Recently I caught up with a former colleague who’d bailed the last time we scheduled drinks. He’d been focused on finalising a pitch, and I remember thinking the creative sounded amazing. I wondered how it had been received, and if they had won.
‘Half an hour before we were due to present,’ he said, ‘my girlfriend called. She was at A&E. She’d been walking home from a lecture, when a car careered out of control and her friend was catapulted onto a set of railway tracks. After that, my head was anywhere but that room,’ he said, ‘and I couldn’t explain myself. It felt like an excuse.’
Absenteeism is easy to track. It’s obvious when someone’s not at their desk. Confirming someone is sufficiently ‘present’ to deliver, let alone deliver quality, is more complex.
Every day almost one in five employees is affected by some psychological problem that impacts their focus. It could be the repetitive strain of caring for aging parents or the loss of a much loved pet. It may be the disappointment of a missed promotion or the worry of a medical uncertainty.
Self-revelation is increasingly encouraged in the workplace, and with awareness, comes understanding. But finding compassion for both ourselves, and one another is only part of the solution. A high-performing work culture is hall-marked by resilience – an ability to cope under pressure, borne of attitudes, social support and example.
A recent large-scale, longitudinal study of more than 1.5 million employees in 4,500 companies across 185 countries found that around 75 per cent of the workforce experience moderate to high stress levels. The study was conducted as part of the Global Corporate Challenge, in which this year, Aurora has fielded three teams. A certain amount of stress is normal and can even have a positive effect by motivating us to do our best. But sustained, the risk can be burnout leading to chronic disease. The 100 day challenge is about helping one another improve our physical and psychological grit by developing new habits.
So how can you help your team be fit for work? A natural tendency towards optimism helps, as does an ability to ‘manage’ strong or difficult emotions. A generation ago, we called it ‘maintaining a stiff upper lip’, which has fallen wholly out of fashion. No one wants a colleague characterised by steely detachment, but there is much to be said for being mentally robust. It is about maintaining a sense of perspective and recognising what we can control and what we can’t; of adopting a flexible outlook and being willing to persevere and find a solution.
Here are some practical things you can do to support the mental wellbeing of your team:
- Proactively manage the work-related factors that could contribute to their poor mental wellbeing – resourcing, timelines, clarity of roles and change
- Consider how your leadership style impacts their sense of autonomy and control
- Make sure you are using tools and techniques that help maintain your own resilience
- Ensure wellbeing is on the work agenda and encourage conversations with your team
- Use humour to maintain perspective