On the occasion of Mental Health Awareness Day, 10th October, I thought it prudent to shed light on one of the key contributors to mental health: the workplace.
On average, we spend at least a quarter of our weekly hours at work. Our work environment, irrespective of whether we enjoy it or not, inevitably becomes a second home that, at times, demands more responsibilities from us than our first home. Unfortunately, seldom do we actually discuss mental health in general, let alone in the workplace.
To address organisational wellbeing, I’m sharing my own approach to ensuring that I remain mentally healthy. If you have any additional points, do feel free to share in the comments.
- Am I treated the way I want to be treated?
More often than not, organisational bullying is not discussed. In many ways, organisational bullying is similar to our general definition of bullying, which includes being harassed, being talked down to, and being laughed at. However, organisational bullying also manifests in other forms that are often disregarded. Being left out intentionally, being yelled at or called a name, or being embarrassed through sexual humour, is workplace bullying. We seem to often let go of whatever upsets us at work because of lesser expectations towards how we should be treated, perhaps because of the financial reliance on our jobs that prevents us from setting the bar any higher.
If you feel uncomfortable in your place of work, tell someone. It could be your manager, your co-workers, HR, or any authority that could play a role in resolving your problem. If you don’t feel safe speaking to anyone in the office, reach out to your network for support. Bottling up your problems means neglecting your mental wellbeing. Just talking about it – having a conversation with someone you trust – could make a significant difference in how you feel.
- Are my expectations realistic?
We all want to be healthy, wealthy, successful and loved. It’s the human condition. But you should also ask yourself: is everything that I’m doing making me happy? Which parts of my day bring me the most joy, and which parts don’t? How can I rearrange my priorities so that I can achieve my goals without affecting my mental state?
Give yourself time to rest, to breathe. We stress ourselves out with constant replies to emails and calls in what has become a seemingly 24/7 workweek because of how well-connected we are. Find a time to stop using your phone and allow yourself to indulge in a chocolate bar or the newest Netflix special if that makes you happy. Essentially, allow yourself those simple joys that we often lose sight of as we progress in our careers and neglect our wellbeing. And remember, in some way, a considerable portion of the stress we suffer from is caused by our own expectations.
- What’s the perspective I choose for myself today?
Have you ever had a terrible week? I’m not talking about a bad morning, but a bad week overall. By Friday, you walk into work and you’re so tired and done that you just want to go back home and crawl back into bed. I think most of us have been there at least once. What is the perspective from which you choose to see your day? I walked into the office this morning having gone through a tough series of unfortunate events within a few hours. As I described my morning to my manager, she smiled and said, “At least it can only get better from this point!” Create a constant mental, or physical, reminder that it can only get better from your worst workplace experiences and watch your day get better. You messed up a presentation? Your next presentation will be better because you learned at least one thing from this one. You said the wrong thing in a meeting? You will be careful with your words in the next meeting. This approach to restructuring our perception of our experiences needs practice, but we have to start somewhere.
This blog in no way attempts to overshadow serious mental health issues that affect more people in the population than we even recognise. It merely aims to give some perspective to those whose workplace experience may be bringing them down, which inevitably affects their performance and job satisfaction. I hope that reading this gave you a slightly new perspective in the very least, and I hope you utilise that perspective in achieving the shift towards mental serenity.
If you’d like to learn more about organisational health and wellbeing, stay tuned for Hot Spots Movement’s Masterclass in February 2020.
 Beheshti, Naz. (2019). Stigma About Mental Health Issues in the Workplace Exists: Here’s What Companies Can Do About It. Forbes.
 Myers, Chris (2017). How to Avoid Self-Induced Stress and Decision Fatigue in Business. Forbes.
As work has changed, the relationship between organisations and their people has progressed. Work has moved away from the industrial revolution and the homogenisation of workers and evolved into an era of autonomy with a new emphasis on the wellbeing of the individual. In recent decades this shift has been characterised by the increased responsibility and awareness of organisations for the wellness of their people.
However, despite the increased focus on individual wellbeing in the workplace, there has been a decline in job satisfaction. In the 1980s ‘roughly 61% of pollsters were satisfied with their jobs’, by 2010 this figure had dropped to 43%. Even amongst highly skilled professions such as medicine and law, studies reflected rising discontent.
