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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How I get out of bed in the morning: top 5 tips

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

Now the mornings are getting cold and dark, you might need more help than usual getting out of bed. Here are the top 5 things that help me to get out of bed and acting like a functional adult, especially when I’m feeling down. Let me know if you have any tips!

  1. Set a good alarm tone. This is so important for me, I don’t want to be woken up by something shrill and urgent. That is a recipe for annoyance and grump. Something upbeat that won’t frighten the life out of you when it comes on at 7am. Don’t annoy yourself before you’ve even given your *colleagues the opportunity to do it for you.
  2. Set a motivational message as your alarm. A friend of mine has, “if Frodo can get to Mordor, you can get out of bed”, as the text that accompanies her jazzy alarm tone. If we think about the trials and tribulations of poor Frodo, it can really put getting up for work into perspective.
  3. Create an inspirational play list to get ready to. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, it’s always best to avoid The Smiths and instead err towards the styles of Destiny’s Child. Many a morning I’ve gotten myself out of bed trying to be the type of woman Beyoncé wants me to be, because I’m a survivor. NB, if you have a significant other that works different hours to you, it might be best to use headphones or singledom can ensue.
  4. The 5 minute rule. If the thought of getting out of bed, caffeinated, dressed and into work feels like an insurmountable task, try breaking down tasks into manageable 5 minute slots. This can help with the feelings of being overwhelmed that in my experience accompany low mood/ Mondays.
  5. My reward for getting out of bed and into the office (other than my monthly wage) is a jolly nice cup of Nespresso coffee each morning. My coffee machine changed my life, and each morning my world is set on fire anew with a delicious cup of coffee. Thanks to a handy travel mug my mum bought me, I also get to have one of these treats in the car on the way to work too! If it’s good enough for George Clooney, it’s good enough for me – that’s my motto anyway.

Go on, get out of that bed – you can do it!

*My colleagues are lovely and don’t annoy me at all.

What qualifications do I need?

Business, education, L&D, Leadership, Management, qualifications

Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it. – Theodore Roosevelt

This blog as been inspired by a conversation I had recently with a lovely German client of mine. After a day together, we went out for a pint and started chatting and she asked me what I studied at University. So I told her, I’ve got a BA and an MA in English Literature, and my specialism was postcolonial literature. She was baffled, “I thought you used to work as a manager in clinical trials?!” she exclaimed. I did, and now I’m a Learning & Business Development Consultant. It’s a funny old world, isn’t it?

My client explained to me that she got her degree in finance because at that time, in Germany, she was told that a degree like philosophy (which is what she actually wanted to study) would not get her a decent job at the end of it – and that got me thinking…

Certainly when I was at University I had no idea this is what I would be doing now. If I knew when I was 17, that my career would take me into L&D and business development, would I still have applied to study English Literature? I would hope so, I’ve had the privilege of learning about a subject I truly love, and when I studied literature I also studied history, politics, philosophy, gender, sexuality and cultural studies. I feel I’ve been incredibly lucky.

I’ve been very fortunate with my career journey and also in finding open-minded employers, willing to take a risk and give an un-experienced youngin’ a go. I do know that I’ve been fortunate, but I also think qualifications are what you make of them. Qualifications might get you into an interview, but on their own, they won’t get you the job. Interviewing well is one hell of an advantage.

I got into clinical trials (I was a technician in a lab) to pay for my Masters, but when I was at the lab I worked hard and tried to make an impression, and when I finished my Masters I was offered a supervisory role and then a management role. This is where I got my leadership experience, knowledge of working in a global environment, and HR training, which has been incredibly valuable to me in my current role.

Needless to say, if you want to be a dentist, don’t study English Literature – but, I would say, if you’re searching for your next employee, don’t discount someone who might be a little different to your usual candidate. They might bring with them a host of unexpected skills, experiences and talents. So far I’ve made a living out of being the youngest and least relevantly qualified candidate and I don’t think anyone has been too disappointed!

What do you guys think? Have any of you had a meandering career path like mine?

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.

Honest Advice to New L&Ders

Business, L&D, Leadership, Management

This week I read Julie Drybrough’s jolly good blog on “Advice You’d Give to Someone Starting in L&D”, and my mind starting exploding with all of the advice I would give to myself 2 years ago, if I could, when I transitioned from senior management in clinical trials into a Learning & Development consultant role.

