda myself, and I’ll pay for my visa, pay for my various injections and malaria tablets – man, charity work is expensive! I have a good job but I’m not Rockefeller and I’ve actually had to get a loan for this and use my annual leave. I thought, with all of the people and all of the companies I know, and work, they’re all surely going to want to donate, nice and easy, because who wouldn’t want to help homeless children in Africa?!…

And this is and has been stressful! In my last blog I spoke about resilience and in all honesty this has really tested mine. The pressure I’ve put on myself too hasn’t helped; desperately not wanting to let the charity down, and what if I pay for my flights and all the rest but don’t raise the money and I can’t go? That could have been money I just gave to the charity in the first place, money lost and wasted! I have had many sleepless nights about this trip and about fundraising. Also, nobody wants to be that person who constantly hounds friends, colleagues and family to donate. You start to feel like a cold-caller or a door-to-door salesperson (avoid eye contact or she’s going to shake her charity bucket at us).

The last thing I want to do is put any of you off doing something like this because I am so proud to be supporting such an amazing charity that does incredible work, but I think you should know what you’re getting yourself in for and also what will help get you through to your goal.

So, here are the things that help make the stress easier:

  • Having a network around you to share your experiences with. I’m really fortunate that I’m travelling to Kampala with a great set of HR peeps, although most of us have never met, through Skype calls and our Facebook group it really feels like we’ve become friends already.
  • Having people you can brainstorm fundraising ideas with. I knew I wanted to do a sponsored spin but I had NO IDEA how to go about doing it. Thankfully my colleague Kerry knows the wonderful staff at the York Marriott Hotel and she was more than happy to connect me up with them. The staff there were brilliant and supportive on the day during the epic 6 hour spinathon and thank goodness I was with my colleague Mark (who kindly volunteered to submit himself to torture with me) or I really think I might have quit before the 6 hour end goal.
  • Support, support, support. My parents have been fantastic! They run a bar and have tapped up all of their friends and punters and anyone that bumps into them in the street or shops (!) to get them to donate. I know they’re really proud of me and that helps motivate me to keep going and achieve my goal. My boyfriend has listened to me stress out and meltdown about it and has reassured me, has shared my JustGiving link with his band and his social media network. My colleagues Kerry and Mark have both listened to me stress and worry and have listened with empathy and then have offered their advice and support.
  • This is one can be really tough. Sometimes it will feel like people aren’t donating because maybe they’re not the friends you thought they were, or maybe because they don’t care that it is really important to you – but don’t take it personally! You have no idea what is going on in their lives and maybe they’re going through a skint spell (it happens to the best of us), or maybe they have their own fundraising going on, it could be any of 100 reasons so please keep that in mind.
  • Remember you’re doing something amazing. Just trying to raise funds for a charity is awesome, so be proud of yourself. Anything you raise is fantastic and will be greatly appreciated and put to good use.

There have also been some amazing positives so far to this experience (honest), and I’m not even there yet meeting the kids and local volunteers and doing such great work.

Some of the most unlikely of people have donated SO generously and it really warms the heart to witness such generosity and such unexpected kindness too. You will be amazed by the selflessness of some people and this work will also reconnect you with people you never thought it would and it really highlights the people who are there for you.

I hope this blog has helped some of you understand how tough charity work can be, but I also hope it inspires some of you to do something that’s tough, outside of your comfort zone but incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.

If you would like to donate please visit my JustGiving page.

For more information on the amazing Retrak charity see their website.


Your Brand of Resilience

Business, depression, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, Uncategorized, workplace


How do you keep going when things turn to shit?

Excuse a personal reflection.

I’ve been told I’m a resilient person, in previous blogs I’ve spoken about a few of the things that have happened in the last couple of years (chronic pain, depression, separation – all the good stuff). So how have I kept on keeping on? Well sometimes I haven’t, last year I had 6 weeks off work with depression, this year I’ve had a week off but I’m still keeping on trucking nevertheless.

