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What we can learn from our Olympic team for workplace performance

Aug 08 2012
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What a fantastic Olympics – it really is inspiring to see Great Britain (GB) scooping so many medals! The coaches and the wider GB team have clearly put everything into helping our athletes reach their peak.

This got me thinking about what we, as employers, can learn from our Olympic team for workplace performance...

I saw a really inspiring interview with David Brailsford, Performance Director of the Great Britain cycling team, whose team won eight out of 10 track cycling gold medals in London. He attributes four key things to their success:

1. Talented athletes

2. Hard working athletes

3. Set a specific goal

4. Make a list of all the elements that impact on the success of your goal and work on improving each element

Brailsford refers to the different elements as ‘marginal gains’. He says that if you break down everything that goes into achieving that goal and improve each element by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.

He focused on obvious things like fitness and conditioning, the technology of the bike and clothing, but also other things like sleeping in the right position and having the same pillow when athletes are away and training in different places. Brailsford said, “They're tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference to performance”.

The GB cycling team used experts in each area to help achieve these marginal gains; technology experts to improve the performance of the bike and sleep experts to ensure athletes got sufficient sleep.

Every aspect of preparation for the cycling has been meticulous. The medals are not a fluke. It’s the preparation, hard work and talent – talented athletes, talented coaches and other talented experts in each of the marginal gain areas – that has led to success.

The formula should be no different for businesses – we need to ensure we have talented people who are working hard. We also need a clear goal and by breaking this goal down we can identify and improve the different elements to ensure success. One of these elements has to be achieving a healthy, energised and engaged workforce.

I am not suggesting that we buy all of our employees a comfortable pillow, but by educating them about the simple changes they need to make to improve their health, energy and performance we have a real opportunity to help them maximise energy, improve their performance and increase business profits.

Click here to listen to our August 2012 webinar. This focused on how you can use the Olympics to inspire your workforce, drive business performance and get your employees to focus on gold.

Senior executives cannot afford to ignore their own wellbeing

Jul 01 2012
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I have been working with senior executives for years now, helping them to improve the wellbeing of their employees and helping them as individuals improve their own health and wellbeing. Many leaders do recognise the need to invest in the wellbeing of their workforce but all too often they ignore their own needs - this not only has a negative impact on their own health but also the health of their organisation. It’s true that senior executives are there to lead and need to hold everything together but this does not mean that they should ignore their own wellbeing needs. In fact, Ben Wilmott, Head of Public Policy, at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently told the Financial Times that it is no longer good enough for senior executives to pass stress on. He said that by failing to deal with their stress this will in turn create a toxic culture and will undermine performance. I agree with Ben. We know that by improving employee wellbeing organisations can reap the benefits in terms of the increased productivity – individuals are more energised and motivated to achieve goals. It doesn’t matter whether you are just entering the workplace or whether you are at the very top, the fact of the matter is that someone with more energy and positivity is going to be much more beneficial for the organisation. It is this that has a positive impact on bottom line. The CIPD’s 2011 Employee Absence survey finds stress is now the top cause of long-term absence and senior executives are not immune to the impact of stress. In fact Michael Sinclair, City-based psychologist and author of Fear and Self Loathing in the City, raises real concerns about the pressure high-flying executives in the City face and the fact more CEOs are being signed off work. There is a real need to help those at the top as well as the average worker. Individuals, whether they are at the top or bottom of the food chain, can only take such pressure and ignore their own wellbeing for a short period of time before it starts to impact on those around them. We have all seen it in the press – senior executives burning out. Failing to address the health and wellbeing of those at the very top will have a detrimental affect on the business long-term. By giving those at the top the tools to improve their health and become more resilient they will be in a much stronger position to lead their organisation.

A call to ban the word stress in the workplace

Jun 01 2012
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Stress – it is a word that is so overused, both inside and outside the workplace. This is not to say it is not a serious issue but if we are to limit the negative impact associated with, and caused, by stress in the workplace we need to move away from focusing on it so much and think about pressure and resilience.

It is true the side effects of stress on individuals can be terrible, from both a mental and physical perspective. They are also terrible for businesses and can lead to mistakes, loss of productivity and high levels of sickness absence. But by focusing efforts soley on stress itself we have already decided it exists within our organisation and in fact we will probably end up fuelling it.

I worked with someone who suffered with stress on and off over 10 years. Her company sent her on a couple of stress management workshops, but generally they made her feel worse and just gave her another thing to worry about. She then attended a health and energy related workshop and it was here that she learnt about what the early warning signs of stress are. As a result she has been able to manage pressure at work more effectively and has developed more resilience to the pressure and challenges when they arise.

Let’s face it, pressure exists everywhere. In fact, as I have said in previous blog posts a little bit of pressure can actually be a good thing, helping motivate and engage people. It is how people deal with this pressure that will determine whether our businesses are successful or not.

So, rather than focus all of our attention on stress let’s focus on giving our people the tools they need to manage pressure effectively. By taking a more proactive approach to the health and wellbeing of our workforce and the initiatives we put in place, rather than simply reacting to problems, will enable us to create a much more resilient workforce.