Financial security is an obviously important element – we know from our work with organisations that people need to be paid fairly – however, after that, economic incentive is not a big driver of satisfaction. In his essay ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’, David Graeber explores the negative ramifications for people who feel that their job is worthless and lacks value. These are roles in which the person cannot justify the existence of their responsibilities, despite often being highly respected jobs and well paid. These people frequently feel that the tasks they perform do not contribute to a wider cause, creating a sense of disillusionment and ‘pointlessness’ to their role. Linked to this is the emotional connection between work and identity, with 55% of people gaining some sense of identity from their job. This lack of meaning can be emotionally detrimental to employees, leaving workers feeling unfulfilled in the performance of tasks they believe do not make a difference.
Here at HSM we advise that organisations, and particularly leaders, talk about ‘Good Work’ and evaluate whether the roles the offer provide a sense of meaning to their employees, looking beyond the traditional financial incentives to drive job fulfilment. The concept of ‘Good work’ highlights the importance of a role providing meaning, autonomy, dignity and a sense of belongingness. Employees wish to feel their efforts are adding value and are meaningful, even to a small degree. Furthermore, ‘good work’ needs to extend a sense of control to employees, promoting a level of freedom and autonomy within a role. Evidence of this was shown in Amy Wrzesniewski’s and Jane Dutton’s 2001 study, which found that janitors at large hospitals who viewed their roles as being part of the healing process of patients, rather than as a series of cleaning tasks, had higher levels of job satisfaction.
The positive implication of a more engaged workforce is substantial, particularly when placed in the unsettled context of technological disruption and social change. With statistics highlighting that 70% of the workforce is disengaged, a proactive and creative approach is required to increase job satisfaction.
Interested in learning more about how you can influence ‘Good Work’ in your organisation? Get in touch with me at email@example.com
 Future of Work Research Consortium, ‘Building Narratives on the Future of Work’ Report, 2018
 Wealthy, Successful and Miserable – C. Duhigg, The Future of Work, The New York Times Magazine
 Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work. A. Wrzesniewski and J. E. Dutton, 2001
By Greg O’Meara, Project Management Intern
When we interact with others, we tend to adopt a certain style. We choose the style based on our intentions, values and motives. On one end of the spectrum are givers, for whom the question always is, “What can I do for you?” while at the other end sit the takers who conversely say, “What can you do for me?” At the same time, for most people when meeting someone new, the default is to match their counterpart, that is, giving on condition of receiving in return. These are styles because they can vary depending on the type of interaction you are engaged in – you may give more when mentoring a student, take more when negotiating your salary and engage in matching when a competitor looks for some knowledge or advice. Yet the evidence shows that we also have a dominant style, a way of interacting with others that we are more prone towards, especially once we have gotten to know someone, and that this style has far reaching consequences for the world of work, productivity and team performance.
Organisational psychologist Adam Grant’s research based on data consisting of surveys and interviews with 30,000 people has found that givers generally constitute the least productive members of an organisation as they are seen to take on so much extra workload that they lack the time and/or the energy to complete their own tasks. Takers on the other hand may rise up the ranks quickly, however, they soon gain a reputation for operating selfishly and struggle to advance further. By process of elimination we might presume it is then matchers who are the most productive in an organisation, but according to Grant’s research, givers in the right environment where giving is the norm are the highest contributing members of a team. Grant found that a high frequency of giving behaviour in the right environment contributes to higher profits, employee retention and customer satisfaction.
Simply put, maintaining a dominant giving culture can have a powerful effect on organisational performance. Grant offers three prescriptions to create a giving environment:
- Firstly, it is imperative to protect your givers from burnout as they are liable to take on more work than is sustainable.
- Secondly, leadership must foster a culture of help-seeking so that the productive powers of the givers are unleashed.
- The final point, and most important with regards to culture, is that the atmosphere of giving can be significantly damaged by the introduction of just one taker into the team as the negative impact of just one taker is two to three times the positive effect of a giver.
Grant’s research has huge implications for how organisations design their talent practices and processes and shift cultures. How is your organisation creating a giving culture?
I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts! Get in touch by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been one month since our Future of High Performance Masterclass and we’re excited to soon be sharing our Report with members of the Future of Work Research Consortium, which will present the key findings from our extensive research on this theme. The Masterclass was packed full of insights, activities and opportunities to network and share good practices. We had three fantastic guest speakers on the day, so here are my key takeaways from their insightful contributions.
