Despite research showing the significant link between employee happiness and productivity in the workplace, it seems that very little effort is being made by organisations to instil a happy and positive working environment. Perhaps the idea of focusing on employee well-being or happiness feels like a soft and fuzzy thing which is leaders believe is the employee’s duty to manage. Either that or they think that it’s a modern fad that will hopefully soon pass. The reality is that employee happiness and well-being is here to stay and its voice will become louder and louder in years to come. If they haven’t done so already, employee well-being and happiness are going to become strategic agenda items that will need to be taken serious by board members, and senior and executive leaders.
People spend a lot of their time at work, and have the right to be happy and in a positive vibrant working environment that brings out the best in them. Also, happy employees are statistically known to be more productive, engaged, and motivated, which has a direct impact on an organisation’s bottom line. So, it’s a win-win situation for the individual and the organisation. But we struggle to make the mind shift to instil this positive concept. Why do you think this is the case?
Four key reasons spring to mind: (1) organisations are stuck in their comfort zones, and lack the know-how to roll out this cultural change process. (2) they lack the clarity on how the change will be tangibly measured. (3) they don’t have the budget set aside to engage in this philosophy. (4) they don’t have the time to focus on implementing and training people. Like the saying goes: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
I’m going to address the second point immediately because we can tangibly and easily measure employee happiness and well-being through things such as job satisfaction, volunteering, career development, talent retention, minimal absenteeism, low employee turnover, culture fit, motivation, employee engagement, and many more. The list is endless. On second thoughts, perhaps the terms happiness and well-being are causing confusion, because we’re not clear on what they mean.
What is Happiness?
Happiness is a construct most of us have experienced in some parts of our lives, and most people are mildly happy for the majority of their life span. Philosophers and social humanistic researchers have defined the term happiness in many ways so that not one agreed definition exists. The reason for the disagreement lies in the fact that happiness has two components to it. We speak of hedonic and eudamonic happiness. Hedonic happiness is the happiness most people are familiar with, which is to experience pleasant emotions and situations. We pursue positive events and activities to forego negative experiences, hence pleasure over pain is the motto. Eudamonic happiness is more intense, and requires personal commitment. It is engaging in activities in which one finds meaning, pursues growth and self-actualisation, and is virtuous by being naturally and morally right. Hedonic happiness focuses on the individual and has a selfish component to it, whereas eudamonic happiness is focused on the collective social well-being and is performed for the higher good of society. For organisations, there is a balancing act because both forms of happiness need to be integrated into the workplace. Events such as monthly pizza lunches will be fleeting and will tick the box of hedonic happiness because they disburse positive emotions and experiences, but aren’t long-lasting so we need to do them more often.
How to Kick-Start Happiness
To assist you to introduce the concept of happiness in the organisation, I’m going to share five practical steps to kick-start your process.
Step 1: Design a bespoke happiness survey for your organisation and then distribute it to all employees electronically
Honestly, this is more difficult than it sounds because you’ll want to ensure that you’re asking relevant happiness questions that will give you a true indication of how happy people are at work. Perhaps you’ll even bundle questions into sub-categories that you can use as measurement tools – things like job satisfaction, workplace trust, social relationships, working environment, safety, job crafting, etc. You need to set a substantial amount of time aside to establish what information you want to collect from your staff. Phrase questions in a simple and open-ended manner so that everybody, regardless of their position in the organisation, can effortlessly answer them. Have a look at our free happiness at work assessment to inspire you:
Step 2: Brief people about the happiness survey
If you want to get a significant amount of people participating in your happiness at work survey, you’ll need to brief people accordingly. Writing one email is not going to be enough for people to willingly spend time on the survey. Leaders will have to verbally communicate why the organisation is doing the survey, what the intention behind it is, what happens with the results, who sees them, what type of feedback they’ll get, as well as when they will receive it. The survey has to guarantee confidentially and be anonymous if you want truthful answers.
Step 3: Create readiness through positive language
You may not notice, but most language used in an organisation, regardless of whether it is written or spoken, is negative and has a deficit tone to it. Start by rephrasing words like “problems” with “challenges” or “opportunities”. Speak of “strengths” instead of “weaknesses”. Break the traditional corporate lingo, and be a bit more light-hearted and positive in your terminology. Bring in simple human appreciation concepts of being kind, considerate, and caring towards one another. Be mindful that what you hear consciously and subconsciously impacts on your performance, mindset, and attitude.
Step 4: Overcome resistance
Not everybody is going to be excited about this new concept. Perhaps your organisation has tried something like this before and you weren’t successful. People will remember that. Maybe they’re scared of the changes because they’re not sure how it will impact either them personally or their work. To reduce resistance, include the people affected by the change from the outset. Communicate often, answer their questions, and address their concerns. Listen to them and make an effort to understand where their fear is coming from.
Step 5: Do it in bite-sized chunks
It’s totally common that once you’ve assessed the data from the survey, analysed it, and interpreted it, you’ll be ready to jump into action. You’re going to have lots of things that you want to change immediately, but you need to be mindful of going slowly. Take a step back and find two or three activities that you can work on. Choose something that will get quick results, something a little bit more medium term, like in four to six months’ time, and then something that will take a full twelve months. Focus on three things only. Once you’ve accomplished one goal satisfactorily, give feedback to the entire organisation, and then choose a new thing on your list.
