Several weeks back, I was invited to attend the Good Day at Work Conversation 2017 (GDAW17). This is an annual event, organised by workplace wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper. This year’s theme was the future of wellbeing, particularly in the context of the very many changes that are either already impacting or will soon be impacting the world of work.
A key topic covered during the day was mental health and the effect this has on workplace performance and engagement. The various conversations threw out some pretty stark statistics about mental health, which I think are noteworthy of sharing.
According to mental health campaigners Time to Change, one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year – that’s 25%, and when we take into consideration that mental health issues cover areas as diverse as stress, addiction, eating disorders, OCD, depression, phobias and anxiety, that figure doesn’t feel entirely surprising.
The other figure that really hit home is the extent to which children and young adults are experiencing mental health issues. One panel discussion that took place during GDAW17 revealed that one in 10 children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 16 will experience a diagnosable mental health disorder, increasingly without access to any formal support. This is the UK’s future workforce we are talking about and these figures are, quite simply, heart-breaking.
There are so many reasons in today’s society why people might feel stressed, anxious or unable to cope, both at home and in the workplace. It seems that we have never felt more pressured to succeed both in our work and careers and in our personal lives. Failure, in any aspect of our lives, seems almost like the most cardinal sin, and we increasingly live in fear of not performing, not delivering and not achieving what we feel we ought to.
Our working environments are not helping with this pressure, either. Many of the changes that are predicted to disrupt the world of work are driven by cost efficiencies and a move towards operational streamlining wherever and whenever possible. This does little to reassure workers that their jobs are safe or secure. New methods and patterns of working will inevitably require new skills and new layers of emotional resilience.
This reinforces the view that workplace wellbeing has never been more important. In the UK economy, as in many other Western economies, the facts and figures around mental health speak for themselves. Business leaders need to wake up to their responsibilities as employers; recognising that they have as much responsibility for workplace mental health as they do workplace physical health. Taking these steps will have a clear advantage commercially – it goes without saying that a positive correlation exists between feeling cared for, valued and respected in the workplace and employee productivity.
Providing a working environment with a focus on employee wellbeing will also increasingly provide competitive edge in the race to attract and retain key talent. Evidence is emerging that workers are increasingly seeking out employers that can demonstrate clearly defined values that emphasise the importance of people and planet alongside profits.
The great news is that adopting a workplace wellbeing strategy doesn’t have to be expensive. A recurrent theme at GDAW17 was the importance of conversation, of feeling safe and secure enough to talk freely, and of feeling listened to. These are innate soft skills that should come naturally to us, but which sometimes fall by the wayside in our hurried and pressurised lives. Simply fostering a working environment of openness, equality and inclusion can be transformative – and in the wake of now inevitable economic and social disruption, creating and maintaining such environments will have significant impact on productivity and commercial success alike.
I heard a really cool story the other day from a friend. Her husband had been sitting next to a colleague who had been interviewing to expand her team. This colleague had decided whom she was going to make an offer to and was in the process of calling the other candidates to let them know that they’d been unsuccessful. The first candidate was pretty surly when she called. The next candidate, by contrast, was very gracious, thanking her for her time and the experience. When she came off the phone, she remarked on what a great candidate he’d been and how if another opportunity arose within her team, she would immediately invite him back in.
Fast forward a couple of months and my friend’s husband himself finds himself invited for a job interview. The opportunity really excites him. He goes to meet his would-be line-manager and comes back very enthused. Several days later, however, he receives an email from the recruiter responsible for arranging the interview to let him know he’s not through to the second stage of interview. My friend’s husband is very disappointed – he’d been as certain as one can be with these things that he’d be called back in – but remains pragmatic. When reflecting on the process, he’s reminded of the scenario with his colleague a few months earlier, so he decides to ping off a text to his interviewer to thank him for his time and the experience. Within minutes he receives a text back to advise that there’s been an error at the client end – the interviewer absolutely wanted to take him through to the next stage. He’s actually currently down to the final short list.
The moral – if there is one – of this story, is to think about how you, as a candidate, approach the interview process. I know how badly some recruiters have treated candidates across the last decade, but I think it’s worth bearing in mind a couple of things.
Firstly, as in all industries, there are good apples and there are bad apples. Hopefully, any decent recruiter worth their salt will treat all candidates respectfully throughout the interviewing process, regardless of interview outcome. Having to reject candidates is, in my experience, most definitely the worst part of recruiting – no one likes to deliver bad news. This said, few and far between are the candidates who take a rejection call badly, at least in my experience. Sure, it happens, but it’s rare.
