Leadership

The invisible people

There are invisible people all around us. We might see them as we pass but we don’t SEE them.

At school, in the workplace, at the cafe, in a family… They are everywhere!

What makes someone invisible? Is it just in their own heads or is it as real for them as it was for Harry Potter whilst wearing the invisibility cloak?

I think the latter. In my work as a counsellor and coach, I come across people who feel on the outside of society and not seen. They are not noticed, not paid attention to and just ignored. What a horrible feeling that must be!

There is one client in particular that I have never forgotten. He was a man in his mid-20s and living in a bedsit. He said he had never been seen by his family and would just spend the time at home in his room, gaming and smoking weed. No interaction, no ‘How are you?’ or ‘Would you like dinner?’ Nothing. He said that no one cared and he might as well be invisible.

As a parent, that made me so sad for this lost boy. He needed love and attention in his life. That goes a long way to enable growing up.

There are of course lots of more people who feel like this and never seek help. The elderly in our country is a big group where isolation and loneliness is a big problem.

Why is this? What can we do to help?

This is where being a human and noticing others around us can help. Is there a child that rarely gets to play or get spoken to in your child’s class? Can your child engage with him or her?

Are there people in the office who rarely talk and engage with the rest? Why is that? Have you tried to connect?

In the adult world, we easily and often make assumptions and pass judgement on others without actually knowing them. Can this be the case with some of your work colleagues?

Inclusion is vital in the workplace and all around us.

Become aware of the people around us and be inclusive. Maybe there is a new friend nearby!

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What is Wellbeing in the Workplace?

If you work in any organisation, chances are you have come across someone who is battling with mental health or stress.  The latest statistics* show that 3 times more people are susceptible to losing their jobs because of poor mental health than physical health.  It also found that over 300 000 people leave employment each year due to long term mental health conditions.

In addition, the Government’s green paper on mental health (released May 2018) shows that 1 in 4 people in the UK will present with a mental health problem at some point.  Most common will be anxiety and depression, often triggered by a change in circumstances or a life changing event (death or divorce) but often stems from work situations.

So, what does it all mean?

In a nutshell, wellbeing or mental health refers to how we feel, how we behave and our thinking processes.  The most common trigger in a workplace is stress which often presents in physical reactions (higher blood pressure, pain, headaches etc).  Stress is how you react to a stimuli (either real or perceived) as well as the intensity of that experience (once-off or prolonged).  The important factor is what is causing the stress and how the two are related. 

The Stevenson/Farmer report reviewed the role that employers can have in supporting the individuals in their employ around wellbeing and mental health.  They set out a framework of actions known as ‘Core Standards’.  These are a set of recommendations to help employers improve the conditions in their workplaces to enable employees to both communicate about their mental health concerns, cope better and ultimately thrive.

They call on Companies to ‘take action’ and be responsible for helping to manage and prevent stress at work.  This starts with awareness and knowledge.  Not only of yourself and your stress but also of your team and colleagues.  What are the red flags?  What must you be aware of?  If you experience this yourself, or spot something, what do you do?

Family Focus UK was set up in direct response to these questions – focusing on emotional wellbeing and providing knowledge and support to adults and adolescents, working or not.  We believe that information is key and even a small step in an altered direction can have a big impact on how you and others feel.

So, if you are not sure what to do – why not start with giving us a call to do a wellbeing needs analysis of your workplace..   Or read the report below and start a conversation around this topic in your office.

 * 2017 Government commissioned review by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of Mind) called ‘Thriving at Work’. Read the report at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

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Perfectionism and Mental Health

Most of us will relate to the word ‘perfectionist’ and will probably have images of someone who can’t leave things undone; who sets extremely high standards for themselves and others; often appears stressed and under pressure and seems to be intolerant of those who don’t behave or perform to their high standards.

Perfectionism is one of those character traits that can be a real positive (if channeled correctly) but can also be a big contributor to stress and burnout.

So what are the characteristics of perfectionism? 

Fear of failure:  You see failure as a reflection on your abilities or your value.

All or nothing thinking: You are very black or white – right or wrong.  You have a tendency to extremes.

Defensiveness. You hate criticism and often get very defensive if you think someone is pointing out your weaknesses or (perceived) failures.

Finding faults with yourself and other:. You are often on the lookout for imperfections in yourself and others. You tend to be largely overcritical of any mistakes and feel it’s important to correct people when they make a mistake.

Inflexibility:  You have a very high standard for both yourself and other people that is a rigid line that needs to be met.  You often say words like ‘must’ ‘should’ have to’ when you speak.

Excessive need for control. You like to control other’s behaviour and thoughts as you see it as helping them from making mistakes (whether they’ve asked for help or not).

Difficulty delegating:  You will often say to yourself ‘if you want this done right – do it yourself’.  You have a tendency to micromanage others around you.

The biggest concern with perfectionism is the link between these ‘workaholic’ behaviours and the drain on your mental and physical energy.  The relentless drive to work to perfection leads to a very rigid thought process and an increase in your body’s (negative) stress response.  Perfectionists often experience anxiety over their performance as they feel unable to live up to (often) unrealistic standards.

Often, a perfectionist creates a cycle of behaviour where exacting standards (which cannot be met) leads to more effort in a strive to achieve and then perceived failure which starts the cycle again. This will affect your energy, your emotions and ultimately your relationships, home life, relaxation and your ability to work. The result is often burnout, depression or the inability to cope with your levels of stress. 

So, before your perfectionism traits start to manifest in excess stress or failed relationships.  Ask yourself some questions and do some reading about how to combat the negative effects of perfectionism and channel the positive traits.

Some websites that might be of interest:-

 https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/Perfectionism.pdf

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/depression-management-techniques/201203/handling-perfectionism

https://www.maggiedent.com/blog/perfectionism-children/

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Presenteeism...what's the cost?