Making Happiness Permanent
Instilling a positive and happy culture in your organisation takes time and continuous practice. If you want to make this an effective and permanent part of the organisation’s culture, you’ll need a dedicated person to focus on this full time. Depending on the size of the organisation it may be part of the HR department’s role, but in a larger organisation you’re likely to employ an internal happiness officer or use an external consultant. Should you feel overwhelmed with the task of implementing a happy work culture in your organisation, please speak to one of our consultants for a free one-hour consultation.
Over the last few years, the number of private sector and government scandals have increased drastically. Every day, unethical and disgraceful behaviour and decisions are exposed, which obviously raises the question of where were the leaders at the time? Did they really not know what was going on within their company, did they turn a blind eye, or did they actively participate? When there is unethical leadership in an organisation, the implications are severe and often affect many employees and their families. Society is shocked, even enraged, by this behaviour, and call for justice to be served. However, the damage has been done, and people tend to lose trust in corporate governance and leadership. Unethical leadership seeps through society and leaves a vile taste in our mouths.
It is only in recent years that leaders have embraced an ethical consciousness in the management of an organisation, and have made ethical leadership a strategic executive topic. The word “ethics” originated from the Greek word “ethos” which means advocating moral behaviour and requirement. Ethics can, therefore, be inferred to mean to behave in an acceptable manner that is good and does no harm, opposed to doing “bad”. Being ethical is honouring your values and moral principles which enables you to behave legally and morally correctly, thus protecting the larger community. Ethical dilemmas arise if there is uncertainty and conflict between different people’s interests, values, and beliefs. In an organisation, ethical behaviour is commonly referred to as a “Code of Conduct” or “Best Practice” where both require the organisation’s culture to drive ethical behaviour. Ethical leadership is about living out these critical high-standard principles, which is done through an active process of enquiry. It is also about developing an enquiring mindset that continuously asks explorative questions. Taking it a step further, it is extending this concept to the entire organisation which gives each and every person the permission to enquire and ask questions.
A leader’s character plays a role in their ethical performance. Jones (1995) said that ethical behaviour is a personal disposition, and a character that you are born with, rather than one that has been acquired through training and learning. An ethical leader has a conscious mind, and is self-controlled and aware of the dire consequences of unethical behaviour. It is not a risk they’re willing to take as it would conflict with their inner values and beliefs. Zander (1992) identified ten characteristics of an ethical leader:
The Ethical Leader
- being humble
- being concerned for the greater good
- being honest and straightforward
- honouring commitments
- striving to be fair
- taking responsibility for their actions and behaviour
- showing respect for each individual
- encouraging others to develop
- serving others, and
- showing courage to stand up for what is wrong.
In a business environment, ethical leadership can be summarised as: (1) being honest, (2) being trustworthy, and (3) having integrity. Trust is related to demonstrating consistent, reliable, and predictable behaviour. Ethical leaders treat people with respect, dignity, fairness, are transparent in their communication, and have no double standards. Gallup, in their 2004 survey which comprised of 50 000 employees spread over 27 countries, demonstrated that respect is the primary characteristic in the workplace that people value the most. It is therefore no surprise to see it as a main characteristic in ethical leadership behaviour. Integrity is a very sought after characteristic in the business environment, and it means being honest with oneself and others, learning from mistakes, and engaging in a constant process of self-development and improvement. Demonstrating this behaviour ensures that the leader is a role model, and this should encourage others to behave in the same manner. The concept of “follow-the-leader” applies.
For leaders to roll out ethics within an organisation, they use their internally designed values. On the one hand, an organisation’s values are aimed at achieving the strategic goals, but on the other hand they are the collective moral compass of behaviours in an organisation. Researchers Blanchard & Peale (1996) identified five organisational values that support driving ethical behaviour throughout an entire organisation:
- Pride – having high esteem and respect for what the organisation stands for, the values, the people, and the mannerism in which the organisation is operating.
- Patience – being humble and accepting that it takes time to implement strategies that support the organisation to reach its strategic goals.
- Prudence – exercising sound judgement and not making risky decisions in good as well as in challenging times in the organisation.
- Persistence-the continuous quest to take all the necessary steps and actions to achieve a goal. Overcoming overwhelm, and moving forward with an ethical obligation to attain a goal.
- Perspective – the capacity and ability to determine what is truly important in any given situation.
The final question arises as to why organisations engage in unethical behaviour knowing the risk of being caught out at some stage. The answer cannot possibly be to remain competitive and have a cutting edge advantage, even if it will be for a short amount of time. I believe that market success and ethical leadership go hand in hand, and you cannot have the one without the other. Unethical behaviour leaks to the outside environment, and it won’t be long before society begins to hear about it and stops engaging with the organisation. It pays to be ethical and to uphold ethical leadership and values.
Everyone wants to be more grateful in their life, and we all value this desirable human characteristic greatly. However, few of us are actually mindfully grateful. There are many definitions of gratitude: From a Positive Psychology point of view, it is not just an act of being kind to others by saying thank you; it’s a positive emotion that serves a biological purpose and one where the effect can be measured. There are also many synonyms for gratitude; the most used ones are acknowledgement, appreciation, and thankfulness.
The Harvard Medical School defines gratitude as: “A thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”.
