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Using words to increase wellbeing? Writing for wellbeing as a method of reducing workplace stress? We bring you the lowdown. The latest estimates from the HSE Labour Force Survey shows the total number of work related stress, depression and anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 cases with a staggering 224,000 new cases. The cause cited? Workload, tight deadlines and poor management. An increasingly stressful corporate environment means that employees are feeling stretched across all sectors. But where do words fit in this corporate conundrum and how can you use them in your anti-stress arsenal?
A growing body of research has demonstrated the power of words upon wellbeing. Yes, writing is fun but is also has a meditative effect upon our stressed minds. Let’s take a look at the science:
Writing has been linked to a whole host of health benefits;
“Expressive writing influences attention and habituation to stressful stimuli and to negative emotions and … it may influence restructuring of cognitions related to stressors and stress responses.” (Lepore et al, 2002, p.114)
An analysis of preliminary findings linking expressive writing and reductions in blood pressure (Davidson et al, 2002)
A recent meta-analysis showed that “experimental disclosure is effective, with a positive and significant” effect (Frattaroli 2006, p. 823)
Reduction in resting blood pressure levels (Crow 2000)
Psychological effects, such as lowering of depressive symptoms, rumination
and general anxiety (Lepore 1997)
But what does this mean for workplace wellbeing? Here’s what the evidence
suggests so far. Workplace writing for wellbeing sessions;
▪ Reduce levels of stress
▪ Staff recover more successfully from traumatic events
▪ Result in fewer days lost to sickness, absenteeism and presenteeism
▪ Improve working memory
▪ Increase flow
▪ Strengthen immune system
▪ Improve creativity and innovation
▪ Increase wellbeing
▪ Build stress management capacity
▪ Improve confidence
▪ Increase mindfulness
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year so it’s likely that there’s someone in your team, department or organisation who is experiencing a mental health issue right now. That figure is compounded by a recent Shaw Trust survey which found that 72% of workplaces had no formal mental wellbeing policy. In addition to this, 23% of managers were unable to name a single mental health condition.
So what can you do right now to introduce writing for wellbeing into your day?
Keep a journal. Make time each day to journal about whatever is important to you. Commit to 10 minutes and go wherever the muse takes you. There’s increasing research to suggest that journalling provides improved leadership insight resulting in greater clarity of thinking and better decision making.
Connect to your authentic self:
Brene Brown describes authenticity as
“The daily practice of letting go who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
Set time aside to ‘check in’ with how you are feeling. Are you able to sum it up in one word? Good.
Now take five minutes and without censoring yourself, expand upon that word. Don’t worry about style, spelling or grammar. Let go of your inner critic and just go for it. Unleash your creativity.
Take a look at what you’ve written. What does it tell you about how you really feel? Writing for ourselves in this way can tell us a lot about who we are. Perhaps something you’ve written resonates or provides an insight into some aspect of your day, your life, or a project you are working on.
Turn down the volume on the constant chatter, press pause on workplace pressures and tune in to your authentic self. This exercise will help to ground you creating a mindful space for you to reflect before you continue with your day.
For more information or to talk to us about our Workplace Writing For Wellbeing training courses contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you believe that bad managers get results? That the stick is more effective than a toothless carrot? The truth is, if left unchecked, bad managers will hurt your business and irretrievably harm employee wellbeing. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that one of the keystones of employee wellbeing is the relationship between manager and employee. Positive relationships, promoting opens and transparency, fostering trust and recognising strengths are all the hallmarks of a good manager. They develop employees and cultivate an atmosphere where wellbeing, creativity and innovation thrive. All too often the converse is true. People leave bad managers not bad organisations, it may be a cliche but there’s a reason why cliches become cliches.
Wellbeing is about so much more than a box ticking exercise. Wellbeing domains include
True employee wellbeing aims to maximise each and every one of these domains. But how? Writing for wellbeing, a relatively new intervention is rapidly gaining popularity. Writing? For wellbeing at work? Sounds like a gimmick, right? A growing body of evidence suggests not.
