If you manage a team – I’ve got x3 bits of good news for you

As a manager you wear several hats. You’re a coach and a cheerleader, a team captain and a high performing individual as well as a communications expert and a diplomat. Over the last year many of my clients who manage teams have also been a shoulder to cry on, a source of resilience and motivation and an emotional support counsellor.

That’s as well as being a teacher, chef, house renovator and dog trainer.  So if you manage a team and are feeling exhausted it’s no surprise. According to the 2021 state of the manager report, manager burnout increased 78% since the start of the pandemic.

As we emerge from lockdown, I believe we will shift back to working in offices and meeting colleagues in real life, but we’ll never return to this thing we’re calling ‘normal.’ Relationships have changed, team dynamics and culture have changed. We’re not the same people who entered lockdown a year ago.

Wellbeing is more than just a ‘nice to have.’

Workplace wellbeing has gained more importance, there’s been a shift from ‘a nice to have’ to a business priority. Many of my clients now have a wellbeing buddy system and mental health first aiders which are working well to provide support. I hope this support will be here to stay.

How we feel about our work, our colleagues and our managers is important for our wellbeing, but it’s also important for the success of the organisations that we work for.

When we feel safe to bring our whole selves to work we’re more productive, motivated and happy. That’s also when creativity flows. All these feelings are linked and flow in and out of each other. When we’re motivated we’re engaged and when we’re engaged we’re motivated. It also works the other way round. When we’re not happy or motivated we’re least engaged and less productive.

That’s why if you’re a manager, your role is so important and also potentially exhausting.

As a manager you’re responsible for driving business outcomes by ensuring your team is motivated, empowered to work on the right priorities that are aligned to their interests and strengths, and have the support required to deliver their best work.

An employee’s relationship with their direct manager has a strong influence on their ability to do their best work. You make a big impact in how your team feel in terms of opportunities to do meaningful work and to learn and how they feel about their working life. I’m not saying this about you, but in my experience people tend to leave bad managers rather than bad jobs or bad organisations.

How do managers successfully wear all the hats?

Give your team time, space and permission to learn. When times are tough learning and development budgets are often the first to get cut. Find ways to help your team learn, whether that’s’ responsibilities to work on new projects, formal training, or encouraging them to find a mentor. Help them focus on the skills they need right now.

When LinkedIn Learning recently asked learning and development specialists to identify the most important current skills, it looked like this.

  • Resilience and adaptability
  • Technology skills/digital fluency
  • Communication across remote or distributed teams
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Cross-functional collaboration

I’ve got three pieces of good news for you.

First, according to the 2021 state of the manager report, employees who see good opportunities to learn and grow are 2.9x more likely to be engaged compared to those who don’t see good opportunities to learn and grow. And when people are engaged they stay with their organisation longer. (Over 3x more likely to say they will probably be with their company in two year’s time according to the report)

Second, according to Crystal Lim Lang, author of Deep Human, ‘Learning is a form of self-care. The happiest people in the world are the ones who are the most engaged and curious’

So providing your employees with learning opportunities not only up-skills them to perform better, it motivates them to stay longer and it helps to meet their wellbeing needs.

Third, four of the five most important current skills listed are human skills, they get called ‘soft skills’ yet they’re the critical skills needed to be successful in any role. The good news is that these soft skills are all readily accessible in the Lucidity Network.

The Lucidity Network is for managers who want to do a good job of wearing all the hats for their team, help them take charge of their learning and development and support their team to be happy and more productive in their working life.

When you join the Lucidity Network you get access to practical content, including webinars and training packs, brilliant people who are experts in topics that will help you find your success. We’ve training materials on over ‘soft skills’ 30 topics in the learning vault including; listening skills, how to be productive, resilience and wellbeing, strategic thinking, storytelling, adapting and learning from failure, having difficult conversations, managing up and improving your memory.

Joining us is easy. Here’s your link. And if you’d like to help yourself and join your whole team, get in touch because there’s great discounts for group membership.

The 2021 stare of the manager report combines insights from 3.4 million employee engagement surveys primarily conducted in 2020 on the Glint Platform with LinkedIn behavioural and survey data and expert interviews to deliver data-driven recommendations. You can download your copy here.

Are you a good listener?

Are you a good listener? Have you ever felt the frustration of not being listened to though? Perhaps the other person wasn’t paying full attention or maybe they cut you off mid flow, talked over you or rushed in to tell you their solution?

The skill of listening is so important, yet so underrated and often not performed well. There are many reasons why we don’t listen very well. In the cut and thrust of daily life, we might simply forget to show how much we care or to give one another the time and space that lead to better conversations. Or, when we’re under pressure to get through an epic ‘to do’ list, we immediately want to jump in and fix a problem and move on, rather than focusing on being a good listener and encouraging and supporting the other person to learn and grow by working through it themself.

Sometimes, we interrupt rather than listen because we want to be heard ourselves, to talk about when something similar happened to us or explore our own feelings, opinions and experiences. Interruptions are often made with the intention of giving good advice, but sometimes can leave the other person feeling disconnected, undervalued or that their views are not important. It’s good to talk. It’s even better to listen.