How high-flyers can avoid burnout…

May 01 2012
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We have all seen it in the press – reports about senior executives burning out. It can be a lonely job at the top and a role that comes with immense pressure. But it is how we manage this pressure that will determine our success.

Once reaching the top things often change. Not only is there more responsibility but colleagues can react differently to you when you move into a leadership position and very few individuals can truly be used as a sounding board. This adds to the pressure.

Also, when you are in a position of leadership and authority you are quite often tasked with having to make difficult decisions. Get it right and you’re doing a great job, get it wrong and your reputation can be tarnished. Unfortunately this is quite often the reality of the corporate world that we live in.

It’s how we as leaders handle this pressure that will lead to the success or failure of a business. All too often we talk about stress – it seems like every other week there is a new report out highlighting increasing levels of stress among managers, leaders and employees.

But let’s face it, if we are honest a little bit of pressure is good. As a leader myself I know that a little bit of pressure can motivate me and give me the drive to achieve great things but I also see it in my team. Pressure of some sort will always exist and it should not be considered a bad thing. What is important is our reaction to it.

As leaders, we need to learn how to deal with this pressure effectively and ensure our employees are able to do the same. Only then will we be successful in creating a resilient workforce.

Schools are beginning to take wellbeing seriously but what about businesses?

Apr 01 2012
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I read a recent article showcasing a school in Berkshire that has introduced wellbeing lessons to help boost pupils' grades. The lessons were introduced to the school's curriculum in 2006 and since then, A level grades have risen - from 69 percent achieving A or B grades to 93 per cent achieving an A*, A or B.

Clearly investment in pupil’s wellbeing, giving them time out from other lessons to focus on this, is having a positive impact. But how long will it take for other schools to get this and start investing in it? My conclusion – it will take a long time if businesses are anything to go by.

Government statistics show that for every £1 invested in staff wellbeing, there’s a return of £3 in improved efficiency and productivity and research from Roffey Park has repeatedly found a correlation between individual wellbeing and the financial and strategic success of the organisation they work for.

Like some of the businesses we work with the school in Berkshire is being innovative and reaping the benefits. However, some employers are not doing anything when it comes to employee wellbeing or simply dipping their toes in the water - perhaps they just don't understand the true cost of poor wellbeing or they see it has being just too difficult to tackle? As an expert in health, energy and performance I know that it doesn’t take much to see a little increase in energy levels and performance – one simple change can have a huge impact.

To achieve meaningful results a culture shift is needed, which has to start at the top with senior management. As managers and leaders we need to lead by example – only when we take our health and wellbeing seriously, will this will filter down to staff.

A reduction in sickness absence is not always a good thing…

Mar 01 2012
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In a recent article on the Guardian Online Professor Gary Johns highlights the fact presenteeism is a much worse problem than absenteeism. He says, "There is considerable agreement across studies that presenteeism accounts for more aggregate productivity loss than absenteeism."

I agree with Professor Gary Johns. Yes, we need to reduce sickness absence but if staff are simply coming into work to show their face then the numbers are deceiving. Whilst on the face of it there maybe a reduction is sickness absence productivity may not have improved, in fact it could have got worse. And it is this that we need to be focusing on because it is quality and high productivity that will create a successful business not an extra person sitting at a desk.

This is not to say stop monitoring sickness absence but as employers we also need to be proactive in our approach to employee wellbeing, offering a range of initiatives to educate staff and really help them improve their health and energy. This is what will ultimately lead to staff performing at their best and increased productivity.

So it is simple really – a healthy energised workforce results in improved productivity and reduced absence. And it is the organisations that get this and are being proactive in their approach to employee wellbeing that will succeed. They are the innovators that are investing in the health and energy of their staff, making employee wellbeing part of their organisational culture, and in turn creating a much more resilient workforce.

Wellbeing initiatives – should they stay or go during financial difficulty?

Feb 01 2012
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Healthy staff = healthy profits

The business case for employee wellbeing should be simple. But some argue that business leaders cannot possibly justify wellbeing related initiatives when they are making cut backs.

When an employer asked Lucy Kellaway, from the Financial Times, whether they should keep their subsidised staff canteen her answer was simple – yes. But it wasn’t so straightforward when it came to the gym membership.

She explains the benefits that a staff canteen has on a business in terms of bringing people together. But what about the other benefits associated with it?

A staff canteen not only brings people together but it means organisations can help staff achieve a balanced diet and maintain high energy. It is this that will improve performance.

Then there is the gym membership that Kellaway dismisses. It’s true that some people will value this more than others but it’s all about educating employees and giving them the tools to improve the health and energy – achieve this and productivity will improve.

So when we are asked should wellbeing initiatives be slashed during difficult economic times? In my world the answer is simple – no.

We know from our work with some of the top UK brands that a healthy workforce results in improved productivity and reduced absence. It is the forward thinking organisations, like eBay and Google, that are being proactive in their approach to employee wellbeing that will succeed.

These organisations are the innovators that are making efforts to help their staff improve their health and energy, making employee wellbeing part of their organisational culture, and in turn creating a much more resilient workforce.