Gratitude is about counting one’s blessings regardless of whether life is going well or not. We are, however, more prone to think about what we’re grateful for when things in our life aren’t going as well as we would like them to. What’s important about gratitude is that it’s not about what you did to others or what you achieved in a day, but acknowledging that you received something from someone else that you value and appreciate. The purpose of being grateful is to make life better for ourselves and others and to overcome the human tendency to take things, people or situations for granted. You shouldn’t feel entitled to the benefits, or to resent others for their benefits, or to take full credit for your own success. There were always others involved who supported, guided and believed in you.
According to Robert Emmons, an American Professor of Psychology, gratitude has two stages to it. In stage one we are focused on our own internal world and are consciously aware of the goodness of our life. We feel positive and find life worth living. We are able to appreciate life’s richness as well as those who have contributed to it. In stage two the focus shifts to the external world and we absorb the beauty and goodness in other people, animals, nature, and the world.
But why do we struggle so much with this hugely inspiring characteristic? Gratitude doesn’t come naturally for most of us, whereas resentment and entitlement do. Gratitude is a virtue, which means that it needs to be taught, modelled, and regularly practised until it becomes an automatic habit.
To complicate matters, gratitude has been identified as a trait (a genetically determined characteristic), an emotion, and a mood. It starts off as an emotional reaction of feeling thankful and recognising the contribution others have made to our life and well-being. It then develops into a mood of a subtle, longer duration of conscious state, and ends as a permeable character trait.
The Benefits of Enhancing Our Gratitude
There are many benefits to enhancing our level of gratitude:
- Promotes optimal functioning
- Promotes feelings of empathy, forgiveness and helping others
- Facilitates coping with stress and loss
- Reduces upward social comparison which often results in envy and resentment
- Reduces materialistic striving
- Improves self-esteem
- Allows us to savour positive and pleasant memories
- Builds social resources
- Motivates moral and ethical behaviour
- Fosters goal attainment
- Promotes physical health
- Increases one’s spirituality
Growing Your Gratitude
After reading those powerful benefits, I’m sure that you’re excited to learn and grow your level of gratitude. Here are some ideas on how to do just that:
- If you enjoy journaling, this one’s for you! Take five minutes at the start or end of your day where you write down what you are grateful for. It can cover a wide range of things from the mundane to the magnificent. You do need to vary it and challenge yourself to look for new gratitude nuggets every day. It’s a powerful tool for you to reflect and notice who or what you are thankful for. Writing it down is important because on days where you feel low you can look at the things that you are grateful for.
- Express gratitude directly to another person. Write them a note or letter expressing what you appreciate about them as a person, or what they did for you. You can either read it to them or leave it in a place where they’ll find it. It’s very special to hear what impact one has made in another person’s life. Expect some tears with this one!
- Take note of an ungrateful thought that pops into your head and consciously reframe it to a positive one. We all have thoughts that aren’t positive and that entail negative language. It can be about us, others, or a certain situation. If we don’t manage or become aware of these thoughts, they can turn into stories that we buy into and so it is important to catch them, question them, and reframe them into positive ones. Ask yourself what you are learning, and what makes the situation good as it is. It does take some practice to catch those thoughts.
Whichever idea you use, remain curious and open-minded. If one suggestion doesn’t work, swop it for another one. Experiment and play with this. Keep it varied and fresh. As we are at halfway through the year, it’s the ideal time to reflect and express gratitude to the people who have supported you so far.
Have fun and spread gratitude!
Kindness and Civility: A Context
Instilling kind, respectful and civil behaviour among co-workers in an organisation is so important to having an engaged, creative and motivated team. However, this is a culture that needs to be implemented and actively driven, or exactly the opposite will occur and we’ll have bullying, mobbing, rudeness, complaining, and gossiping; things that are exceptionally draining and unproductive in the workplace.
It may be standard etiquette to say please and thank you, and to greet people, but when it comes to our working environment, this etiquette often falls away. Common courtesy doesn’t seem to prevail. Often, the language used among co-workers is hard, negative and pessimistic. You can see this in their verbal communication as well as in their written correspondence. Our external environment does shape our minds, which means that we become negative in our thoughts, actions and behaviours. It infiltrates so slowly that we don’t often notice it or know where or when it started. The negativity filters through to our work ethics, productivity, performance, care for each other, and affects our health and mindset. It’s not a healthy environment to be working in, however, it is a reality I see very often in organisations. Organisations expect exceptional performance from their staff, but don’t provide the ideal positive environment for them to flourish.
The executive leaders of an accounting firm called us into their organisation to assess what was happening with their staff. They saw and felt the negativity within the organisation, with people complaining endlessly but not proactively doing anything to solve matters. Endless problems without effective solutions seemed to be the norm. Corridor gossip was around every corner, and regardless of how many corrective reprimanding actions were implemented, people never raised the bar of their performance or productivity. The executives were at their wits end, and admitted that the punishment approach for poor performance was not successful; quite the contrary. They hoped and trusted that we could assist them in changing the negative and toxic environment within the organisation.
Staff were demotivated, uncommitted, disengaged, and made countless errors in their work. The negativity could be felt by everyone, even outsiders interacting with the organisation for the first time, and it filtered through to every business unit.
We were called in to help this organisation to instill a culture of kindness and civility throughout the organisation.
