Category: Wellbeing

Christmas Reflections

After such a challenging and difficult year for many, Healthskills would like to wish all our clients, programme participants and leaders everywhere a happy and safe Christmas, however you are able to celebrate, and our very best wishes at this festive time.

This year, I and my colleagues offer our reflections as 2021 comes to a close, our thoughts on what we are taking from this year into 2022, and our hopes, opportunities and ideas that may help you with your challenges in the new year.

From Mark Greenfield:
The recollection from this turbulent year that resonates most with me is the power of human connections.  As groups of individuals and teams have started to meet again face to face during the latter half of 2021, I’ve been struck by how significant opportunities to Reconnect, Reflect and Recharge have become.
Reconnecting – and for many individuals, actually meeting colleagues for the first time and have space to catch up, get to know each other better and reconnect with their aspirations as a team;
Reflect – reflect on and share experiences over the past 18 months, think about individual and shared journeys, look ahead to how they work together and agree common purpose and shared priorities;
Recharge – have some time to just enjoy being together, unwind, have fun, and explore new ways of working that help them to have fulfilling working lives.

Whilst our natural default is often to get on with the day job, ‘business as usual’ (whatever that is!), making it a team discipline to take time out every now and then to Reconnect, Reflect and Recharge is a sure-fire way to accelerate your progress towards becoming a high-performing team.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and happy, healthy New Year.

From Dawn Scott:
At this time of year, it’s always a habit of mine to reflect back on what 2021 brought into our lives and it is fair to say that it has felt like another rollercoaster ride.  The way we live and work I think has changed irrevocably and I find myself settling for more home and a lot less travel, which at my age is not such a bad thing and certainly doing the motorway fraternity a favour.

As I write this, I’m noticing that my heart is heavy for all of our friends and colleagues in the NHS.  This year marked my 40th anniversary of NHS association – over 20 years as an employee and another 20 years working as an external consultant.  I have many longstanding friends and clients who right now are on their knees.  Recent announcements to ramp up the vaccine programme with little notice could well have produced a rebuttal from a disillusioned workforce, but as ever when duty calls the NHS steps up.

Despite the incredible pressure that the pandemic has produced for all parts of the service and the impact of winter and funding constraints, clinicians and their teams are cancelling Christmas to vaccinate the population to keep them safe.  Spare a special thought for our CCG colleagues who are having to wind down their organisations before being replaced by Integrated Care Systems, whilst supporting primary care to work 24/7 on the vaccination programme.  Many of the senior leaders we have worked with over the last 18 months don’t even know whether they will have a job in the new organisations.  That for me is going above and beyond the call of duty.

It is to them all that I raise a glass this Christmas and pay tribute to their leadership in the face of such adversity; It has been a privilege to work with NHS teams this year. I wish them and you and your families a special Christmas and hope that 2022 brings you good health and less stress.

Much Love to all

From Bob Baker:
Goodbye 2021, I won’t be raising much of a glass to you……..

Three things have stuck with me over the past year.  Firstly (and I need to get political here), how the mantra of walking the walk as a leader (known as Modelling the Way in Kouzes & Posner’s 5 Leadership Practices model) appears to have often been ignored by government leaders and one individual in particular?!!  This is not only poor leadership but affects the way that government messages are interpreted and received by the electorate.

Secondly, I continue to be grateful (more than ever in these continuingly uncertain times) for old and new friends and family who listen to my musings and ramblings. I’ve always considered myself tolerant of – indeed almost embracing – ambiguity but I’m at a place now where some certainty and routine would be welcome – in the meantime thanks to those that help me navigate the weeks and months …

Thirdly, I have done some work with those leading in some of the Vaccination Centres during the year and I am in awe of their fortitude and positive attitude in spite of ever-changing priorities and demands.

From Mike Nelson:
I look back on 2021 as a series of hopes and setbacks; as the vaccine rollout in the spring took on momentum, the return of personal freedoms and business re-growth was very encouraging, and I started to feel the hope generated by this. Subsequent waves of the changing fortunes with emerging variants have come as a series of setbacks which, looking back over 2021 is rather akin to the most intense of rollercoasters.