How can managers introduce the concept of wellbeing in a meaningful way?
One of the first things you can do as a manager is develop your emotional intelligence (EI). It takes a healthy dose of this to manage a team effectively and authentically. Take a look at our blogs on EI for practical ways of developing your emotional intelligence muscles.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
We know from research that the first thing to go out of the window when you are stressed is self regulation, a key emotional intelligence competency. Bad managers are more than likely stressed too. Don’t believe us? Case Western Professor Richard Boyatwzis found this competency was responsible for a whopping 78% – 390% increase in performance. Self regulation is the bulwark of good management. If you’ve ever laboured under a tyrant masquerading as a manager who throws things, suffers mood swings, has favourites or maintains petty vendettas you’ll know where we’re coming from on this one. This type of dissonant leadership will eventually demotivate your team, leave you with high levels of absenteeism and a rapid staff turnover. Creativity becomes stifled and innovation grinds to a halt. It damages your brand and your reputational capital to boot.
So where does writing for wellbeing come into it?
Writing for wellbeing (the clue is in the title) improves both physical and psychological health (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005). Research has demonstrated the following benefits;
Decreased levels of stress
Fewer stress related GP visits
Increases creativity and innovation
Reduced blood pressure
Improved working memory
Improved immune system functioning
Feeling of greater psychological wellbeing
Quicker re-employment after job loss
Altered social and linguistic behaviour
Writing for wellbeing is a great addition to any wellbeing programme decreasing stress levels, impacting positively upon self regulation and improving creativity and innovation at the same time (it’ll help tame that stressed out manager and their negative impact upon your workforce). Take a look at our other blogs on writing for wellbeing to find out how.
To find out more about Writing for Wellbeing at Work contact us at email@example.com or visit our events page for details of our training courses. We’d love to hear from you!
The leadership moral grey zone. Or, more plainly, the tolerance of unethical leadership behaviour has a huge impact upon businesses, their people and, ultimately their success. If you’ve ever worked in a dysfunctional organisation where unethical practices are the accepted norm or bullying, gossip and favouritism is rife, you’ll be familiar with the grey zone.
Whether you’re part of a start up or an established business, your choice of leader (and the systems that support them is the bedrock of success). In spite of more immediate short term wins, there’s no longevity for a leader in the moral grey zone. The grey zone leader may appear to be achieving results, but they’re not sustainable. Think Siemens former CEO and Chairman, Heinz-Joachim Neuberger and Johannes Feldmeyer, fined for bribery. Or the arrest of Bruno A Kaelin Head of Corporate Compliance at Alstom following investigations into his alleged role in a bribery slush fund. One of the most infamous moral grey leaders was Kenneth Lay of Enron, convicted of 6 counts of fraud. His unethical behaviour resulted in the downfall of the company. Often tolerated, morally grey leadership wreaks lasting damage.
What does it look like?
Research from Knoll, Lord, Peterson and Weigelt ( 2016, Journal of Applied Psychology, 46) identified two factors necessary for predicting unethical behaviour;
- Moral disengagement
- Situational strength
So what does this look like in practice? The researchers found that for leaders to engage in unethical behaviour, for example (if indeed you do need an example).
Bullying, marginalising, spreading rumour, preferential treatment of ‘favourite’ staff, manipulating information, cheating, lying or using the workplace to enhance personal relationships or social status
They have to morally disengage their own moral compass, or ignore societal norms to enter into the above.
Can you spot them?
Surprisingly, yes. There are telltale signs. The research found that leaders in the grey zone typically;
- Have Low Levels of Emotional Intelligence. Grey leaders focus on the task and the results they want rather than their behaviours or how they get there. Self awareness and self regulation is usually low in unethical leaders. They are unable to heed internal clues and cues that their behaviour is unacceptable. They are also unable to recognise that such behaviours are shunned by wider society. They are oblivious to their behaviours and may even believe they are role modelling.