Have you come across this word 'presenteeism' and not been entirely sure what it means?  We all know about absenteeism, but today presenteeism is a real problem and cost to Companies.

Absenteeism –   The practice of regularly staying away from work (or school) without good reason (high levels of absenteeism caused by low job motivation).

Presenteeism – The practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, anxiety etc, often resulting in reduced productivity.  The practice of working longer hours at a job than needed, often as a result of insecurity about that job.

An article in the Sunday Times by Karen Higginbottom (Nov 2017) referred to a CIPD survey done in 2017 where 72% of organisations observed presenteeism.  They found an alarming increase in both the prevalence of presenteeism and the related cost to organisations.  Statistics are now stating that the costs of health-related presenteeism far outweighs absenteeism.

One of the reasons that we are talking about presenteeism is its link to employee wellbeing.  It is often associated with companies who have a culture of working long hours or very demanding industries.  Added to this is job insecurity; worrying about letting a team down; concerns about work records and HR performance reports.  One of the biggest concerns is that very often senior leadership or management are demonstrating these work habits making it seem to be the expected norm for all employees.  This leadership attitude of ‘I can cope with anything and work best under stress and extremely long hours’ filters down and creates unrealistic expectations in the organisation.

But there is hope.  Many organisations are now working hard to create a wellbeing strategy to develop a culture of acceptance and realism in order to combat presenteeism.  This includes allowing individuals in an organisation to feel in control and autonomous in their roles.  Giving them a chance to voice issues and concerns to their team leader and creating a more flexible and open working environment.

The goal?  To create a positive culture where hopefully presenteeism will be the unpopular choice and will be the exception rather than the norm.

So.  If any of this has resonated with you.  Time to take a look at how you work, when you work and what you are achieving.  Or maybe simply – time to talk to someone about how you are feeling at work.

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Leadership and Response

We recently listened to an interview with Geoff McDonald on CNBC  (can be viewed here: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/08/17/musk-should-take-time-out-to-focus-on-mental-health-campaigner-says.html ) talking about whether Companies should employ people who have disclosed mental health concerns.

This reminds us about the perceptions of people regarding mental health and those who have had mental health issues.  Last week our blog focused on 'leadership and resilience' and the importance of leadership modelling resilience in the workplace.  The need to prioritise mental health and wellbeing in employees sits at the feet of the leadership team, but awareness is key for every employee.

Most Companies have health and safety policies in place, but how many of these include mental health and wellbeing policies?  The interview by Geoff has reminded us that in order for employees to be productive and for workplaces to thrive, there needs to be mindful practice of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Given the amount of time people spend at work, it is impossible to delegate 'wellbeing' care to home life. The onus has to fall on the workplace to provide input into these areas in order to create the energy and sense of purpose that each employee needs.

So how is this done? 

More and more organisations are starting to understand the real value in taking care of the 'whole' employee which includes physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Mental Health First Aiders are being trained, leadership teams are being brought on board and networking is taking place to prioritise these issues (eg http://www.mindsatworkmovement.com/).  

It is up to each person who has a position of leadership to role model openness and acceptance of questions and concerns around mental health or emotional wellness.  To be frank and transparent when it comes to their own personal stress and wellbeing.  To not hide behind facades and stigmas but to join the world of reality that so many of us live in - that life is hard at times, stressful and unkind.  If leaders are able to voice their own challenges this shows strength as much as their ability to cope with adverse situations.

For each employee the responsibility then rests on you to say something.  To put your hand up and say 'I need some help' - just as you would if you broke your leg.   Hopefully with more talk in workplaces, plus a bit more realism from leadership it may open up a whole new range of conversations and corporate cultures that will keep the tide of talking about mental health moving forward.

 

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Leadership and resilience!

The definition of resilience in the Oxford dictionary: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

I would also add the ability to adapt to change and not give up when challenges arise.

How does this work in a leader role? To what level do we expect our leaders to be resilient?

Most of us have challenges to deal with on a regular basis whether it's work based or privately.

No matter who we are, all these situations will affect us and can then interfere with our ability to be productive at work. Even a manager or a CEO has times where days are tough for whatever reason! 

This is where resilience comes in. How long do we allow a situation to affect us and how do we spring back into action?

Awareness of the affects is a start, understanding self and the impact adversity has on us goes a long way to learn how to deal with it. I am astounded how many people do not understand their thoughts and actions when challenging situations arise. The more aware we are, the more we can avoid situations where negative behaviour affects our leadership skills.

Listening to our bodies and feelings is such a big part of then being able to handle situations in a correct and helpful way rather than compounding the situation and creating additional stress to everyone involved.

Change has an impact on everyone, the leaders as well. Working together and being inclusive by communicating and clarifying any decisions, the teams are able to support their leader and feel safe to ask questions.

The most common feeling when change happens is to feel uncertain, what will happen to me? Will I be OK? Unless the communication is clear and concise from the leaders, this will affect all involved.

SO, what does a person need to do to be an effective and resilient leader?

Here are some suggestions:

- Being the leader means being a role model. Just the same as being a role model to our children is important, so is being one at work! As a leader you will be observed. If you feel unsure at times; act as if you know what you are doing! Stay calm, focussed, communicate and be encouraging. Show trust by asking for help, delegate when needed and be available.

- When challenges arise, take control and ensure you find out what the team needs from you. This creates team spirit and belonging which we all need to get out the other side.

- There is no failure, only learning! We all make mistakes and that's OK. Recognise and move on. Yet again, just like parenting; admit/say what happened, apologise, learn from it. Showing vulnerability is a strength!

Look after your most valuable asset, your employees.

 

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

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