I would tell myself, “mate, this is a completely different ballgame”.

I had transferable skills, sure. I could empathise with the managers and leaders I was now training and accrediting. I knew of the challenges facing global companies, geographically dispersed teams, how so many companies are in a constant state of flux (it’s a VUCA world, you know), because I had been there.

In my role as a manager I had to train my staff in various practical skills and also, a lot of soft skills too. But did I know how to be a facilitator? To lead a group or individual into the right direction without imposing your solutions on them (which, lets be serious, I sometimes did as a manager) is a completely different kettle of sea life.

If I’m honest with you all, staying neutral is still a tough one for me. I’ve had to perfect my “game face”.

A mindset change for me was going from being senior to the group of people I was training or leading, to being hired by someone to deliver training, because those two scenarios are very different. Clinical trials is very much command and control, because, if my team mislabeled a sample, or incorrectly entered a result, people could die, multi-million pound drugs could fail to come to market. There’s definitely less scope for accidental death in L&D. Something I’m greatly appreciative of.

I also had to become more flexible. Sometimes as a consultant a client wants you in a different country next week, or tomorrow – at first, I found it tough to roll with the fluidity of consultancy work. Now, I relish it. I could be working anywhere in Europe, Middle East or Africa with any type of industry you can imagine, and what a huge privilege that is.

So what would I tell myself?

I would say: you’re going to come up against some resistance (to your age and experience, to the very fact you’ve been brought in to help in the first place) – you’re used to this, but this time, you can’t rely on your seniority to push your ideas and solutions in place. You’re going to find this tough. I would say, be confident, remember you’re an expert and you’ve been brought in for a reason and you’ve been hired for a reason.

I would also say, chill out and roll with it; you’re going to love this.

What advice would you have given yourself, if you could, before you started your L&D career?

Who Promoted the Kid?! #LDbravery

Business, Leadership, Management

Welcome to my first blog. I’ve been meaning to set this up for a while now, but I’ve been nervous about it, to be honest.

My inspiration for finally getting going was reading Tony Jackson’s #LDbravery article on courageous L&D.

Firstly, a caveat, this blog and I, we’re not an oracle; for me, this blog is meant to share some of my stories about being a leader, a young manager, and later, an L&D professional. Hopefully you’ll learn from some of my mistakes, hopefully you’ll relate to some of my topics.

Back to my story. Tony’s blog post made me remember a time, way back when (about 2 years ago), when I was a senior manager in a global clinical trials company, and I was also the youngest senior manager in the company and ALL of my staff were older than me. Tony talks about receiving resistance (quite extreme resistance) from one of his participants. I can relate. Probably all of you reading can too.

I first experienced this type of resistance at my first team meeting as the European Lab’s Sample Processing Manager. I was 23. Looking into the faces of my team, all of whom had been at the company longer, were more experienced, and were (to be frank) much older than me, was daunting to say the least. Crossed arms and skeptical glances.

This department was struggling. They had just lost their manager (fired), who had been extremely ineffectual, the wider company had lost respect for this underperforming group, and they had lost their confidence in a big way. Rapid expansion and a company buy-out had blown-up this department’s workload and they were under the types of pressure they never experienced before.

I’m not saying my methods were ideal, nor even that my new and scary ideas were right. But I went for it. I stepped up and shielded my team from criticism, criticism that really should have been levied at outdated processes, but instead was hurled at individuals. I encouraged trialing new approaches, what we were doing wasn’t working! I opened up lines of communication between processors and project managers, and ultimately I helped the team believe in themselves again. They were a GOOD team, but their processes were no longer fit for purpose, and they had been let down by their previous manager.

In my experience, people stop resisting, stop doubting and criticizing when it turns out you were right. When your ideas start paying off, when processes start improving, when morale is lifted. Stick it out. You can do it, and it will get better.

I’m sure you won’t find any of this advice in leadership books, or the blogs of infamous business experts. Nevertheless, it worked for me. To all young leaders out there, I say, be courageous, believe in your ability, be respectful but don’t, ever, let that respect disable you from sticking to your vision.