Over the year I’ve learned the value of positive, solution-based thinking, to tackle each new setback with some thoughtfulness about how to deal and keep momentum in the light of the turbulence. Mindfulness has become more of a way of life and is proving valuable to stay on the rails of the roller coaster.

Tip – I’ve learned not to ‘soak’ in the media outpourings; the 24-hour, sensation-hungry press, constantly looking for the next scare story and usually conflating fact with speculation. I’ve discovered that the best way to stay resilient in the face of this is to not take this in and feel better off without dwelling on the hype and fearmongering, generated by this avaricious press culture.

From Ian Munro:
Traditionally I am not great at looking back as I am always eager to find out what is around the corner.  The past year – and the one before are the most unusual ones in my life so far.

Normally we have the wheels rolling in the direction we want to go but last year felt that someone else had their hand on the steering wheel, pulling us towards the kerb and ultimately stopping us. It was as if I was no longer in charge of my direction. Traditionally life rolls on irrespective of most things and gradually I realised we were just not going our own way.

Last year saw so many rules and regulations imposed on us that on occasion it pulled even me to a stop, wondering which of the four directions I should follow. This is absolutely not a political statement because I realised, we all seemed to be in the same boat irrespective of our roles in society.

I believe on reflection, that from the most senior in the land to the most lowly – like me – we all lost a big piece of the control mechanisms that are part of our everyday life. Some coped well, others staggered about but many tripped up and had to be picked up and brushed down.

The silver lining to this cloud is that many of us became more flexible about how we conducted our life which in turn has made is more resilient and adaptable to change. As we move into 2022 the situation will not suddenly change.  I am hoping that based on recent experiences we will be much better at wrenching back control of the steering wheel whilst helping those who are parked at the side of the road to find their sense of direction.

And finally …
We are donating to a local charity this year as always, instead of sending Christmas cards.  For 2021, Healthskills is delighted to support FareShare, the UK’s longest-running food redistribution charity: https://fareshare.org.uk/what-we-do/. FareShare is the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors, made up of 18 independent organisations. Together, they take good quality surplus food from right across the food industry and get it to more than 10,500 frontline charities and community groups.

Thank you as always for your continued support for Healthskills, and hope that we have been able to help you in some small way with the personal and professional challenges you have faced this year.   Here’s hoping that 2022 will bring health and happiness for you all.

Languishing or Flourishing – Blah Blah Blah

How often – in response to the question “how are you?” – have you used the phrase “not too bad”? Is that just a kneejerk response or does it indicate a view that you’re coping but that aspects of fulfillment are elusive? Could it even be that you are experiencing what some have called the "neglected middle child" of mental health – languishing? And maybe you and we should also explore how – even in these challenging times – you/we can move closer to a more contented state – that of flourishing?

The last 15 months have been difficult for many of us and “languishing” describes low mental well-being in the absence of a diagnosable mental health condition. The New York Times earlier this year (and later repeated in The Guardian in April 2021) wrote that organisational psychologist Adam Grant had described languishing as "a sense of stagnation and emptiness". While you're in this state, you may not see the point of things or anticipate forward direction or fulfillment in your life. You're not feeling hopeless – just a bit "blah".

The term "languishing" was originally coined by sociologist and psychologist Corey Keyes in an article in 2002. His research suggested that the absence of a mental disorder does not necessarily equate to mental health and well-being. He called it an untested assumption.. It is worth noting as well that recent studies suggest that languishing could be a risk factor for mental health conditions like depression later in life.

Positive emotions, life satisfaction, a sense of meaning and positive relationships are all concepts that are tied to our sense of mental well-being – people who are languishing tend to score noticeably lower in these. At first glance, these people might seem depressed – but they're not. Even though this group of people would not be diagnosed with a mental health condition, they're a long way from getting the most out of life.

So if this resonates and you’ve been feeling a bit “blah” over the last few months what can you do to move away from languishing and at least get on the road to flourishing? The good news is that the scientific evidence related to flourishing is robust, and numerous studies show simple activities can lead to marked improvement in overall well-being. Here are some practical activities, from a model developed by the ‘founding father of flourishing’, Dr Martin Seligman[1], which can help you get started.

