WHY WELL-BEING MATTERS MORE THAN EVER – AND HOW TO MAXIMISE YOURS
At CDP our tagline is Working Deep to Maximise Performance, Potential and Wellbeing. That’s not just because we think those three things are important – who wouldn’t? But because we believe they are inextricably linked and mutually interdependent.
Too often in organisations people think that developing people’s longer-term potential or taking steps to increase their wellbeing come at the expense of current performance. We couldn’t disagree more. Only when people feel they are growing can they achieve true success. Each of the three combine to make a virtuous circle, one that leads to the maximisation of all three. To treat wellbeing as an “add-on” or “nice to have” misses the point. A sense of wellbeing, and a sense that you are being stretched and growing are crucial foundations to high performance. The triad should be addressed, together, holistically.
What is Holistic Wellbeing?
Well-being is about more than the absence of stress (as we explain later), just as health is more than the absence of illness. But stress is a common “catch-all” term and that means that there are some powerful statistics available that give us a sense of the dis-ease that runs through the modern workplace. Indeed, stress has been identified as the global health epidemic of the 21st century by the World Health Organisation – and for many people, it is often triggered at work.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s Labour Force Survey, 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. Take that number in for a moment. 15.4 million. It’s an astonishing amount.
Put differently, 57% of all working days lost in 2017-2018 were due to stress or poor mental health stemming from work. The same study of the previous year (2016-17) found that:
- 59% of UK adults reported that work is their primary stressor (other studies have shown that percentage to be as high as 65%)
- 72% of higher earners – earning above £40,000 – were the most likely to experience work-related stress
- 45% of workers reported that their workplace lacked resources, services or support to help reduce employees’ stress levels or improve their wellbeing
- Workload was the primary cause of stress – in particular tight deadlines, too much work or too much responsibility
- The most prevalent consequences of stress were: sleep loss (65%), anxiety (47%), disrupted concentration (37%), comfort eating (35%) and being less productive at work (32%)
Clearly, cultivating a culture and environment that minimises stress is crucial. But eliminating stress is an incomplete goal unless we think about what to foster instead. For many, the answer is well-being.
The CDP model of well-being
At CDP we think of wellbeing as comprising 4 interlocking quadrinities:
Neglecting one or more of these areas – either as an individual or systemically within a team or organisation – will have a detrimental and tangible impact on your well-being. Take a few moments to reflect on these eight factors. How are you doing with regards to each one? If you’re not doing so good, what might you do differently or better? What could you add to your life?
- Neglect your physical well-being and you risk becoming unwell and or overly stressed. Your life will be out of balance.
- Ignore your emotional well-being and you may find yourself emotionally numb at one end of the spectrum or overwhelmed and unable to effectively manage your emotions at the other.
- Disconnection from the spiritual domain results in a sense of meaninglessness or futility about life. You will feel as if you are unmoored, drifting and lost.
- If you do not nourish your intellect, you won’t feel challenged or in flow (or the zone as athletes call it). You will end up feeling bored and unstimulated.
Taking care of these vital interlocking areas will result in a working life that is sustainable, resilient and joyful. What we at CDP call Holistic Wellbeing. Sounds good? Well, give it a go!
There is no one right way to cultivate a culture of well-being. Much depends on the wider culture of the organisation and the people working in it. Some teams play Ultimate Frisbee or do other bonding activities, while others have group subscriptions to mindfulness training. At CDP we ‘check in’ at the start of each team meeting which allows everyone to get to know the person behind the role; in other organisations, Lunch & Learn sessions keep people’s minds stimulated and active.
Addressing well-being is not a one-time proposition, of course. In his book, Create Space: How to Manage Time and Find Focus, Productivity and Success, CDP’s founder and CEO Derek suggests carving out regular time for proactive reflection. Building in a minute or two to reflect on your well-being on a daily or weekly basis can be an excellent way to continually make small adjustments and course correct. He also looks at the case of a Hedge Fund boss who has lost all sense of balance – a crucial component of wellbeing. This story is our first case study.
Case study 1:
HOW TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT WORK:
THE TRUE STORY OF ONE SENIOR BUSINESS LEADER WHO HAD LOST HIS BALANCE
A key foundation of wellbeing, and an ongoing struggle for all of us, is the need for balance in our lives. As well as keeping work in perspective, though, we should also make sure that our work gives us satisfaction and enjoyment, at least a lot of the time. I recall being struck that the Stephenson & Farmer “Thriving at Work” Review (2017) included, in its numerous pages, insights and recommendations the phrase, “working should make people feel good”. It’s a simple yet profound point, but one that many of us, despite all our intelligence and sophistication, too easily forget. That was certainly true of one client I worked with not so long ago (names and identifying details have been changed).
Trevone is the CEO of a big hedge fund. He has always been a forceful, charismatic leader and driven himself and his employees hard. A few months before came to see me he had made an appearance in the financial news pages that shocked the City, and those who knew him well. It was announced that he had taken three months off work due to ‘stress’. As well as being under medical care, the Chairman of the Board wanted him to have a coach to help him transition back to work as he recovered.