Dr. Randall S. Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, spoke to delegates about the power of collaboration in high performance teams. My favourite takeaway from Randall’s presentation was about how research shows that the best teams are the most diverse – but so are the very worst teams. He argued that the key was in the management of these teams. When diverse teams are managed well, members have access to a variety of sources of information and have opportunities to learn from each other and grow. However, when teams are managed poorly, it gives rise to task conflicts (disagreements around the content of the work), relationship conflicts (personal disagreements) and process conflicts (disagreements about the logistics of getting work done). Creating common understandings of problems, encouraging information sharing and promoting psychological safety and belongingness are a couple of ways to begin managing conflict and supporting high performance teams.
Tom Ravenscroft, founder and CEO of Enabling Enterprise, identified three major myths about human skills which need to be formally debunked. The first is that these skills are innate and that there are some “natural” team players. The second myth is that these skills are picked up by osmosis and simply “rub off” on people, rather than needing to be taught. The third is that these skills lie latent and that, in the “right situation”, people will show these skills. Organisations need to abandon these assumptions in order to make real progress towards building the skills of the future.
Lynda Gratton, Hot Spots Movement’s founder and CEO, told delegates about her main impressions from the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year – you can read her full blog for MIT Sloan here. Lynda stated that one hot topic was that work is undergoing a major transition, as technology demands that people upskill and reskill more rapidly than ever before. At our Masterclass, one of our delegates asked Lynda a fascinating question: how can CEOs continue to be creative when they are under increasing pressure to take immediate action to address this transition in work? Our research indicates that CEOs need the support of HR to look beyond the short term and develop a narrative on the future of work. By developing a point of view on learning and making their involvement and investment in learning initiatives a priority, they can help their people to develop the skillsets necessary to transform and adapt.
So, some key questions to consider when thinking about high performance in the long term are:
- Am I building the uniquely human skills I will need to succeed in the future of work?
- Am I harnessing the power of diversity in my team?
- Does my CEO have a clear narrative on what our organisation will look like in the future and what we need to do and learn in order to get there?
As our definition of high performance changes, building our skillsets and prioritising our interpersonal skills and development will help us to become more future-proofed. Drop me an email if you’d like to have a conversation about high performance at email@example.com.
 Lynda Gratton, ‘Five Insights From Davos on the Future of Work’, MIT Sloan Management Review Blog (2019).
 FoW, Building Narratives on the Future of Work Masterclass Report (2018).
We are surrounded by pro-diversity messages today – from the #MeToo campaign, to the controversial Pepsi advert featuring Kendall Jenner – diversity, and the lack of it, penetrates every aspect of society.
We find here at HSM, that workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) is often the most pressing challenge for many HR executives, and it’s no surprise given that there are only 25 female Fortune 500 CEOs and three black Fortune 500 CEOs, and that just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment. Many organisations are trying to amend these inequalities not only because it has become socially unacceptable, but also because it has been evidenced that a diverse workforce can greatly benefit an organisation’s bottom line.
For example McKinsey has found that companies in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity were 35% more likely to financially outperform their industry competitors. This clearly has huge appeal for organisations, yet there remains a significant gap between the rhetoric and the reality of diversity efforts today. In this post I will focus on how often well-intentioned organisations are unaware of how to make the leap from the rhetoric of aspirational diversity agendas, to creating a reality of a company culture that is truly diverse and inclusive.
One way in which companies try to incorporate a pro-diversity message within their organisation’s culture and values is by including diversity or equal employer opportunity (EEO) statements, or by creating lengthy and comprehensive D&I policies. It is sometimes assumed that by creating these statements or policies, they will automatically attract a more diverse applicant pool of talent, and thus a more diverse workforce, allowing them to benefit from all of the advantages of diverse workforces. However, research has shown that EEO and diversity statements are ineffective in bringing about actual change. A recent World Economic Forum report claimed that although 97% of companies have diversity programs or statements in place, only 25% of employees from diverse groups believe that they have personally benefited from these initiatives.
So where can we go from here? Evidently employers still have a long way to go in fully addressing discrimination in organisations. Eliminating discrimination and working towards inclusivity needs to be made a regular part of the conversation in order to become a reality. For example, it could be a good starting point to ask employees what they think inclusion means, to ask them to share their experiences of feeling excluded, and to co-create with their employers the actions that would make the company more inclusive. The ideas and actions that come from these conversations can help bring your policy to life, as they truly come from the heart of your organisation and your people, those who will ultimately be responsible for implementing it.