These 3 activities are not necessarily easy to enact but will bring rewards:

  1. Get better at noticing, directing and re-directing your attention.
    Just as we must carefully manage our time and our financial resources, we should also carefully manage our attention. Attention that is focused towards worrying, fretting, anger, revenge, and sadness is generally wasted attention; instead work to notice your negativity and to focus your attention on analysis, possibilities, investigation, compassion, and growth.
     
  2. The tendency to use your time with intention and for impact.
    We all have to deal with constraints and barriers due to lack of time, but we don’t have to throw our hands into the air and admit defeat; instead, we can consciously choose to apply at least some of our discretionary time wisely and avoid wasting it on activities that do not bring us joy or move us closer to things we want to achieve.
     
  3. The ability to communicate and listen to others.
    Soliciting feedback from others is vital to just about every human endeavour, and flourishing is no different. It’s tough to evaluate ourselves, so we should consider ourselves lucky for people who are willing to provide honest information on ourselves and our efforts. Those who flourish do so, in part, because they are willing to listen to others, learn from them, and take advice.
 



Bob Baker

2021 – A Year of Love and Kindness

man walking in park

Well, it’s been a year to remember. Back in March 2020 when we got the message that we were all going into lockdown how many of us would have thought we would still be here? As we step into 2021 I wanted to share with you my own personal thoughts about my time at home and my hopes for the coming year.

As a coach I work on my own development a lot and my study group met recently to reflect on our learning and our experiences of the Covid impact. It is ironic that 2020 represents perfect vision and for me 2020 gave me perfect vision to see what is really important to me. Family friends, the personal contact and relationships we have with people in our lives are the things that I have missed but at the same time have got me through some dark days. I don’t know about you, but the roller coaster continues for me. Some days I feel on top of the world and then others I struggle to get out from under the duvet.

On the good days I have been productive at work and at home sorting out the life laundry and clearing the spare room of the junk that was regularly dumped. This has become my ‘woman cave’ or to put it more kindly my retreat. A space I can call my own for work, for quiet time to think and read and be creative. It also doubled as a fairy grotto for the wrapped Christmas presents ready to be delivered! On the down days I just accept it for what it is, make a list of the things I must do and leave the rest to tomorrow. I’ve literally learned to be kind to myself.

Working with many NHS clients I see and hear every day about the impact of the surge in Covid cases. Many staff are very tired and some on the edge of illness because they push themselves on – such is their dedication to do the best for patients and the people we serve. More than ever, we need to recognise how important it is to look after ourselves so I hope that many of you will be able to take a much needed break from the relentless need for your care and compassion. None of us can keep giving from an empty vessel and hearing that there are nearly 50,000 NHS staff off sick at present just means that those that remain have to keep giving just a bit more.

The need to build personal resilience has never been greater than now. Whether you are on the frontline or just working from home it is likely that you will be missing the contact of loved ones and colleagues. The office banter, the kitchen gossip it all contributes to helping us get through the working day. We are social beings and right now many of us can’t hug those we hold dear. Reminding ourselves on a daily basis to just get through today is all we can do.

We have for current clients delivered some short online sessions to support health and wellbeing and to build personal resilience. Just taking an hour or so out of your work routine is enough to connect with people and to share your experiences and personal tips on how you cope with this world we find ourselves in. Do contact us if you or your team would benefit from a little downtime from the laptop or the frenetic frontline if you are a key worker.

Try and find some peace and joy in the small things – a walk in the park or an extra cuddle with the kids – it all adds up. Keep topping up that beautiful vessel that is you with as much love and kindness as you can. Sent with love from me.

Dawn Scott

Christmas Reflections from Healthskills

After this extraordinary year, Healthskills wish all our clients, programme participants and leaders everywhere a happy and safe Christmas, however you are able to celebrate, and our very best wishes at this festive time.