Secondly, a thought about grace and dignity in defeat. A few simple words, which cost nothing, completely transform the lasting impression that the interviewer has of the candidate. Furthermore, in the case of my friend’s husband, his dignity and pragmatism in reaching out to thank his interviewer, in fact highlighted a mistake and brought him straight back into the mix as a candidate.
As the world of work becomes ever more complex, all businesses will face the challenge of becoming increasingly streamlined, using technology to automate whenever possible, and increasingly, using ‘on-demand’ workers to deliver niche services on a ‘Just-in-Time’ basis. In the wake of these changes, job candidates will need to assert themselves more in order to stand out from the crowd. Being able to demonstrate emotional intelligence, empathy and understanding for others involved in the interview process is a key indicator, in my book, of authenticity and is a primary way in which we connect with one another as humans. The opportunity to leave a lasting positive impression with a potential hirer cannot be understated, and showing grace in defeat is a simple, yet enormously effective way of being remembered for other potential future work opportunities. As my mother used to say – manners cost nothing. At Working the Future, we say try it – you never know what might happen!
I’ve been having some interesting exchanges lately about the importance of critical thinking, which appears to be emerging as one of the skillsets that will play an increasingly pivotal role when it comes to the realm of work.
When I first heard about critical thinking, I must admit that it blindsided me a little – what was it and did I have these skills? At its most simplistic, critical thinking is the ability to look at all aspects of an issue, and evaluate to create an informed judgement. For this process to be successful, it almost goes without saying that time and space for reflection are required.
For most of us, however, this poses a problem. In this age of 24/7/365 instant access to ever-increasing streams of information and being almost constantly ‘on’, only a handful of us probably have the time to devote to allow productive critical thinking to take place – it seems for many of us, that our brains are constantly busy, and yet this doesn’t automatically translate to increased productivity levels across the various aspects of our lives.
When I was studying to become an executive coach, one of the books that really resonated with me was Time to Think by Nancy Kline (1). Nancy is a world-renowned leadership expert whose mantra is that the quality of everything we do is contingent on the quality of thinking we do beforehand. I can wholeheartedly recommend the book and I know its philosophy is highly respected throughout the international coaching community.
Making room for deep thinking is easier said than done, of course. It goes against the grain of the lifetime of habits we’ve built up for ourselves that insidiously steal one of the most valuable assets we have – time.
And yet, when you consider the scale of the social, political, economic and environmental challenges we face as humans, there’s probably never been a more compelling case for making space for critical thinking.
As the world of work evolves over the next decade and beyond, business leaders and owners will face something akin to a ‘perfect storm’ – mounting challenges in successfully integrating technological advances (automation, AI and robotics) with human expertise, blending the demands emanating from multi-generational cohorts, as well as adapting to different engagement models that fulfil both the requirements of a transitioning work force and the commercial benefits that an ‘on-demand’ economy provides.
For their part, workers at all levels will need to reflect deeply on their individual skills, figuring out what capabilities they have that will survive the constantly changing demands of the workplace, and in which areas they need to upskill and invest in their own learning.
The good news is that critical thinking is a skill that can be learned. If we allow ourselves the time to think, and commit to regular thinking time each day, our brains have the potential to reprogramme. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways that, through committed practice, will enable critical thinking to become habit. Just taking 10-20 minutes a day to reflect and evaluate can soon become a rewarding habit, as it starts to produce some potent, transformative critical thinking, particularly in the context of business strategy and competitive edge.
There’s a lot out there on the Web about how to think critically, but as an entry point, you could do worse than to check out an American guy called Colin Wright, who has a website called www.exilelifestyle.com. Colin has come up a technique he calls ‘20 minutes of Awesome’, and while he doesn’t focus specifically on how to apply critical thinking, I think his strategy of devoting 20 minutes a day to thinking time is simple yet powerful: http://exilelifestyle.com/20-minutes-awesome/. I hope you enjoy!
(1) Kline, N. (1999). Time to Think – Listening to Ignite the Human Mind
Cat’s recruitment career has furnished her with fascinating insights into how people behave in the workplace, particularly in response to change. She has a deep interest in human behaviour, organisational psychology and helping business leaders create sustainable, ethical and values-based working environments.