This is something we have enabled clients to do, using our Collaboration Jams. These online, crowdsourced conversations enable thousands of employees to connect in a many-to-many conversation around the most pressing issues. Combined with expert facilitation, they make even the most sensitive topics safe to explore and provide leaders and HR teams with evidence-based solutions. Get in touch to find out more about how you can empower your employees to convert your diversity rhetoric into a reality.
By Amanda Fajak, Executive Director at Walking the Talk
20 years ago I published an article looking at the link between power, gender and the likelihood of promotion. In that research I uncovered an important finding. Women were associated with emotion and emotion was a characteristic that was not associated with strong leadership. Inversely, men were associated with assertiveness, a characteristic that was associated with strong leadership.
This finding has been reiterated many times over the years with the general consensus being that men are traditionally associated with aggression, risk taking, decisive behaviour and autonomy (what are called agentic qualities) – what have historically been viewed as valuable leadership skills – whereas women are traditionally associated with being kind, caring, humble and relational (what are called communal qualities) – historically less valued leadership skills. These stereotypes of men and women have resulted in historic streaming of men and women into different careers (very broadly in 1998 this meant men traditionally in finance and business and women in nursing and teaching).
Fast forward to 2018 and I was curious as to what has changed. When you look into our business press, there is still evidence of the male hero leader – with the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zukerberg being credited with single handedly changing our lives. However there are also strong women leaders and influencers making the headlines – Michelle Obama, Angela Merkl, Mary Barra (GE), Indra Nooyi (Pepsico), Carolyn McCall (ITV), Theresa May to name a few.
Interestingly, research from as recently as 10 years ago showed that despite an increasing number of women in more powerful roles, women had started to see an association between feminine and leadership characteristics, but men had not.
The latest research by Eagly – who has polled views on gender stereotyping since 1946 – delivered good and bad news. Over time, men have increasingly been seen as more agentic (aggressive, decisive, etc). Over time women have been increasingly seen as more intelligent and competent than men but the stereotype of women being more communal has also increased.
These sorts of findings are a source of frustration to many. On the surface it would appear that we haven’t made much progress in breaking down stereotypes. This is only 1 lens, if we broaden out our perspective another picture might be emerging.
Recent research conducted by Walking the Talk showed that investment professionals are less likely to invest in organisations that are aggressive, overconfident, overly hierarchical – organisations that have more agentic qualities.
Similarly, recent research by the Centre for Creative Leadership listed the following 10 characteristics to be associated with leaders: Honesty; Ability to delegate; Communication; Sense of humour; Confidence; Commitment; Positive attitude; Creativity; Ability to inspire; Intuition. These are more communal qualities.
In the same vein the latest thinking about the leaders that create psychological safety – a critical underpinning to organisation health – includes modesty; humility; openness; supportiveness; inclusive decision making; acknowledging others; emotional intelligence; and accessibility – more communal qualities.
If we look at changing perceptions about leadership it is evident that we are starting to see a significant shift in terms of what good leadership looks like. Could it be that although stereotypes about women have not changed, society has come to a point where it is starting to recognise that feminine characteristics are what it takes for strong leadership?
 Fajak, A. & Haslam, A. (1998). Gender solidarity in hierarchical organizations. British Journal of Social Psychology. 37, 73-94.
 Eagly, A.H.. Wood, W. & Diekman, A.B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: A current appraisal. In T. Eckes and H.M. Trautner (Eds.). The developmental social psychology of gender (pp.123-174). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
 Duehr, E. & Bono. J. (2006). Men, women, and managers: are stereotypes finally changing? Personnel Psychology, 59, 815-846.
The Danish existentialist philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once proclaimed that “we live forward, but we understand backward. Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward”. Such thought-provoking aphorisms are just one example of how a discipline which has its origins dating back to over 2000 years ago can still offer foresight into the future. However, despite laying claim to be the oldest discipline in the world and providing the epistemological framework for academia – the influence of philosophy in society has waned in recent times. In 2010, for example, the late Professor Hawking declared that scientists rather than philosophers “have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge”[i]. The decline in philosophy’s significance as a method of inquiry is reflected in the statistics too, with figures from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences showing the number of people obtaining philosophy degrees has fallen by 8.7% since 2012[ii].
Despite diminishing interest in the discipline, the increased importance of human skills in the age of automation and technological advancements means there is a strong argument to be made for the recrudescence of philosophy within all spheres of society, and none more so than within the corporate sphere. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to explore what the wisdom from some of the greatest philosophers in history can tell us about some of the main themes that are shaping the future of work.