This year, I and my colleagues offer short personal reflections each from 2020, and a suggestion, idea or thought that may help with your challenges in 2021:

From Bob Baker:
2020 has been a tumultuous year. My learning has been a concern for mental well-being and that despite considering myself a “balanced” individual (whatever that means!), I have needed the support of family, friends, and my work partners from time to time over the past few months.  So – and this won’t come as a surprise – reach out, be prepared to be vulnerable and don’t always write off a down period as just another bad day. Being willing to own up to it, to do something about it if you can or to seek a listening ear or other help if you don’t feel able will help in these difficult, sometimes despondent times.

From Dawn Scott:
My reflections on this year… 2020 represents perfect vision and ironically that is what 2020 has given me.  Perfect vision to realise what the most important things are in my life.  Family, friends and people.  Just being with someone and having that connection where we can hug freely, laugh together, kiss and be loved.  The personal loss of the stuff that makes us human and the impact we have on others cannot be underestimated and I have hopes that 2021 will bring us all closer together in some way.  Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year to all of you.

From Mike Nelson:
In terms of having to completely re-shape my work, my life, and the balance between the two, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible; I had to be clear on my goals and purpose, set my heart as well as my mind to it and get on and make things happen.

Tip – Take the time to invest in yourself, fitness, diet, wellness, exercise all help to develop a more resilient approach to life, work, leadership and making sense out of the ongoing uncertainty.

From Mel Warner:
2020 represents the significance of generosity and gratitude. I have noticed how the act of generosity brings so much joy and happiness.  The gift of offering your time to help someone else, sharing your insights or skills, simply listening, running an errand for someone, reaching out, volunteering, or sponsoring a worthwhile cause. This year has raised my awareness of all the small and bigger acts that individuals do that helps our community and how grateful I am for this. Someone said that if we only search for our own happiness, we may never find it but if we seek to help others find their happiness, we find our own. For me, being generous follows the same principle. By being generous, we become more fulfilled. 2020 has shown me just how true this is. I wish you all a happy, healthy Christmas and New Year.

From Ian Munro:
My learning has been around how really effective coaching sessions (based on client feedback) can be achieved by video calls. This means increased capacity to work this way because of no travel time, and support more of our clients.  The action for me has been that the increased intensity of video coaching means “exercise” or “me” space needs to be scheduled into each working day otherwise it does not happen!

From Mark Greenfield:
I’ve learned that with significant changes to my professional working life as well as personally this year, that time taken to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ is critical.  Not being naturally reflective, I’ve realised that always being busy and getting on with things is not necessarily conducive to working smarter or focusing on the right things. Carving out time to think about the really important, often values-based stuff has proved vital for my wellbeing and sense of perspective.  And it doesn’t have to be lengthy, sometimes ten minutes in a day is enough to restore some balance.

And finally …
We are donating to a local charity this year as always, instead of sending Christmas cards.  For 2020, Healthskills is delighted to support Young Minds, youngminds.org.uk, the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health.  In the UK, the number of young people presenting at A&E with urgent mental health needs has tripled in the last ten years, where a quarter of young women have a diagnosable mental health problem and where suicide is the single biggest killer of boys and young men.  And these figures do not yet factor in the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the tsunami of mental health struggles anticipated as a result.  Young Minds want to see a world where no young person feels alone with their mental health, and gets the mental health support they need, when they need it, no matter what.

Thank you as always for your continued support for Healthskills, and hope that we have been able to help you in some small way with the personal and professional challenges you have faced this year.   Here’s hoping that 2021 will bring health and happiness for you all.

Managing Resilience and Overcoming Adversity – A Lived Experience

Adversity. What do I know about adversity? If I contemplate the Cambridge Dictionary definition; a difficult or unpleasant situation then yes of course, I experience those from time to time. But if I’m open to a different definition of adversity, one that points more towards hardship, misfortune or wretchedness, then it’s not something I’ve have much first-hand experience of.

In 1999 at the age of 34 (and before I knew him), my friend Richard died. He had already had a challenging childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father. But he grew up and fought back, developed a successful career and made a good life for himself and his young family.

Now, you might be puzzling over the fact that I commented Richard died before I knew him? Well, that’s due to the fact that he flatlined on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. Thanks to the highly skilled clinicians and the incredible wonders of medicine, Richard’s life was saved after his heart was re-started.