I’m going to share with you some things that have worked for me and some of the things that contribute to sending me down into a deep pit of despair. If you’re interested in learning more about developing your own resilience you should take a look at these guys The Resilience Development Company – they’re doing some amazing work.

I talk about your “brand” of resilience because you need to know what works for you and also what threatens your resilience too as for different people its different things.

How to recognize when you’re en route to stress: for me, I know I’m struggling with my resilience when I start to more and more resemble Basil Fawlty. By this I mean that things at work that I normally would let go (people talking over me being the main one here) I am no longer able to stay silent about. I also lose my gameface and when someone says something ridiculous to me my thoughts are now all over my face. I start to interpret things personally too (they cancelled a meeting with me to have one with someone else, I must be less important to them etc). So what do I do about this? Firstly, I recognise it is happening. There will always be some people who push your buttons more than others and when I’m in Basil Fawlty mode (which only ever happens in the office and never when I’m out at conferences or delivering programmes) I tell my boss and then I go and work on Introvert tasks on my own in a spare office. I know that I never want to be the person that snaps at a colleague, or upsets someone because I’m feeling low or I’ve lost perspective so I make sure to take myself out of any situation that might end up with that result.

I also ask for help. This is a tough one for me for a number of reasons. 1) I’m proud. 2) I’m a perfectionist. 3) After 4 years of asking the NHS for back surgery and being constantly told no by just about everyone (except a surgeon, go figure), I now have a real fear of asking for help from anyone as my subconscious assumption is that I will be told no, and I’m scared of the emotions that I know that situation will evoke in me. I still quite often ask for help about 3 weeks after I should have, but I’m getting much better at it. Slowly, slowly.

My resilience always takes a hit by a low mood. Depression often involves peaks and troughs, mine is sometimes related to my levels of pain, and sometimes it isn’t apparently related to anything at all. There are some tried and tested ways of boosting my mood. Firstly, exercise. Hitting the gym on an evening or weekend, or spinning will make my mood so much more manageable both at home and at work. However, if my mood is low because my back is in spasm then there is no exercise to be done until my back eases off, so that’s a problem. Delivering programmes boosts my mood. I LOVE being out of the office, meeting new people, running programmes or even attending conferences. I love the buzz, the energy and I love showing off my expertise (definitely one of life’s showboats). But, that all depends on my work calendar, sometimes you’re out of the office for weeks on end and sometimes you’re in the office for weeks on end, alas, it’s the nature of the beast. The point is that my low mood is boosted by doing something I’m good at. I know that praise always improves my mood, my confidence and also my brand of resilience. Find something you’re good at and do it, be it something work related like delivery is for me, or the gym, a sport, writing a blog – anything!

When I’m in the office, here are the things that help:

  • People asking for my advice. One of my colleagues, Janet, is great at doing this. She loves bouncing ideas around, talking about the big picture, she gets me feeling really energised and buzzy and she makes me feel like an expert whose opinion she values. So, Janet – thank you!
  • Leaving the office for lunch/ break. This one is really easy and really important. Again, I have a fantastic colleague, Emma who is always up for grabbing lunch and letting me either sit in silence (but with company) if I need it or letting me vent about something that’s been getting me down. Thanks, Em!
  • Not asking how I am. I know this one probably sounds a little counterintuitive but what I mean is, if you think there is a chance I’m going to feel the need to say “I’m fine” when you ask me, because we’re not in private, or we don’t have that kind of relationship, or because I’ve just come back from sick leave for depression (dur of course I’m not fine), then don’t ask! By all means talk to me, ask me about my plans or how my day is going or tell me things but don’t ask that.
  • Listening to inspiring podcasts or TedTalks while I work.
  • Biscuits. Obviously.

I don’t know if these things will work for you, they certainly can’t hurt though. In the same way as I believe there isn’t one representative experience of depression or of any mental illness, I don’t think there is one type of resilience either. You’ve got to know your brand, how to boost it, and what works for you when it’s lowered. I would love to hear any tips you might have for boosting your mood or your resilience.