- Reduced Self-Organisation. When we operate effectively as human beings our values and systems are congruent. The lack of alignment that unethical behaviour produces is easily tolerated by grey leaders. When behaving unethically, they don’t feel dissonance between the beliefs they hold or espouse and their actions.
- Decreased Self Regulation. Unethical leaders display behaviours that lack impulse control, shouting, swearing, lying, bullying, creating a culture lacking in transparency, resulting in mistrust. Take time to reflect upon the worst office despot you’ve worked with and anyalse their behaviour, an ability to control themselves is usually in short supply. They are reactive, mercurial, the organisational grenade without a pin and more than just a little bit scary to be around.
- Lack Authenticity: They don’t know who they are or they are pretending to be something they’re not with a compelling variety of ‘Game faces.’ An individual’s level of authenticity is a significant predictor of unethical behaviour. High levels of authenticity are the armour against unethical leadership. People with high levels of authenticity have greater self awareness and self regulation. They are not driven by ego and status and place more emphasis on listening, learning and developing. They possess a congruence between their values and their actions and when they don’t they feel it.
The 4 Step Predictive Process
To disengage morally is a four step process. If you’re leading a business you may recognise the telltale signs in your own behaviour (don’t beat yourself up, you can change it). If you’re responsible for L & D these are the stages of moral disengagement to watch out for;
- Creating a story. This is characterised by ‘everyone else is doing it’ or ‘just this once’. A reconstruction that enables the unethical behaviour to flourish. It creates a reality where the behaviour is no longer immoral. The narrative is always creating justification for the behaviour e.g. ‘It’s not against the law’
- A reduction in accountability. Grey leaders place less emphasis on their own agency a more on the responsibility of colleagues by blaming others, organisational culture, systems and processes.
- They deny the result or pass the buck. Unethical leaders either deny or do not recognise the consequences of their behaviour. They are also adept at passing the buck.
- Victim perception. They will downplay their impact upon others or mentally reduce the status of those falling foul of their actions. Perceptions such as ‘They’re not important anyway’ ‘They don’t matter’ ‘They wouldn’t have a job without me’ scenarios are common. Unethical leaders often push the blame onto their victims, absolving themselves of all responsibility.
Is it their fault or are they misunderstood?
The researchers found another significant factor affecting the moral grey zone, situational strength.The cues and systems provided by an organisational culture will either support or discourage unethical behaviour. The people, the culture, reward systems, processes to ensure compliance, actions, punishments (or lack of) all come together to form psychological impetus for ethical or unethical behaviour. Organisational systems and structures often support unethical behaviour. You might not be approving it but are you tacitly saying it’s wrong?
Reflect on our checklist to see if you are supporting the development of unethical behaviour
- A lack of authenticity
- Your organisation places emphasis on task completion above all else
- Your business has considered objectives but not behaviours
- You do not explicitly disapprove of unethical practice
- Your systems promote a lack of ethics and may even reward them
- You recognise a narrative pattern that always seeks to blame others or justify behaviours
- You identify behaviours that fail to recognise the consequence of actions
- There is a narrative about how the impact of victims is negligent or it is their fault.
To learn more about selecting leaders or developing a workplace culture that promotes ethical behaviours contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join one of our Leadership programmes. We offer espresso bitesize, half day, one day, conference or bespoke sessions.
What’s fuelling your burnout? Feeling exhausted? Perhaps even a little cynical where work is concerned? You could be suffering from burnout syndrome. A common response to stress, burnout is characterised by a variety of dimensions from fatigue, demotivation, frustration, cynicism and ultimately, reduced efficacy. So what, exactly, is fuelling your burnout?
The Beginnings Of Burnout
It isn’t a new phenomenon, Graham Greene wrote about it during the 60s in ‘A Burnout Case’ as a result the term was later coined in the context of employee burnout by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. It’s firmly part and parcel of corporate landscape now with employees increasingly being asked to do more with less.
