“You get what you tolerate”, the saying goes. And somewhere along the line, many of us have chosen to tolerate a great deal in our working lives. When did it become ok for so many of us to feel sick on a Sunday night at the prospect of another week’s work? When did it become ok for whole conversations to be reduced to the words ‘fine’ or ‘busy’? When did it become ok for our career to constantly trump friends, family and our own wellbeing?
Professionals can easily spend half their waking life on work: in work, commuting to and from work, and checking emails or thinking about work even when we’re not there. It’s the first thing we talk about when catching up with friends, and the first thing we ask about when we meet someone new.
So why are so many of us simply tolerating our workplaces and our careers instead of enjoying them? Surely it can’t be right that half of us feel unfulfilled by our careers, and a third of us put up with pressure to stay at work beyond our expected hours?
The cost of simply tolerating our working lives takes a significant toll. It increases stress, which in turn surely contributes to nearly one in seven of us experiencing mental health problems in the workplace. And people who are not engaged in their work may cost the UK economy £60bn each year thanks to lost productivity.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to let our people know that this is not ok and to actively do something about it. We need to stop tolerating stressed and disengaged teams and instead work to make our people happier and more mentally healthy. Here are some approaches you could try:
- Ask people how they are, and really listen to what they say. We have a fundamental need to be recognised and valued and the firms with good social capital have happier and better engaged staff.
- Ask people what they think. We employ people for the quality of their thinking, yet so often squash it by imposing our own opinions and solutions. Your people can astound you with their own ideas if you can stand back and let them think for themselves. They’ll get a happiness boost too, thanks to their increased autonomy.
- Recognise what’s good in people. Specific, sincere praise works wonders for motivation and wellbeing. Congratulate your team for the 99 times something was done well, rather than going on about the one time something slipped.
- Start changing the culture around long hours working. Work-life balance is a particularly strong predictor of people’s happiness, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report. You could follow the example of Pepsico Australia with its Leaders Leaving Loudly initiative: bosses tell colleagues they’re going home and why, to make it clear to others that it’s ok to have a life beyond work.
Mental Health Awareness Week may provide just the prompt you need to stop tolerating and start changing things. When we are able to work in ways that bring out the best in people, the results can be remarkable, not just for the individual but also for the team and organisation. To close with the 2017 World Happiness report again: “Recent research shows that work and employment are not only drivers of happiness, but that happiness can also itself help to shape job market outcomes, productivity, and even firm performance”. Why would we tolerate anything less?
This blog was written by Katie Driver, a friend of byrne·dean, who inspires us and with whom we hope to work ever closer going forward. More details of Katie and her work can be found here. If you are interested in ways to promote better thinking in your organisations then let us know.
Katie will be running an event for byrne·dean on "Achieving Better by Thinking More" on the 7th June. You can book your place here.