Why Aren’t We Emotionally Intelligent Yet?!

Business, L&D, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, workplace


Those people who are self-aware and sensitive to others manage their affairs with wisdom and grace, even in adverse circumstances.

(Matthews, Zeidner & Roberts, 2004: 03).


Later this year I’m presenting a talk around Emotional Intelligence (is it a pipedream or a prerequisite) at a conference. A very hot topic that featured prominently at this years’ #cipdnap16 too; and yet this isn’t a new theory. Why aren’t we there yet? Surely we all want “wisdom and grace”?

So what is stopping us from becoming Emotionally Intelligent? First of all, are we all talking about the same thing?:

[W]ritings on EI are a confusing mixture of unsubstantiated opinion and hyperbolic claims, together with serious, but still preliminary, research grounded in psychological theory and careful test development.

(Matthews, Zeidner & Roberts, 2004: 21).

EI is much written about in books and articles and has almost come to take on a mythological status as the Holy Grail of leadership aspiration and in the pursuit of self-reflection and awareness. I’m sure some people view EI as quite nebulous in nature, and maybe a bit abstract or conceptual…

However, I don’t find the aspirational nature of EI to be overly problematic, perhaps  that’s because I significantly prefer the abstract, and conceptual to the realistic and practical. Of course, it’s always preferable to be able to share a language and context with our teams (so pick a model/ Profile and go with it) – but as a concept in general I think it is both worthy of effort and a laudable endeavour. Whether you prefer your EI theory to be more based in philosophy, neuroscience, sociology or cognitive psychology is somewhat by the by. Surely we can all agree that anything that will help us to be more self-aware, that can help encourage empathy and emotional control can only be a positive? It doesn’t take a genius to see a correlation between boosting these areas and creating a culture of trust, respect and therefore of high-performance. Here are some great tips on boosting your EI.

Is Emotional Intelligence relevant to all industries and cultures? Tough question. My issue with EI theory is the same issue I have with the concept of “authenticity” in the workplace – in so much as, there’s not just one type of EI, and there isn’t just one version of yourself. We must all balance being our true selves and also our professional selves at work, and we must also workout our own brand of Emotional Intelligence and what that looks like and what behaviours we’re trying to elicit and reward as leaders. There is a great article here on the “Authenticity Paradox”.

The very core of Emotional Intelligence is understanding yourself, being self-reflexive, empathising and creating valuable and meaningful relationships with our co-workers. Particularly for leaders, we need to be able to emotionally engage with our staff, to understand how to motivate them, how to support them and to know what they need from us whilst conveying respectfully and simply – what we need from them.

One area that I don’t agree with is the theory that there is a ‘Dark Side’ to EI. For me this seems a bit like saying, if you have nice things you might get robbed…dur. There will always be people who want to manipulate and misuse knowledge but we shouldn’t let that stop us from having nice things. For me this is a non-argument.

How do you boost your Emotional Intelligence? Firstly, you have to want to. Being self-aware is hard, being honest with yourself is hard, being open and potentially vulnerable is hard, challenging your heuristics and cognitive bias is hard. As D.S Blell has claimed, “the beginning of self-transformation is the acceptance of the need for change and the will to do so.” (Blell 2011: 32). You’ve got to want it, your team has to want it and your organisation has to want and encourage it. And don’t for a second think that you can create Emotional Intelligence through policy and procedure – you can’t.


Emotional Intelligence: For the Authentic and Diverse Workplace – DS Blell (2011) – Bloomington Press.

Emotional Intelligence: Science and Myth – G Matthews, M Zeidner, RD Roberts (2004) – MIT Press.

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence – D Goleman, R Boyatzis & A McKee (2013)Harvard Business Review Press.

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success – S Stein & H Book (2006) – Jossey-Bass Press.

Working With Emotional Intelligence – D Goleman (1998) – Bloomsbury Publishing.