I had expected him to be resistant to my appearance in his life, but it was quite the opposite. He had been even more shocked himself at what had happened and was happy to get the help he needed. As we spoke, though, I began to get the first glimmer of a concern that was to grow stronger as the weeks wore on. For Trevone, it was about getting better so he could go back to how things were. A real change wasn’t on his mind.
First, though, I had to get behind the label of ‘stress’. It turned out that Trevone had been suffering from exhaustion, some panic attacks and a bit of low-level clinical depression. It further transpired that he’d actually been suffering like this for several years and it was only at the insistence of his wife that he’d sought help, at which point the company’s insurance advisers had insisted he take time off and get properly treated.
The Wheel of Life
Trevone’s problem was more high profile then most, and more pronounced, but it was all too common in a milder form. When faced with stress or overwork I like to try and get a picture of the coachee as a whole, using a tool called the Wheel of Life. You can easily apply it to yourself.
Draw a circle. Then fill it in, like a pie chart, with four aspects of your life – work, self, family and social, and spirituality – each one proportionately taking up the space it occupies in a typical month.
It is amazing how much the modern executive’s life is consumed by work; family and social life almost always come next, with self and spirituality a distant joint third. In fact, some people I have this conversation with barely know what I mean by each.
Trevone was typical. Work was around 80 per cent, his family 15 per cent, he barely saw his friends, other than the occasional golf game (which we agreed could go under ‘self’), and he had no spiritual aspect to his life at all.
A full check-up?
If it seems relevant, I will sometimes ask my coachees to have a full health checkup too. Even if they are given the medical all clear the doctor will almost always recommend some changes in lifestyle. A great read on this subject is ‘The Making of the Corporate Athlete’ by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, which draws a parallel between athletes and executives, pointing out that we only expect athletes to perform at their peak rarely. For the rest of the time they will have long periods of rest and training (what might be called fallow periods). Contrast that with senior executives who are expected to perform at their peak for long hours day in and day out, with only an occasional holiday, laptop in tow.
Creating his wheel of life did shock Trevone a little. We moved to the next stage and I asked him to sketch out what he wanted the wheel to look like. It was very different, work had gone down to 60 per cent; family up to 20 per cent, with friends adding an extra 10 per cent to that, with 10 per cent left over for something a bit transcendental. He was talking about taking up mountaineering again, which he’d enjoyed in his twenties, but also confessed to wondering about going back to church. He’d been brought up a Roman Catholic and, to my surprise, told me he’d once considered going into the priesthood.
Trevone pushes back
The week after we’d discussed all this, Trevone was clearly disgruntled as we began our session. ‘I’ve been thinking about last week,’ he began. ‘It’s all very well me saying I want to cut my work down from 80 per cent to 60 per cent, but how am I going to do that? We’ve got the merger, new regulation and Brexit to navigate.’ Hearing these words, my heart sank. Just like lots of leaders I work with – but more profoundly I felt – Trevone seemed to be a leader who assumed that, in the end, he had to do everything himself. Even when, as in his case, he had hundreds of people working for him, some of them paid, literally, millions.
What was really going on?
When I raised this, Trevone seemed to get it, but I felt there was something blocking him. I got an inkling of what that might be as we sketched out what a new style of leadership might look like. In “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life” Sigmund Freud wrote about how jokes can give away our true, unconscious feelings. On one occasion Trevone muttered about how what we were talking about sounded like semi- retirement. I asked what he meant. ‘Well, it sounds like an easy life, doesn’t it?’ I tried to probe this but he brushed it off. I tried another way, asking him to draw the images that came to mind when he thought of going back to work full-time. He stepped up to the white- board and drew an old factory, then a treadwheel, then a storm – all black clouds and zig-zags of lightning.
Sometimes my coaching questions seem to come straight from the heart (or the gut), and I found myself asking him, ‘Do you enjoy work?’
He looked at me, and harrumphed. ‘That’s a stupid question.’
‘What’s the answer?’ I persisted.
He slowly capped the dry marker and sat down. ‘I’ve never really thought about it.’
‘Well, now’s your chance.’, I replied.
We then spoke for an hour about the fact that he’d never really enjoyed work. We went all through his employment history and I got him to sketch out on a whiteboard a simple graph – his “lifeline” showing his work success and work happiness levels over time. While his success line was very consistently high and ever rising, his happiness line was close to zero and pretty flat.
We had discovered Trevone’s pathogenic core belief (an underlying belief or assumption about the world that we carry with us through life, often subconsciously): work was supposed to feel (excuse the language but I am repeating his authentic words) like shit. It wasn’t really clear where, in Trevone’s upbringing or early life, this notion had taken hold or why. That mattered less than his attitude to it today. As soon as he’d articulated it he saw how absurd it was and expressed a desire to change.