Approach and process
We engaged with the organisation for a year as changing a culture is exactly the same as acquiring a new habit. It takes time to accept that change is needed, and to unlearn and then relearn new behaviours. In addition, the new culture had to filter through from top to bottom as well as sideways in the organisation. Co-workers who were resistant to the change required additional time to air their concerns and opinions. And, to truly complete the cycle, the new culture had to be documented in all procedures, policies and training materials. It is not a quick fix approach, however the six key items we focused on were:
- Kindness board: I’m aware that this sounds rather cheesy, but it works. We mounted a large white board in the organisation’s corridor, where people were able to write thank you messages and stick Post-it notes up for people they wanted to thank for the support they had given them during the week. They had to list the person’s name, what they did, and what impact it had on them. It could vary from a co-worker assisting them with a task, to taking over their shift, handling a difficult customer situation, to bringing them a cup of coffee. On Friday mornings, the team would gather around the board and read the comments, often adding more notes. The board gave them a place to consciously acknowledge and say thank you to each other. It raised people’s positive emotions, and they started to pay kindness forward. That’s the amazing thing with kindness – if you receive it, you want to pass it on to someone else.
- Sharing resources and knowledge was our next approach. Resources are always scarce in an organisation, and we begin to hold onto them. The same applies with knowledge – we are not generous with sharing it! For resources and knowledge to be shared, trust has to be present, which is why we needed to first build it up. Trust can only be built at work through consistently doing what we have committed to. We started with exactly that low base of ensuring that people deliver their work to one another on time, every time. If an unforeseen situation arose that would cause a delay, they had to inform the person waiting for the work, and brainstorm how resources or knowledge sharing could be applied.
- Providing specific feedback and recognition was definitely underutilised. The motto in the organisation was that if nothing was said then it was a job well done, and if not you would know about it. Communication here needed to be a two-way street. People wanted to receive regular feedback on their tasks so that they know what was appreciated, and so that they were clear on how to repeat that specific action / behaviour again. Recognition is saying thank you to a person for work done. It means: “I see you, I validate you, I recognise your work, and I thank you for it.” Everybody had to learn to provide feedback and recognition to one person every day while being specific and detailed in doing so.
- Starting meetings on a positive note was unheard of. Meetings were generally started with what hadn’t worked on a certain project, what complaints were on the table, and any urgent decisions that needed to be made, etc. Meetings were started in a reactive, negative mindset which led to staff going into problem-solving mode and not into opportunity-thinking mode. Things were fixed, but they weren’t solved in a creative manner. We asked that every meeting start off on a positive note, where either they thanked people for excellent work, shared positive news, or expressed gratitude for projects / tasks that had gone well. The result was that they focused on how this positivity could be repeated, and they felt safe which led to everyone being innovative and creative. The tough decisions were still made, but from a different approach.
- Apologising for mistakes appears to be difficult in the workplace. Instead, stories are formed on why something couldn’t be achieved, and looking to pass the blame. This process is an exceptionally negative downward spiral process, and is futile. We spend hours trying to pass the buck, whereas sometimes it’s often about taking ownership of the mistake, as you are likely to be part of it, and finding solutions to fix it. We instilled the concept that they had permission to challenge each other when they went into storytelling and blaming others. They had the code word “stories”, and as everybody knew what that meant, they were not permitted to go on with their story but had to sit down and ask introspective questions that we had taught them.
- Addressing issues of incivility and disrespect meant that people were given a voice to raise, either in writing or verbally, issues that had occurred in the workplace to the Kindness Committee. The committee would look at each matter raised regardless how significant or not it may appear. They discussed what needed to happen, and responded in person to the person who had raised it. In addition, the committee informed the entire organisation at their monthly information meeting of the matter concerned and how they had dealt with it. It was always done in a positive light, upholding integrity and confidentially where needed.
This six-step process over a year transformed the organisation’s toxic negative working environment to a neutral and positive one. As I do with most of my clients, I build long-lasting relationships with them, supporting them in the transformation and holding them accountable.
The journey has not been easy for them and does require constant attention, but that is what culture is – it demands ongoing care and awareness. Their working environment has remained positive, and if they feel they are falling back they have the tools to go back to.
If your team is experiencing similar challenges and you would like our support, contact us at email@example.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our expert team.
I recently read through some of my old blogs, and came across my very first article on resilience which was written on 11 August 2015. Since then, resilience has become a trendy personal and business word, with everybody wanting to raise their levels of resilience to support them to cope better in their life.
However, since 2015 I have expanded my knowledge on resilience, and would like to share some insights and new learnings with you.
Learning 1: Resilience is much more than the standard definition of bouncing back; resilience is actually about bouncing forward. You don’t want to be in the same position that you were before the adversity, and actually want to be in a more advanced position; you want to have grown.
Learning 2: Resilience relies heavily on reframing a situation to be positive, and being grateful for what is going well. However, resilience is about looking for the benefit from the situation and exploring how you can grow from the circumstances presented to you.
Learning 3: Resilience isn’t equal resilience. I have identified three types: (a) the everyday life resilience to buffer against frustrations and irritations such as traffic, (b) medium-size resilience which lasts for longer periods, such as a week or a few months, and is often needed in work situations when working with others on a project or task, and finally (c) life changing resilience which we draw from life-altering events which happen to us such as an illness, death, divorce, war or abuse.
Learning 4: To become resilient, you have to start being attuned to yourself. You need to understand what is happening in your life right now and how you feel about it as well as yourself. Resilience starts with a healthy dose of internal reflection.
Learning 5: Start practising resilience with small life challenges, and when your life is running rather smoothly. Practice it regularly until it becomes a habit; that way you are better prepared to apply it when you truly need it. It’s very difficult to learn to be resilient when life is throwing challenging things at you because you will automatically go into survival mode.