However, this proved to be the beginning of a new and very different life. One that left him having to adapt to a permanent disability and PTSD. He was no longer physically able to maintain his previous career, he could not do the things he loved doing with his sons, and he struggled to meet the most basic of personal needs that most of us take for granted on a daily, hourly basis. Adversity of the hardship, misfortunate and wretched kind, you might say?

Fast-forward to 2020 and the year we will never forget. A year in which a pandemic strikes the world, has us living through periods of lockdown, shops and schools are closed, people working from home if not furloughed, limited contact with friends and family, a ban on overseas travel. At first, the novelty proves quite exciting for some. Advantages were to be had with a slower pace of life; more time to think, quality time spent with immediate family. As the months pass, zoom-fatigue kicks in. A lack of interpersonal contact, an oddly increasing workload for those working from home and rising boredom and financial worries for those on reduced income, inevitably begin to have an impact on people’s wellbeing and resilience. Adversity is stretching out its arms to all corners of society.

Richard sees 2020 as an opportunity to get the book he’s been working on for the last 10 years published. Dying for Success is an inspiring autobiography as he tells the story of the extreme highs and lows of his personal and professional journey, and how he continues to bounce back time and again despite ongoing physical and mental health challenges.

I cried at times reading the book. I discover things I didn’t know during 12 years of friendship. The depth of the challenges, the pain, the successes and the disappointments are laid bare for all to see. I recoil at the depression and darkness described by the optimistic, generous and outgoing guy I know. People need to hear this story. People can learn, help themselves and be uplifted by it. As a consequence, I have partnered with Richard to design and deliver a 2 hour online workshop with the following objectives:

  • To learn about Richard’s story and his personal strategies for managing resilience and overcoming adversity
  • To inspire and provoke discussion around how we support ourselves and our clients in relation to resilience and wellbeing

The session was road-tested with my Healthskills colleagues where the focus was on what we can learn and apply in our coaching and leadership development work, though it can be tailored towards other audiences such as team leadership and various scenarios where resilience and wellbeing is important. Feedback on the session from the Healthskills team included:

  • Brilliant and inspiring
  • Enthralling and thought-provoking
  • Quite simply the best 2 hours I’ve been part of in a very long time
  • A lot of people would benefit from this session

There’s lots of great material available on this subject and indeed some of you reading this might be mental health practitioners with a wealth of professional experience and qualifications. But if you’d like to explore resilience and wellbeing through the lens of one man’s amazing life and death, please get in touch.

Shirley Ficken is an Executive Coach and OD Consultant who works with NHS and Healthcare Leaders as a Healthskills Associate. She also works with leaders and teams in the private sector and Local Authorities to help them achieve organisational success and personal wellbeing

Richard Dixon is an Entrepreneur with interests that include property and surveying, vintage cars and motorbikes and now Author. Further details of his book can be found at dyingforsuccess.com and is available on Amazon

Creating a picture during uncertainty

image of jigsaw

One thing we can guarantee in life is change. Even if we chose to control our lives to minimise change, we cannot control external factors that influence how we do our work or live our lives. Covid-19 is such an example. During the period of crisis and national lockdown, businesses had to adapt overnight and discover alternative ways of working. Some sadly couldn’t provide services and were forced to close their doors; for them, the uncertainty of when and how they could resume has lasted for many more months than perhaps anyone expected. People typically find uncertainty to be aversive, experiencing feelings such as anxiety, frustration and anger (Carleton, 2016b)*. It is therefore imperative that leaders consider how they support teams through times of uncertainty. Don’t underestimate the need for regular communication, both at an individual and team level. If your organisational priorities have shifted, ensure everyone knows why, and most importantly, how their role supports the achievement of these goals. Make time for individuals to ask questions and to share their concerns. Whilst you can’t be certain you’ll have all the answers; actively listening will build rapport and help staff feel valued.

Imagine you and your team are completing a jigsaw but the only person who knows what the box top image is like is you! It could be a time-consuming and emotive process, where everyone is trying to contribute without the satisfaction of realising progress. But if you clarify the image on top of the jigsaw box, you provide clarity enabling everyone to work towards the same goal. It’s no different in business – your role as a leader is to help others understand the vision and key priorities and how collectively you can work towards this. As we venture into a different normal, doing this regularly helps manage uncertainty.