Montero Marin at the University of Zaragoza identified three types of burnout. In a study of 429 university workers in a variety of occupations ranging from administration to research, the study identified 3 separate subtypes;
What’s Your Type?
- Boredom. This type of stress stems from lack of challenge. When employees aren’t stretched they’re unable to get into a state of flow, or optimum performance, stifling their development and their motivation. If you find yourself using avoidance as a coping strategy and complaining about your organisation on a regular basis, the research suggests this could be your burnout type. Leaving you feeling like giving up. boredom is fuelling your burnout fire.
- Overload. This subtype is characterised by frenetic behaviour. You find yourself doing, doing, doing with a constant mental ‘To do’ list. Your coping strategy is to keep working until you’re exhausted in the belief that you’ll somehow make headway. You’re overloaded by stress and feel cynical due to the lack of support you receive. You may feel that your organisation is limiting you. Excessive workload is fuelling your burnout.
- Worn Out. In this subtype when you’re faced with stress, you give up. It’s all just too overwhelming. The will to achieve is there but you lack motivation to get started in the onslaught of stress. If this is your subtype you may feel badly let down by your organisation. You’ve simply had enough and that is fuelling your stress.
What’s Fuelling Your Organisation’s Risk of Burnout?
Now you know what’s fuelling your individual burnout, lets take a look at your organisation. Maslach, Schaufel and Leiter identified 6 organisational risk factors that increase the likelihood of burnout.
- Mismatch in workload
- Mismatch in control
- Lack of appropriate rewards
- Loss of sense of positive connection with others
- Perceived lack of fairness
- Conflict with values
If the causes of burnout are multi factorial, how can you begin to combat it?
If you’re a leader, the starting point is your organisational culture. Here’s our checklist to guide your stress audit;
- Do you have a wellbeing strategy?
- Do staff have a healthy approach to work life balance and is this modelled by your leadership team?
- Are your people micromanaged or given the autonomy to carry out their role?
- Do you model your values or is there a disconnect? Do you need to revisit your strategy, policies, procedures and actions?
If you’ve identified that you’re on the way to being stressed, find a way to reduce your stress levels by;
- Practising mindfulness (see our mindfulness resources on this site)
- Consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions. Talk to your GP who will be able to recommend a therapist.
- Reflect upon whether your values are in alignment with your role. Is your current role what you feel drawn to as a profession or is something else calling you?
- Check your work – life balance is where you want it to be. If it isn’t take the necessary steps to address the areas that need work. Cut back on your hours, take lunch breaks and make sure you create time for friends, family and a life outside of work.
As election fever escalates and we wait with bated breath to see who will triumph, a new study in the Journal of Personality likens the impact of narcissistic leadership to chocolate cake. It seemed like the perfect time for Positive Change Guru to take a look at what Trump, leadership and a slice of our favourite cake have in common….
The Chocolate Cake Effect
“The first bite of chocolate cake is usually rich in flavour and texture, extremely gratifying. After a while, however, the richness of this flavour makes us feel increasingly nauseous. Being led by a narcissistic leader can produce a similar effect.”
In ‘This Leader Ship is Sinking: A Temporal Investigation of Narcissistic Leadership’ Wei Ong, Ross Roberts et al describe the honeymoon period whereby the confident, outgoing and dare we say it, pushy character appears to make a good leader. In times of political strife, those who sound as though they know what to do can seem a good option (even if they, like Trump, seem a bit hazy on the how). The researchers found that just like the first hit of chocolate cake, this kind of leadership doesn’t last. It simply isn’t up to the long haul required for long term change.
Narcissism Stunts Motivation (Yours Not Theirs)
The study followed 142 students taking part in weekly group tasks. Throughout the research the participants were asked to rate each others’ leadership skills. Students scoring high levels of narcissism rated higher on leadership in the beginning but as the research continued, that perception began to fade. Those initially perceived as leadership material were increasingly less likely to be rated as having the requisite skills. This decline was attributed to a lack of transformational leadership skills. The narcissistic leaders simply didn’t have the ability to motivate others. When we’re looking for a leader we need more than the chocolate cake effect. A transformational leader inspires and motivates others, creating transformation and growth. It’s hard to do that if you’re constantly focusing on yourself as a leader.