Keep in mind everybody can learn to become more resilient; it is just practice, patience and self-compassion.
Here is the original article from August 2015.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is one of those human states that we admire in others and often wish we had more of. What makes resilience such a powerful life skill to have, and can it be developed? Firstly, resilience is a positive thinking pattern that enables us to respond and recover from adversity very quickly. It is a key ingredient that we use as a buffer against life’s challenges so that we don’t spiral downwards too much when trajectories or traumas happen. Resilience is a crucial coping tool that helps us to manage daily life with much more ease. Most of us learn to become resilient the hard way through life experiences, but what if we could learn ways of building our resilience as early as in primary or junior school.
Before we explore techniques that build our resilience, let’s look at common sinkholes we fall into that prevent us from being resilient. The five key sinkholes are:
Five Sinkholes That Prevent Us Becoming Resilient
- Jumping to conclusions – responding reactively to a situation without having all the facts.
- Tunnel vision – focusing only on the negative without considering any alternative options.
- Personalising – internalising that the fault lies with us and that we are the actual problem.
- Externalising – blaming others for the problem and not wanting to consider our own contribution.
- Assuming – speculating that we know what the other person is thinking or feeling.
The downside to these sinkholes is that they keep us stuck in negative thinking patterns that can hamper us from moving forward. They drain our energy which means that we aren’t able to see or even try to see the positive side to a situation. When our energy is depleted we give up easily and often we don’t try again.
The answer to building our resilience muscle is brainstorming alternative solutions as well as predicting the level of success for each solution without accepting the first idea that presents itself. We need to dig deep until the right solution comes to mind. We must then test that solution and be flexible knowing that realignment of our actions or thoughts might be needed along the way. Don’t give up when challenges or obstacles appear – these must be seen with a level of curiosity and eagerness to overcome them.
Resilience, very much like well-being, has no finite endpoint and it, therefore, remains an ongoing process. This doesn’t mean that there is no point in developing resilience because each learning cycle raises our consciousness and facilitates a positive upward transformation. This is very similar to the threads of a screw where we spiral upwards with each full turn. Also, becoming more resilient doesn’t inoculate us from adversity, tragedies or traumas because they are a part of life and partially out of our control. We can only choose how we manage the event and ourselves.
We must also consider the difference between surviving and thriving in life. Surviving means we are getting by; we might feel all consumed with life, and perhaps even bitter or resentful for the injustice or hardship of life. We may feel that life is happening to us and that we are two separate elements. Thriving, on the other hand, means that we are actively engaged and participating in our lives. We regard life and us as one united element. We accept that adversity is part of life and learn to fight and overcome traumas. We learn to see the benefits in adversity which makes us value and appreciate the difficulty. It is no coincidence that successful people have high levels of resilience.
Every now and again, buzzwords creep into our business language. The main one at the moment is resilience, with leaders wanting to build resilient teams and raise people’s resilience in the workplace. But what is resilience? Can it be developed or even influenced? Many people refer to it as the stand-up syndrome, or the ability to persevere during tough times. Let’s begin by looking at the roots and definition of resilience.
Resilience in the face of challenging situations has been around for centuries, as is evident in myths, fairytales, art, and literature which portrays heroes and heroines. And it continues in today’s thriving movie industry. Just look at Aquaman, The Avengers, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, or Spiderman to name a few. It is only recently though that individual resilience is spilling over into the workplace.
Resilience was first studied as a scientific concept in the 1970s while researching children who were classified as high-risk problem children. Over the next three decades, further research was conducted which indicated that resilience led to increased positive behaviour, academic achievements, a happier and more satisfying life, and a decrease in mental illness, emotional distress, criminal behaviour, and risk-taking activities. Looking at these benefits, it’s no wonder that everybody wants to increase their resilience, especially leaders in the workplace. But resilience is more than just bouncing back from adversity. It has two important benchmark criteria: firstly that you are doing better than anticipated from the adversity, and secondly that there has been a positive outcome. It’s not just about bouncing back and being in the same state of mind as before. Growth needs to happen based on a “threatening” situation. You can obviously appreciate that resilience takes time, practice, and a mindset to develop. In a work context, adverse situations are often present, but do we always come out better than expected or grow from it? Our case study is about how to implement resilience in a working environment.
Our client is in the insurance industry and has a solid track record of delivering excellent customer service. They go the extra mile with every client, and through their stellar quality work, outperform their competitors. The company is a medium-sized business with approximately thirty employees, which made it easy to engage with every employee and make a lasting and positive impact. The Managing Director had scheduled a strategy session with the team, and wanted to include tools and techniques to support the employees to be resilient in an anticipated challenging year ahead.
We were invited to facilitate a half-day workshop on developing resilience. The purpose was to impart knowledge and tools for the team on how to increase their level of resilience, and manage difficult situations and/or aggravated customers. It was about boosting the team with practical know-how so that they could thrive in the coming year.
Approach and Processes
We started off by providing background information on what resilience is, the benefits of developing it for both an individual as well as for the organisation, and ended off by sharing practical tools on how to build and maintain resilience. We also played a fun physical game with the team to assist them to transpose the learned material into real work-life situations. In this case study we will share two main resilience tools that you can apply in managing your day-to-day irritations, frustrations, and disappointments.