The Stoics and remaining calm in times of accelerated change
It is widely acknowledged within the future of work community that two of the main characteristics that define modern work are volatility and uncertainty. The notion of a lifelong career is seemingly redundant; while there seems to be little consensus on the extent to which technological advancements will threaten the existence of jobs. Thus, to begin this voyage into the relationship between philosophy and the world of work, it seems appropriate to start by exploring the ideas of a group of Athenian scholars who became known as ‘The Stoics’. Widely regarded as the founding fathers of practical philosophy, central to their belief system is the idea that regardless of how unpredictable the world can be, by using our minds correctly we can always be in control of our emotions and impulses, no matter how overwhelming they might be. This mindset is commonly referred to as ‘stoic calm’.
Embracing the virtues of ‘stoicism’ in the modern corporate world unlocks tremendous benefits for organisations experiencing profound change. For instance, a ‘stoic’ individual would show greater resilience to any changes brought about by macro forces such as technological disruption, as they would in theory express a greater willingness to acquiring the skills needed to overcome the challenges such forces present. Similarly, they would be accepting of the fact that the traditional three-stage model of education, work and retirement was obsolescent. Indeed, the stoic individual is one who acknowledges that the only constant in life is change and is therefore also equipped with the emotional skills required to effectively cope with acute forms of disruption.
To this end, stoicism differs from most existing branches of philosophy in one important sense: its purpose is a practical application that can harness the cognitive skills needed for modern work, and as such, it is not a purely intellectual enterprise. Instead, it’s a tool that we can use to become better in our craft, establish more meaningful relationships with colleagues and business partners also allowing us to pragmatically navigate any fundamental disruptions in the labour market. Thus, despite being over 2,000 years old, it is a mindset that, if adopted correctly, could equip modern workers with the mental clarity and resilience required to thrive and prosper in this period of uncertain and accelerated change.
Aristotle, being virtuous and organisational ethics
Keeping with the theme of Athenian scholars, Aristotle, a man regarded as one of the most influential of all philosophers, and his concept of ‘virtuous ethics’, can help provide clarity on the ethical decisions organisations need to make in the future. In essence, Aristotle believed that the framework for being a virtuous person simply consisted of being a good person, and not being a slave to one’s lowest impulses. With recent revelations such as the ‘Cambridge Analytica’ Facebook data scandal, the moral fibre of organisations is under great scrutiny and an adoption of virtuous ethics as a framework can help provide organisations with the necessary moral guidance to make ethically sound decisions.
The concept of ‘virtuous ethics’ not only provides a strong moral framework for organisations to abide by, but it also enables people to fulfil their potential and improve their overall well-being. With recent data indicating that 58% do not trust their colleagues[iii], and 7 out of 10 people not trusting their HR department[iv]; living more virtuously offers a set of ideals that can help galvanise people while simultaneously healing fractured relationships and lead to greater cohesion within organisations.
Nietzsche the Übermensch and high-performance
At first glance, the often misanthropic and pessimistic rhetoric of another great philosopher – Nietzsche has no place in the context of optimising performance. But dig deeper into his philosophy and it becomes clear that the ‘future of high performance’ can learn a lot from his musings. Notably, the concept of the ‘Übermensch’ – translated into English as the ‘Superman’ offers a unique philosophy for how to optimise performance and unlock potential.
For Nietzsche, the idea of Übermensch was more like a vision than a theory; a vision whereby one is emboldened to find the necessary inner strength to overcome any personal insecurities and embrace fear and uncertainty, rather than run away from it. With research demonstrating that creating a space of psychological safety is pivotal for organisations looking to unleash their creative potential; following the principles of Nietzsche’s Übermensch and believing that failure is a necessary stage in the path to fulfilment, can help lay the foundations for people to experiment without fear and come back stronger if they fail.
Perhaps in these increasingly uncertain times when disruptive technology raises profound questions about the skills humans will need to prosper in the future, revisiting the most ancient of disciplines can, in a somewhat paradoxical sense, offer a strong foundation for the cultivation of the uniquely human skills needed to effectively navigate accelerated periods of change. Indeed, to quote Steve Jobs – “technology alone is not enough, it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities that yield the results that make our hearts sing.”
If you would like to discuss further how teaching philosophy can prepare you for the future of work, then please contact Marvin at firstname.lastname@example.org.