When the cake is finished and only the crumbs remain, how do you inspire your team?
- Know Your Team. Take time to get to know your team. Identify their strengths along with areas they need and want to develop. Ask for their opinion and their ideas. Say ‘Hello’ ask them how they are. Build a genuine rapport and learn who they are and what motivates them.
- Listen. Collaborate with your team. Encourage suggestions and ideas. Incubate innovation by listening to (and implementing) new ideas cultivating a no blame culture so that you’re team isn’t afraid to try something new.
- Be Clear On Your Vision. Know what you want to achieve and communicate that the your team, department and organisation. Your vision shouldn’t stop with your senior leaders. You all need to know what you’re aiming for if it’s going to succeed. You should be able to articulate your vision in less than 5 minutes.
- Model Behaviour. Model the behaviours, values and attitudes that you have laid out in your vision. Nobody wants to be the leader who espouses one thing and does another. Audit your behaviour to check that you’re walking your talk.
- It’s a VUCA World. If you’re leading transformation in a VUCA world (and you are) it’s important to aid your own growth and development as a transformational leader. Take time out to;
- Challenge your assumptions
- Be flexible in your communication style
- Take time to reflect and renew
It’s great to be able to introduce another blog from business psychologist, Gill Crossland-Thackray. Read on to discover powerful practical tools for developing emotional awareness.
‘The ultimate value of life depends upon Awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival’
Identifying emotions is key
Sometimes when you’re leading it can be difficult to truly acknowledge how you’re feeling. There’s a job to do, targets to meet and teams to lead. Emotional awareness can start to feel like an unaffordable luxury in the midst of competing demands and heavy schedules. But what if there was a way to tap into your emotions? Something that would give you additional information, guidance and clarity when decision making?
Cue Mindfulness. Self regulation and self awareness have long been recognised by leading researchers such as Dan Goleman and Richard Boyatzis as a key differentiator of leaders. We know that leaders who excel in self regulation out-perform their peers on average between 78% – 390%. That’s a significant figure when thinking about optimising your performance. But what you don’t recognise you can’t regulate until you’ve developed an awareness of it. So how can you develop emotional awareness?
3 steps to develop emotional awareness
Ken Jones recommends the following 3 steps to develop emotional awareness.
Sit quietly and focus upon your breath. Bring to mind a difficult leadership situation, or an issue that you find challenging. As you begin to focus upon the issue, extend an invitation to yourself to examine it. Notice how it feels and how it affects the body. Bring your attention to that feeling and begin to ask these three questions, gently listening for the answers without judgement:
- How have I emotionally responded to this issue so far? How have I suffered from my response and reaction to it?
- What does this situation ask me to let go of?
- What difficulty if any, am I having with becoming aware of my emotional response to this situation?
The key to training your emotional awareness is to become keenly aware of how the discomfort feels. This is particularly important in terms of how it feels within your body. We spend so much time in our heads, who know what we think but often miss how we feel. How we feel in the body can provide us with a whole new world of information that often goes ignored and untapped. The Google Search Inside Yourself programme recognises the value of this psycho – somatic practice, using the body scan to familiarise participants with the variety of sensations and emotional responses within the body. Think of your body as an early warning system. Often we are physically aware of an emotion within the body before we are cognizant of it. When you notice the presence of an embodied emotion, bring your attention to where the feeling is in the body; an aching neck? Butterflies in your stomach? Shortness of breath? Clenched fists? Notice and breathe awareness into that space.
Not only will you be increasing your self awareness you’ll also be honing your ability to self regulate. The more you engage in mindfulness practice the more you will begin to notice the changes in your reaction to challenging situations.