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. 
 

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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. 

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.

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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.

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)

 

 

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.

Would You Hire Someone With Depression?

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

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.

— Albert Camus

I found this blog post incredibly hard to write and that was partly due to being unsure as to whether or not I should write it at all. I’ve been debating writing a blog about depression and the workplace for a while now but when I’ve shared these thoughts with friends, some have felt it could be a potentially career limiting move – hence the title.

Full disclosure: I returned to work recently after 6 weeks off with depression. One of my biggest concerns about coming back to work was what excuse I was going to give my colleagues for being off work sick. Ultimately I was debating as to whether or not I should pretend I’m not depressed. In the end I decided to come clean and in the spirit of “in for a penny, in for a pound” I also decided to write this blog.

So, would you hire someone with depression? Would you be put off or concerned? It is true that we’re now better informed about mental illness in the workplace than ever before but for many people, they still choose to keep it hidden and instead explain their absences with fictional physical maladies. I also can’t help but think that some industries and professions are much more supportive of mental illness than others; has your experience been the same?

Lenny Henry has said this about how his depression has affected his life: “[t]hat’s where depression hits you most – your home life. It doesn’t affect your work.” Until about 7 weeks ago I would have agreed with Lenny, as it was seemingly easy enough to play a part 9am to 5pm everyday, but it wears, those 8 hours at work make 5pm feel like 2am and there’s nothing to do but go to bed. How depression affects your relationships and home life is for a different blog.

I’ve been suffering from depression for about a year or so now, induced by chronic pain from a back injury from playing netball (I’ve had 3 prolapsed discs for around 4 years now), and so I’ve never had the dilemma of asking myself – should I disclose my mental illness to a prospective employer, or not? What do you all think? Would you disclose it in an interview or application form? As Sarah Lancashire has said, “It’s a cruel illness, because you can’t see it and you can hide it so well.”

I’ve always been proud of never having had long-term sick leave despite my chronic pain but I can’t say that anymore, 6 weeks is a long time. Would I judge myself so harshly if I had been off for 6 weeks with broken legs? Probably not.

In hindsight, had I been more proactive in verbalising my situation to my boss and my colleagues, and explaining how difficult I was starting to find summoning the “energy to merely be normal” I could’ve perhaps prevented some of what followed over the next couple of months. I think when you’re ambitious, motivated and high performing, it is really hard to talk to people about your limitations.

Despite this period of darkness, now that I’m back at work I’m still determined to be high performing, to deliver a quality service to my clients and to try and contribute positively to the workplace. I’m not saying I’m fine now, but for those of you out there, reading this blog and worrying about dealing with your depression and maintaining your career, I do wholeheartedly believe that we can achieve our goals and be successful.You’re not alone; according to the charity Mind 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year Take comfort in the knowledge that some of the greatest minds and stars have suffered as we do and yet achieved greatness (this is also where I got the inspiration for the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Hemingway quote) – to name but a few: Stephen Fry, Buzz Aldrin, Abraham Lincoln, and many more. Take heart, keep going.

I found this comment by JK Rowling in an interview with USA Today back in 2008 to be particularly comforting:

I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.

I hope that in the future, learning that a potential candidate suffers from depression would not put you off hiring them.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and your experiences.