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. 

Zeitgeist: A Documentary 

Culture, HR, L&D, Leadership, Management, mental health, Politics, Uncategorized, values

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that Martin Luther King Jr

This is real life, my friends. You all know what this blog is about. Do not worry, this will not be a long lamentation describing disbelief, fear, dread and other synonyms appropriate for a dystopic dirge.

This is a prediction or perhaps a proposal for a documentary or study into the current Western Zeitgeist. What do I mean? Brexit and Trump. Both are not the cause of these feelings of unrest, divide, fear (although, let’s be serious, they’ve not helped), no, they are the product. The Leave campaigners and Trump have tapped into something that is already there, and enhanced it, angered it, stirred it up.

More and more I hear people bemoan, “what is the world coming to?”. There is fear over terrorism and “the Middle East” which has become interchangeable with a whole host of negative connotations, recession and the aftermath, distrust in the financial industry, our leaders and politicians, the “establishment” – whatever that means. We all know from history (or hopefully we do) that economic hardship plus feelings of frustration, helplessness at a situation are the catalysts for infamous leaders to take charge. I’m sure you know the types of leaders I’m referring to.

I’m scared too. Not of terrorism per se or of foreigners taking my job but of these feelings of unrest and resentment I’m witnessing. I’m scared for women, people of colour, the LGBTQ community and disabled people. History has shown us that it is always these people that suffer, that take the brunt that are further marginalised and segregated and I’m terrified. Now is the time, more than ever, for love, compassion, equality and hope.

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George Takei said it beautifully this morning on Facebook:

I am addressing this to all who voted to defeat Donald Trump and what he represents. We may not have prevailed, but we must not despair.

Many of you are, like me, in a state of shock. This does not feel like the America you love and honor. We are in unchartered waters. In times like these we must reaffirm the values we cherish and have fought for: equality, justice, the care of our planet. We must stand up defiantly to any dark or divisive acts, and look out for the most vulnerable among us. It is more important than ever. 

Within our hearts we know the society we wish to live in. No one can take that vision from us. We are each of us keepers of that promise. This country has seen wars and grave injustices, slavery and even civil war in its past. Yet we found our way through.

Hold your loved ones close. Tell them that it is in times of sadness and in the toughest of days where we often find our true mettle.

I agree, surely when there are people like me (and hopefully like you), of sound mind (well ish), with compassion in our hearts and a determination to, in some small or large way, improve the world around us – hope can prevail? I wish that was a full-stop rather than a question mark.

We need to act. To look at ourselves and make sure we’re acting with positive intent. Be self-reflexive and honest, what can you do to help? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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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.

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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

uganda

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:

coachee.jpg

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:

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

Maybe it is time for a move…

Love. Family. 

Africa, Charity, HR, L&D, Leadership, Perfectionism, teamwork, Uncategorized, values, Volunteer

    I’m en route to Dubai and from there to Kampala as I write this blog. Those of you who regularly follow my blogs you’ll know that I’m on my way to volunteer with homeless children and to train/ coach shelter staff with Retrak charity and other likeminded HR/ L&D volunteers. I’m with the Manchester lot on this flight, and those flying from London will meet us in Dubai. 

    It’s hard to describe the full spectrum of emotions we’re all experiencing on this flight. We’re excited, nervous, emotional and in many ways this still feels very surreal. 

    It’s been a long fundraising journey for all of us and between us we’ve raised nearly £19k to help improve the lives of homeless children and hopefully to find them loving and supporting homes and families. I can’t imagine being where I am today without the support of my family, they’re my support and my inspiration (that’s us, the Cowells in the featured pic!). 

    To raise money I’ve done a 6 hour sponsored spinathon, a car boot sale, a pub quiz, numerous raffles and my parents have bullied everyone they’ve bumped into, in to donating. The other guys have done all sorts – 10k runs, sponsored walks, fashion shows – you name it and they’ve done it. 

    I must say though that I also feel guilty – I feel like I could be bringing more money, or more items for the children, or have in some way got the word out about this fantastic charity in a greater way. I feel nervous. I’ve put myself forward to be chief sports coordinator (self appointed title) and I’m planning on running around with the kids, playing football, basketball, organising a sports day – anything! What if the kids don’t like me? What if I can’t control my emotions and I allow myself to be overwhelmed? 

    That is, of course, my typical perfectionistic response to any situation (I could have done better and what if I don’t perform as well as I should?). However, despite these anxieties I know I’m going to leave Kampala feeling proud. I know in my heart I’ve tried my best and will continue to try my best and the rational part of my brain knows that, that is all anyone can reasonably ask of themselves. 
    I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have donated, supported and cared. I feel truly overwhelmed by your love and kindness. 

    Thank you. 

    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.

    Play “The Game” or be Disruptive?

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

    chess

    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?