It is worth noting that for some this period of rapid adaptation has realised changes that under normal circumstances may have taken months or years. The successful adoption of digital technology for medical consultations; team meetings or education, for example, has demonstrated that industries can, in fact, adapt how they offer their services and can explore more flexible and agile ways of working for their people. As a team, take time to reflect on your achievements: how you worked together; the positive changes you have introduced and use this learning to inform future initiatives. The active process of reflection can support individuals to recognise their contributions and how they adapted during periods of uncertainty. This helps to build personal resilience, a vital resource when we are working in ever-changing environments.


Reference:

*Carleton, R. N. (2016a). Fear of the unknown: one fear to rule them all? J. Anxiety Disord. 41, 5–21. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.03.011

A funny thing happened to me on the way through the Covid crisis…

I write this newsletter in a very different environment to the last one I penned… this morning I’m at my desktop setup, at home. It’s a glorious summer morning and my home office window is open so I can hear birdsong and see the oak wood behind our house. Last time I did this, I think I was on a train, hunched over a laptop, hurtling somewhere in a hurry to do something else on my rather hectic agenda.

Then the world stopped… literally…

In the last four months I suspended all business activity, went on furlough, took more exercise and most importantly spent a lot of time thinking. As result of all this I’ve transformed what I do and how I do it – travelling much less, home more, much more online working, more exercise and every week I have time to think. So, am I more effective? The answer is very clear to me – undoubtedly, I’m spending much more focused time with my clients, with better results and a huge increase in wellbeing, which in turn I can feel is improving my personal performance and this to the benefit of my clients as well as friends and family around me.

There is no doubt in my mind I’ve gone through a profound reframe – a technique used in counselling, coaching and by psychologists to help any of us to see something from an entirely different angle rather than through existing mental filters framed by current beliefs and attitudes to the world around us.

Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch (1974)* describe the ‘gentle art of reframing’ thus:

To reframe, then, means to change the conceptual and/or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the ‘facts’ of the same concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changing its entire meaning.

Now I was somewhat ‘forced’ into reframing by the dramatic changes in life/work imposed by the necessities of the Covid crisis and I am reflecting – would I have done this without such a stimulus? The honest answer is probably not (not yet anyway) and the most fundamental learning I’m taking out of all this is not this particular reframe but the need to regularly take a big step back, think about what I’m doing and most importantly why I’m doing it (related to my primary purposes in life). This will require self-discipline, but the change has been so beneficial I now have a really positive internal driver to do it. It needs the application of self-care, something we are currently discussing with attendees to a Healthskills Change Programme and comes from a quote given to the design by one of my esteemed colleagues:

“Self-Care is not selfish… You cannot serve from an empty vessel”
(Eleanor Brownn)

If you decide to undertake a reframing exercise there are plenty of articles around or you could talk to a coach or critical friend.

Feel Happiness has some very practical ideas and tips/techniques, including this wonderful quote by Mark Twain:

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

Getting down to the nuts and bolts on this webpage are the following three principles behind reframing:

  1. The first basic principle is that events or situations do not have inherent meaning; rather, you assign them a meaning based on how you interpret the event.This can be difficult to accept, but you must. Even when something seemingly horrible happens to you, it is only horrible because of the way you look at it.This is not to make light of tragedy. It’s perfectly ok to be sad when something seemingly bad occurs. That being said, even a “bad” event can be given a “good” meaning.
  2. The second principle is that every thought has a hidden “frame” behind it. The frame is your underlying beliefs and assumptions that are implied by your thought.For example, when you think “I’ll never get that promotion I want because I’m not a sycophant at work”, part of the frame is that only suck-ups get promoted.
  3. The final principle is that there is a positive intention behind every negative thought.That inner voice of yours that expresses negativity is only doing so because it wants to help you in some way. That doesn’t make the thoughts right or acceptable of course, but it does mean that your inner voice is not an enemy to be resisted.