As we worked on this we saw how this central, if hidden, motif had influenced his hard-driving management style (everyone else should be as miserable as he was) and even his health (why not look and feel like shit as well). Oprah Winfrey has a fantastically simple but profound saying that she uses when someone is talking about how awful their husband or wife is to them. ‘Honey,’ she will drawl, reaching out to place a comforting hand on their shoulder or knee, ‘love ain’t supposed to feel bad.’ This isn’t quite true of work. Good, fulfilling, challenging work will feel hard sometimes, but not all the time. Often, most of the time even, it should feel good. Once Trevone realised all this, it affected him on a deep level.
Practical steps for change
We pulled out the glimmers of happiness that had flickered on his “lifeline” graph and we brainstormed how he could reinforce and expand these; we explored his sense of purpose and we worked on the idea of him building in time during his working week for praise (of others and himself) and celebration.
Slowly but surely over the next year Trevone began to fundamentally change who he was as a leader and how he related to work. A few months after the coaching had finished, I bumped into him at a City Awards dinner. He ran over, looking fitter than I’d ever seen him. After we had chatted for a bit he sighed and said he had to get back to his table, motioning over to a group of middle-aged guys in suits, all looking a bit worse for wear. He leaned in to whisper something: “Some bits of work are still shit, eh?” before bouncing back to his seat, slapping people on the back as he did so.
Adapted from Chapter 11 “Space to Balance: Trevone and his near death experience” in “Create Space: How to Manage Time and Find Focus, Productivity and Success” by Derek Draper (a Financial Times Business Book of the Month.
Case study 2: Wellbeing and resilience at a leading law firm
What the client said about this work
“We have already had fantastic feedback and it certainly stimulated a lot of conversation throughout the evening.”
“Evidence based. Lots of ideas so you can take what works for you.”
“Interesting, engaging and top tips for becoming more resilient”
“It cut a good and successful balance between theory and practice, and brought everybody into the mix.”
“Great job, thank you. You both worked to the brief and kept on point. More importantly you managed to get buy in from everyone, which is no mean feat!”
What was the problem?
Two of our CDP associates, Alison Hall and Elloa Atkinson, recently delivered a resilience workshop to a team in a London law firm. The group comprised people at multiple levels, from Junior Associates to Senior Partners, and we had been brought in to help embed one of the key messages that the head of the team wanted to communicate across the team: that it is not only okay to be human but that it is actually encouraged.
People’s workload had increased recently (the team’s work pattern fell into the “consistently high” category mentioned earlier), and the team’s head recognised that well-being might suffer as a result.
What we did
We discussed that a good first step might be to simply create a space in which people could talk – for the first time – about stress, resilience and how to foster individual and collective well-being. Alison (a former lawyer) and Elloa (a frequent facilitator of resilience workshops and well-being coaching as well as a qualified therapist) devised an interactive workshop to kickstart the conversation.
The workshop explored the difference between burnout, stress, overwhelm and exhaustion and prompted the team to identify and discuss when they and their colleagues are running low on resilience – the telltale signs that indicate that stress hormones might be taking over in an unhelpful way.
We then explored a number of evidence-based strategies to help cultivate resilience and facilitate well-being psychologically, physiologically, emotionally and physically, discussing and trying out various strategies ranging from mindfulness and breathing practices, to Carol Dweck’s research on growth and fixed mindsets, to how to healthily manage your emotions.
At the close of the workshop, Elloa encouraged the team to think about what would come next. When a team can co-create solutions and be proactively engaged in forging the way ahead, the solutions are more likely to take hold.
Elloa shared one of her favourite metaphors for creating lasting change: the idea of creating a “one-degree shift” rather than a grand sweeping gesture: a boat travelling a thousand kilometers across an ocean will, if it changes its course by just one degree, eventually end up in a different destination.
How this fits into the wider picture
The feedback, both on the day and in the post-workshop survey, was great, as you saw at the beginning of this article. However, culture change doesn’t happen overnight or as a result of one intervention. That’s why we approach well-being work from the perspective of thinking about the whole person and the whole system, designing our interventions to complement other work on well-being being done within an organisation. Our work, as always, is guided by the CDP Holistic Wellbeing model, outlined above.
We’re living in a time where we now recognise that well-being is a critical component in high performance and fulfilling your potential: your decision-making skills, how well you execute and deliver on what you need to get done, your emotions and motivations, and how you interact and relate to the people and world around you. Without it, your performance will soon suffer and you will certainly not fulfil your potential.
That’s why at CDP we give a well-being reading whenever we measure potential. It’s also why we offer well-being masterclasses, workshops and well-being coaching – because we recognise the non-negotiable nature of fostering well-being in individuals and teams and at C-suite level, and want to urge our clients to do the same.
We live in a time when the need to do good work has never been greater; the world is evolving and organisations that want to thrive need to be able to pivot, adapt and innovate.
To do this, businesses need energised, resilient employees, people who can stay consistently healthy. Tending to these four aspects of well-being is central to accomplishing this and we think that the companies that model and embed this will be best equipped to meet the challenges of the coming years with buoyancy, genuine creativity and resourcefulness.