Tool 1 – Question your Internal Beliefs
In a moment of distress we seldom start by looking at ourselves, but rather jump right into being reactive and finding fault in the situation, which leads to us going down the blame and fault-finding path. This is not a helpful process for us. We taught the team to reverse this by questioning their assumptions and beliefs about the situation that was causing them distress; first looking inwards and then identifying their thinking traps. The practical tool to apply is the ABCDE method in which the following steps are followed.
The “A” stands for Adversity, and you need to pinpoint and name the situation that is causing you distress.
The “B” stands for Beliefs, and these are the assumptions you are making on what is causing you the actual distress. These are you sinkholes in your thinking.
The “C” stands for the Consequences of holding onto these beliefs around the adversity. It is very helpful to gain clarity of the consequences of holding onto the assumptions and beliefs.
The “D” stands for Disputation. Here we question ourselves whether the beliefs and assumptions are the only feasible explanation for the adversity. We begin to become open-minded and curious about possible alternative reasons. We challenge our thinking by looking for evidence and pondering the implications of our beliefs, assumptions and consequences.
Finally, the “E” stands for Energization. In this last step, we become energized by removing the limiting and negative assumptions around the adversity which usually results in us moving towards a positive action.
Tool 2 – Examine the External Environment
Only in this tool do we look outwards at the external environment that is adding to the level of distress we are experiencing. It can be friction with a colleague, time management, unreasonable work deadlines, or not having the necessary resources available. We imparted a short, practical tool for the team called ADAPT, and designed a plan of action to work through the adverse situation.
The first “A” stands for Attitude and is about questioning your mindset and exploring which thinking sinkholes are in the way. It also includes examining your emotions and the perception you have.
The “D” stands for Defining the problem and setting a realistic goal.
The second “A” stands for generating Alternative solutions. Brainstorming different ways of how you can accomplishing the set goal and writing down some alternative ideas.
The next step, the “P”, stands for Predicting the consequences. This entails examining the alternative solutions generated in the previous step, and evaluating their level of effectiveness. You start to look at things from all angles, and place yourself in other people’s shoes.
And the final step, the “T”, stands for Testing it. Moving into action and implementing the plan.
Impact and Results
This two-step process was a start for the team to adjust their thinking towards life’s challenges. It was about accepting that life is fluid, and that irritating, frustrating and annoying situations will happen to all of us on a regular basis. We cannot prevent them from happening, however we are in control of our thoughts, we can regulate our emotions, and we can choose how we will react and grow from the challenge.
For organisations, teaching people resilience skills is very beneficial to their profitability and productivity. In a recent study by Gallup in 2018, figures showed that 23% of people suffer from permanent burnout, and 44% from occasional burnout.
If your employees or leaders are experiencing similar challenges, and you’d like our support, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our expert team.
The other day I stumbled across an article that I wrote in September 2017. Reading through it, I realised that engagement is an even more pertinent topic than it was back then, and that I have deepened my knowledge on engagement since then and would like to share it with you.
Today, employee engagement is a necessity for organisations who want to remain commercially successful. In addition, employee engagement is essential for employees to be happy in their work, to find meaning in life, and to have an opportunity to be productive.
Let’s begin by defining engagement because there are many definitions of this term. Researchers classify employee engagement as a unique, persistent and pervasive psychological state that uses self-investment of personal resources and energy to express oneself in work tasks and connect with others.
What that means in layman’s terms is that engagement involves an emotional, physical and cognitive focus; so we commonly refer to it as combining the head-heart and hands into a work task. Engagement is often used interchangeably with job satisfaction, attitude, behaviour, involvement, and commitment. In as much as thinking isn’t incorrect, the key and critical component to engagement is the psychological state of the employee during their work experience.
You may be wondering why it’s challenging for people to be engaged at work, and the answer lies in the words: psychological safety.
When people engage they are attentive, connected and completely integrated with a task and/or person, and for that to happen people need to feel safe in their environment, safe to be themselves, safe to bring their authenticity to the work environment, safe with the people they work with, and safe with their leader; they need to feel that they can trust.
Safety is the second most important need that has to be fulfilled in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and if we don’t feel safe we aren’t able to deliver our best thinking, decision making, and tasks. So ask yourself how safe your employees feel in their work environment.
Here is the original article written in September 2017
The engagement concept has become a workplace buzzword over the past seven years. Every organisation wants the best part of their workforce to be fully or semi engaged, and less disengaged. However, many attempts have failed to create this shift, and our engagement levels remain at around 13 to 19 percent. This means that a lot of employees are disengaged at work. So, what are we missing?
We know a lot about engagement, and equally are left with many unanswered questions. There are so many definitions of the term “engagement”. There’s a very definite lack of consensus of what engagement is, what factors make it up, or how to practically measure it. Some people refer to engagement as employee engagement, while others as job or work engagement. There are several words all referring to the same thing, but it’s confusing when there isn’t an overarching consensus. This is a huge problem, but one that is often overlooked and brushed aside because that’s for the researchers to dwell on – as leaders we just want to have engaged employees.
Engagement is not an old concept. In 1990, Dr William A. Kahn, a professor of Organisational Behaviour at Boston University, was the first researcher who spoke about the word personal engagement when he contemplated how much a person brings of themselves to their work tasks and performance. He was way ahead of the curve and nobody was interested in the topic back then.