 

Mike Nelson


Reference:

*Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J. and Fisch, R. (1974). Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution, NY: Norton

Taken from this article: http://changingminds.org/techniques/general/reframing.htm

 

Surviving working from home

working from home image (mockup of kids gagged and bound in background)

Surviving working from home

Adapting can sometimes be a challenge!

How times change and how fast! This time a few weeks ago we had a routine at work of meetings, projects, 121s … and most interactions were face to face. Two weeks into lockdown, and with many of us now working from home for all or part of the week, we are rapidly realising the definition of ‘agile working’, and having to rapidly learn new ways of operating as we face unprecedented changes to our whole way of life to meet the challenge of an unseen but for some, a deadly opponent.

I thought it would be helpful to give you a few tips based on my early experience as a self-employed contractor when I first left the NHS corporate environment. I had come into the office every day for over 20 years and whilst there are many upsides to working from home there can also be downsides and so the things I did to make it work for me made a difference. I hope it helps you to come up with your own routines or ways of coping.

For me the social isolation was a big issue. Moving from a busy office environment to a desk in a spare bedroom was initially exciting and it felt great to keep on top of the washing and be home for the kids, but therein lies the rub. It was either really quiet where I missed having the opportunity for a chat across the desk or meeting up with someone over coffee in the kitchen. Otherwise the house was crowded and noisy with everyone at home which was incredibly distracting. You have to get the balance right for you.

Top Tips:

  1. Getting into a routine is incredibly important and so just as you might set an alarm to get up to travel – set your alarm to get you up to start work at a set time each day. After all you are contracted to work a certain number of hours and so it’s important you adhere to that wherever possible.
  2. I learned early on that my productivity improved just by getting “dressed for work” each morning as if I was going to the office. It doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit/dress but to have a shower and dress comfortably just meant that I felt “ready for work”. It is a small thing that makes all the difference.
  3. Set out a room/space for your work. Even if it is a kitchen table keep your stuff in a box that you can pack away easily. It is a little like the agile working arrangements many organisations have now – book your spot on the kitchen table and let others know it’s your space for the day.
  4. Schedule breaks in the day and take them. No one can sit at a laptop for eight hours without a break. Get up have a cuppa – FaceTime a friend for a chat. Why not agree with two or three colleagues to have a video call – Microsoft Teams, Zoom or WhatsApp are all great for this.
  5. Get out of the house – you need some exercise and fresh air and these are good for your health and wellbeing and will help you clear your head. Some days I had my head down on a big project but if I didn’t go out for a daytime break I had to go out in the evening.
  6. Make sure you have what you need to enable you to work from home – the kit; secure connection links; a work phone for example – seek advice from your line manager who is there to support you.
  7. Timekeeping is an issue that often bothers people – for some “how can I demonstrate I am working all day if I am not in the office?” for others “how can I ensure that my staff are putting in their required hours?” This is easily solved with a conversation between you and your line manager and it comes back to what else is going on at home. If you have children at home during this time or you have other people to care for you, may need to talk to your line manager about flexibility around this.
  8. Setting boundaries is really important – my husband is retired and so when I am working at home, I sometimes have to be firm with him if he keeps interrupting me. I’ve got it down to a certain look now and he knows to leave without it escalating! You might need to talk to your children about your expectations of them while you are working too …

So, go well and stay safe in these uncertain times. Keep the communications channels open with your organisation and clarify expectations on all sides. I feel quite optimistic about the fundamental shift in our thinking that this has brought to our society and community and I hope to do my bit in supporting all the front-line staff who are dealing with this.

#BeKind?

The recent tragic death of Caroline Flack inspired a significant increase in the hashtag #BeKind, no doubt motivated by her Instagram post from December in which she wrote: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 across the world, and the unparalleled turmoil caused to individuals, organisations and society in general seems so far to have been characterised by stories of people emptying supermarket shelves or arguing over packets of loo rolls. Whilst this paints a bleak picture of human nature, there are also many acts of kindness inspiring thousands of others, such as a charity that supplies essential toiletries to people in poverty, people organising food drops and phone calls to the housebound, shops opening early for the elderly, and sending contact details with offers of help to neighbours.

What inspires these random acts of kindness? What impact do they have on the receiver, and more intriguingly, how does it make the giver of the act of kindness feel?

Kindness is a behavioural response of compassion, and actions that are selfless; or a mindset that places compassion for others before one’s own interests. In performing the selfless act, a person may undercut their own selfish interests. As we have seen in the news from recent behaviours, kindness is a value that is often disregarded. Why is kindness so undervalued? Is it because kind people are viewed as “enablers” by some, or worse, as “walkovers” by the cynical?

The cynic’s view reflects a belief system that success is only achieved through stepping on or ignoring others. And yet, this sceptical behaviour rarely results in a sense of self-worth, that feeling of doing something for others that has meaning, worth and value, and it matters in the most profound sense.

In fact, extensive research has shown that kindness is linked inextricably to personal happiness and contentment, at both psychological and spiritual levels. Happy people are kinder than people who are not happy. Studies reveal that one’s sense of happiness is increased by the simple act of counting the number of one’s acts of kindness. Counting one’s acts of kindness also leads happy people to become more kind and grateful.

Why? Because kindness can promote gratitude and when you are kind to others in need, having that awareness heightens the sense of your own good fortune. Kindness promotes empathy and compassion, which in turn, leads to a sense of interconnectedness with others. When you feel connected with others, you lessen alienation and you enhance the sense that we are more similar than dissimilar in our experiences, and this connection strengthens a sense of community and belonging.

Furthermore, when we practice random acts of kindness, physiologically it can release neurochemicals that result in a sense of well-being. In fact, the neural circuits that are involved in chemical “highs” are the same ones activated by kindness and compassion. Dopamine, serotonin, and endogenous opioids are released by kind behaviour, which can reduce pain, and bonds between those who are kind to one another are strengthened from the release of oxytocin.

So, what ‘random’ acts of kindness are you thinking about? What impact will these have on others? How will this help you to #BeKind to yourself?

Look after yourself

As winter draws in and the daylight hours get shorter there is a tendency to hunker down and hibernate a bit. Christmas can be a time of great joy and for some great difficulty. For those struggling to make ends meet or those who are living on the streets, Christmas is just another added pressure to deal with.

It’s at this time of year that my thoughts often turn to those working on the front line in our hospitals – the “Winter” that was once a seasonal variation in demand for care now seems to be a year-round impact. As leaders in this kind of stressful environment we often give time to everyone else to make sure that they are coping and often to the detriment of our own health needs.

As a coach I have lost count of the times I have raised awareness for clients who can’t seem to see the personal impact of change or the pace of living/working that they are dealing with. Yet despite that I often find I put myself last. I know that I am affected by the lack of sunlight (Seasonal Affected Disorder) and I have been trying to get out with the dogs more as the benefit of fresh and exercise is well documented. The doctor advised me recently that I was vitamin D deficient and that was down to where I live – we just don’t get enough sunshine! So a concerted effort plus a maximum dose of Vit D is now part of my everyday routine.

The one thing I need to do more of is paying attention. Noticing what is happening for me as well as those around me. As the air steward says put your own oxygen mask on before you put one on someone else and it’s so true for our own resilience and self-care. As a leader, if we fail to look after us first and foremost what will be the impact on our team, our objectives and most of all our own performance.

Building new habits and ditching old ones is the arena I coach in and yet I have been around the Change Cycle umpteen times. I am an absolute maestro at making a change; it’s maintaining the change that causes the most difficulty. Sustaining long term changes in relation to personal habits or leadership behaviour is always going to be the crux of the matter. We all have a choice to be different and act differently and we have to ask ourselves “What happens if I don’t change…?”

Cycle of Change diagram. Reference: Prochaska, James O, DiClemente, Carlo C. (2005). "The transtheoretical approach".

Reference: Prochaska, James O, DiClemente, Carlo C. (2005). “The transtheoretical approach”.

 

So my advice to myself for the rest of the year is threefold:

  1. Get out into the light each day – remember it’s good for you.
  2. Say no more often – the need to say yes to please other people will bite you back at some point.
  3. Do less and do it well – spreading yourself too thinly doesn’t cover the important stuff enough.

Wishing you a happy healthy and peaceful time at Christmas or however you celebrate.