After that, no one spoke about engagement for 12 years, until 2002 when it reappeared as being the opposite to burnout. This development can be seen as reasonable, but it still didn’t explain the factors that make up engagement. And again, there was no traction on the topic until in 2010 when it started becoming a management and organisation buzzword.
Engagement is believed to have many benefits to both the individual and the organisation. Some of the benefits have been scientifically validated, and others widely speculated on. We would like to ask leaders and organisations to be cautious when rolling out an engagement strategy because it requires planning, thought and dedication. A hasty, unclear strategic plan can do more harm to employee happiness than is often anticipated.
Some facts to consider are:
- Engagement isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. You don’t DO engagement, you become actively engaged with your activities and tasks. Engagement is who you are and become as an organisation, similar to your culture.
- Define what engagement means in your organisation and perhaps write down some examples.
- Be specific about what the benefits, rewards and recognition for becoming more engaged are for employees. You are expecting more input from your workforce, which means that you have to be transparent and reciprocate fairly.
- We take the worldview that engagement is a positive construct from which the individual and the organisation will benefit. But, what if it doesn’t have such a tremendous benefit for the individual? What about when going the extra mile brings their work-life out of kilter and negatively affects their personal relationships?
- Let’s be considerate. Not every human being has the physical or psychological ability to operate at high levels of engagement. There could be limitations and illnesses to consider, and they are doing their best every day, albeit that the organisation doesn’t see it as good enough.
- Lastly, is engagement the utopia solution we are making it to be? Is it the be-all and end-all where the individual and organisation has a perfect win-win? Is this approach realistic?
Please don’t get me wrong! I am an avid supporter and lobbyist for employee engagement in the workplace. However, I want to challenge you to think about the engagement concept from a long-term moral and ethical angle before you go ahead and quickly roll out something that will make employees happy.
I hope that you have gained further insight on engagement and its importance in the workplace. It starts with the employee because they get to choose whether they want to engage or not. As an organisation you cannot force people to become engaged; however you can create possibilities that enable employees to engage.
Leadership: A Context
Most people strive to be promoted and climb the workplace ladder into a higher position, with their eyes set on becoming a manager and then a leader. So, why is it that when they reach the desired point for which they worked so tirelessly, things change drastically. Suddenly a star performer’s productivity and performance drops, their motivation dwindles, they deliver late, their work quality drops, and mistakes creep in. They won’t be sure how it happened and will be like a deer in the headlights, unable to move.
The analogy of the startled deer is precisely what happens. The newly-promoted leader enters a state of paralysis where they can’t move, begin to doubt their own abilities, lose confidence, and are unable to make concrete decisions. The senior leaders will ask themselves what has happened to their star performer, the person who was recently promoted and who they were expecting to fire like a rocket.
What has happened to their star performer is that they have become “paralysed” in their new role. They were previously technically competent and highly skilled which made them perform at their best. Senior leaders recognised the potential in their star performer and promoted them to a more senior role with additional responsibility and a few team members reporting to them. What may appear as a formidable gesture turns into a nightmare. The challenge lies in the fact that the star performer has been promoted without the necessary leadership training on how to embrace their new role, tasks and most importantly how to lead their team. The essential people and soft-skills were never imparted, with the newly-appointed leader doing their best to figure it out by themselves. They will have to learn in a DIY style when it comes to leadership, which is not a recommended approach. Unfortunately, we see this situation very often and are called in to assist through coaching, training or workshops. Our next story is precisely about that.
The client was a well-established family-owned business where the owners wanted to grow the business to a level where they could hand over their legacy to the next generation leaders in the next 15 years. The leaders they had identified had been working in the business for the past 10 years which was why promoting them to manager seemed like a natural next step. It was everything but that.
After the initial feelings of elation and pride, the reality set in and the team’s as well the manager’s performance began to drop. Customers complained, mistakes occurred, team morale dipped, and workplace tension was escalating for everybody.
We were called in to help this manager make the transition from previously being part of the team and now being their manager. In addition, we needed to help the manager with some leadership skills.
Approach and process
We engaged with the manager for over 10 months, with meetings every two weeks. We designed a structured plan upfront of what would be key items to focus on as we believe that each situation is unique and each leader requires different skills to develop and grow. However, in this case study we will share three main things we applied to get the transition moving forward.
- Shifting the mindset from team member to manager. This is the most difficult transition to make because their role will have changed completely from one day to another. Yesterday they were part of the team sharing tea breaks and lunches with them, and now they are their manager giving direction on work tasks to be completed. Suddenly, they are accountable for their own work, as well as delegating, and planning. For the manager, this is the most stressful and difficult time to make the transition because they have not yet identified themselves with their new role, and sometimes they will slip back into what’s familiar. The transition occurs gradually but has to be approached consciously. They will need assistance in terms of listing what behaviours they need to let go of and identifying how this can be done by exploring what they can replace them with. This stage requires time and patience as the transition does take about three months.
- Learning to communicate with their team. Communication is a large and important topic for any manager to embrace. It has many components to it such as listening, asking questions, providing feedback, and managing conflict. With this situation, we taught the manager to rely on his natural people strengths. We encouraged him to listen without interrupting, ask questions to understand and not judge, ask for help from senior leaders when he wasn’t sure, and to give his team feedback. He needed to trust his intuition when communicating, and also to learn to find the right balance on when to be empathetic and when to be firm. We raised the communication levels through regular brief face-to-face morning team meetings and used emails more for information sharing rather than for conversations. The last thing we focused on was addressing conflict or disputes very early on and not allowing them to go unaddressed and spiral out of control. We showed him to be mindful to focus on the situation that was under dispute and never the person.
- Building positive trusting relationships seems to be an obvious one, but the words “positive” and “trusting” change the dynamic in relationships. Finding the ideal balance is tricky for even the most seasoned leader. Relationships are about having a sense of awareness for oneself and others, and can be categorised into building social and emotional intelligence. We are all unique human beings who think, feel and sense differently. What motivates one person doesn’t motivate another, and as a leader, it’s learning to build, nurture and maintain different relationships at various levels. The things we specifically focused on here was to let go and to trust the team to do their tasks, learning to not micro-manage and to give continuous feedback on the work completed.
This three-step process was the start for the manager to transform. Many other soft skills and building blocks were shared, but are not discussed in this article. From the day we started the intervention, the manager has grown and developed a level of confidence and self-worth and has set new goals in his personal and professional life. There is nothing more rewarding than to witness an individual growing and developing in both these domains.
If your newly-appointed manager or leader is experiencing similar challenges, and you’d like our support, contact us at email@example.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our expert team.
Our first article on agile leadership was written on 5 September 2016. That’s almost three years before the phrase “agile leadership” became a familiar business buzzword. Today, we hear and read about agile leaders, agile managers, agile employees, and agile organisations all the time. While reading through that blog, I feel that we were on the button with our comments, but would like to add some new wisdom and information.
Defining Agile Leadership
Let’s start by defining what an agile leader is, and how it differs from previous names such as authentic, transformational, democratic, or autocratic leader. An agile leader can lead a wide range of complex and diverse circumstances, and is able, in a crisis situation, to realign human resources where most needed. In the current VUCA (vulnerable, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) business world, agile leaders are nimble and light on their feet; able to adjust their decisions, focus, and attention on the spur of the moment, while innovating, inspiring and motivating their team to commit to the new strategy.
Characteristics of Agile Leaders
Leadership experts and researchers have identified that an agile leader demonstrates four core characteristics:
- A deep sense of purpose of why their team and organisation exists, and what they intend to achieve. This sense of purpose brings focus, clarity, meaning, a sense of belonging, and direction.
- Being comfortable with the complex unknown means having a vigilant eye for change and opportunities. Feeling confident, positive and familiar with the uncertainty and navigating through it.
- Experimenting and trying things out which speaks directly to being open-minded, growing and learning. Being courageous and brave to charter unknown waters. Inspiring others to be creative and innovative.
- A lifelong student who never stops learning, exploring and growing. Conscientiously expanding their knowledge and competencies. And if they don’t know, then being streetwise enough to know where to go to find the information.
Here is the original article written on 5 September 2016:
Relationships: A Context
Building positive, trusting relationships is paramount in every organisation to ensure that communication is flowing, ideas are emerging, people are volunteering to assist and support one another, information is being shared, and collaboration occurs.
In his hierarchy of needs, Maslow reiterates that people need to feel loved and have a sense that they belong to a community. We all want to be liked, wanted, needed and loved, and this is no different to wanting to experience it in a work environment. Toxic working relationships cause distrust, miscommunication, frustration and loneliness. They drain us emotionally, physically and physiologically. They zap our energy, and influence our performance and productivity. They make us dread going to work, and we can even become physically ill from toxic relationships.
We experienced a situation in an organisation a while back where the team was talking to one another but not truly communicating. They were polite, friendly and respectful, but they didn’t listen to each other. They didn’t air the conflict that was very noticeable in the room. Many difficult conversations were swept under the carpet which resulted in the team not being able to make decisions that mattered to the business. Each team leader was bickering about what wasn’t right, and whose fault it was. People were beating around the bush in conversations instead of saying what they truly felt and thought.
Throughout this process, people became cynical and expressed snide remarks that were hurtful. It didn’t take long for trust to break down and relationships to become superficial.
We were called in to help this team to build trusting, positive relationships.
Approach & Process
We engaged with the team over eight months and had to start gently before we were able to go a level deeper. The four key items we focused on were:
- Sharing what they appreciated and valued about one another. This was a new concept for the team as they were accustomed to talking about what was wrong and what someone didn’t do. They had to sit back and recognise the strength of a fellow team member and openly share it. To stretch them a little further, we asked them to articulate how a team member made their work easier.
- Learning to listen and not to interrupt was our next approach. To allow a team member to complete their sentence in full. To hold back on any knee-jerk reaction, and to hear what the person was saying. To make notes of thoughts and ideas that were coming up for the listener and to go back to them when it was their turn to speak.
- Engaging in open-ended questions that allow for clarification and expansion of viewpoints. Not to make any assumptions or judgement about what was being said, but rather to ask to ensure deep understanding. To summarise if needed based on what was heard.
- Express one’s feeling was the last aspect we brought in as this was going to force the team to show vulnerability and humility. Baring their heart on how they felt about a decision or situation. But having learned the previous tools, they were in a strong position to be heard and understood by their colleagues.
This four-step process rebuilt open, candid communication in the team which had a ripple effect on their trust and relationships. I still engage with them on odd occasions and can say that I’m delighted that they have upheld these strategies. Their relationships have remained positive and the once poor level of communication has completely turned around.
If your team is experiencing similar challenges and you would like our support contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a 30 minute free consultation with our expert team.