When working remotely we lack real-life connections, and feelings of uncertainty can raise anxiety levels. That’s why good listening skills are particularly important now. Making a deliberate point of finding space to really listen to colleagues, friends and family will make an impact on their health and wellbeing as well as their motivation and productivity at work.

Giving someone a safe space to talk and letting them know you’re listening with empathy and without judgment can allow them to let off steam, explore their feelings and make decisions about the best course of action.

We’ve been doing some work with the excellent Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’. 

Here’s three tips to focus your listening skills.

  1. You don’t have to fix things. Good listening isn’t about fixing someone’s problems or giving advice. You don’t need to make it better for the person; you just need to be there alongside them, to listen, and share the weight of what they’re telling you. A huge part of being a better listener is simply recognising that the person speaking doesn’t need any more from you than that. Just pay close attention and keep the conversation going, letting the person talk through all their options until there’s nothing left to say
  2. Hold back on giving advice. Don’t say things like ‘ perhaps you could…’, ‘have you tried…’ or ‘maybe you should…’. By trying to fix a problem rather than simply listening and accepting it for what it is, you might be inadvertently implying to that person that they can’t sort out their own issue for themselves. This can then feed into the already spiralling negative thought loop that they’re not good enough, lacking confidence or can’t cope. Jumping into solutions isn’t always helpful, particularly when there’s more going on for someone and it’s affecting their emotional wellbeing.
  3. It’s about them, not you. Hold back on telling your story of when you were in a similar situation. Listening isn’t about you. It’s about them. You might think you’re being helpful by showing empathy through sharing your similar experience, however if you do this, the person speaking is more likely to feel that you think your experience is more important than theirs which has the effect of feeling not listened to, disconnected or undervalued.

Thank you Katie Colombus for the inspiration and co-writing this blog. 

If you’d like to learn more about listening skills, join Lucy Gower and Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’ on 25 March at 12.30 for a Lucidity Network webinar on how to be a brilliant listener. Join live to ask your questions. Here’s your link to sign up. Hurry as places are limited. 

Are you human at work – or do you leave your best bits at the door?

Being human seems like something that shouldn’t even be considered as something to work on. Surely it should just be a way of being that comes naturally?

Yet, so many of us feel that we need to be ‘professional’ at work to fit in or impress and as a result we leave emotions, empathy, vulnerability, self-awareness, passion – all the things that make us wonderfully unique – at the door when we come into work.

In a working world of increased automation, our human skills are more valuable now than ever before. Customers, supporters, clients and colleagues want to be able to interact with humans who speak their language and with whom they can connect. They want to deal with real people who are empathetic, honest and transparent.

To be human at work simply means using the skills that we are born with as human beings, the skills that set us apart from technology. These skills include creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication, vulnerability and empathy.

There are noticeable symptoms of not being human and not bringing your whole self to work. We can feel disconnected. We don’t share our interests with others around us, even the colleagues we work closely with and talk to every day. We don’t speak up or ask questions, feeling that we should remain quiet. All of this means we go through our working lives and don’t ever feel fully known. This can lead to feeling disengaged and unmotivated.

This distinction is even more important when working remotely. On the one hand working remotely has us allowed to be more human. We’ve had Zoom calls with children, pets and partners making unexpected appearances, we’ve nosed into colleagues houses and perhaps know more about each other’s lives now than when we worked in an office. On the other hand, when we’re not able to meet in real life we have had to be more deliberate at connecting with people, remembering to ask others how they are, waiting for the answer that comes after the initial standard response of ‘fine’ and allowing time and space for the water cooler conversations that are about more than work projects and deadlines.

‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.’  Harold Whitman

When we’re ourselves at work, we feel understood and known by our colleagues, and as a result we experience a greater connection at work. We no longer have to segment our lives between ‘professional self’ and ‘real self’, going through our working day with that uncomfortable feeling of holding something back. By bringing our whole selves to work and encouraging our colleagues to do the same, we can genuinely play to our strengths, make a greater impact and be happier and more fulfilled in the process.

If any of the above has struck a chord, here’s my three tips for being more human at work.

  1. Be Curious

Being interested in others, asking them about their interests, passions and past times, is a great way to signal that it’s OK to share more than just work-related chat. Make a point to get to know the people you work with. Encourage them to talk about their interests, passions and how they’re feeling. Understand what makes them human. Take time to listen to what’s important to them, as well as to understand their quirks and their dreams.

  1. Give yourself permission

It sounds simple but give yourself (and your colleagues) permission to be yourself. Encourage individuality. Help others drop the robot mindset by providing opportunities to integrate more of what makes them human into everything they do every day. For example, find out what people love doing outside of work. What skills and experience do they bring to problem solving? If John is a scuba diver what can he teach us about teamwork from working in a buddy pair, like divers do underwater?

  1. Identify what good looks like

If we’re not clear about expectations, it can knock our confidence and when this happens our true selves can feel diminished. Be sure to set expectations clearly – for yourself and for others. The Gallup Q12 employee engagement research shows that their number one predictor of performance is when an employee rates their response to ‘I know what is expected of me at work’. Your question here is ‘What does good look like here?’ This will always lead to a valuable conversation, increased clarity that you’re all working to the same end goal, and allow you to play to your strengths.

For the full training pack on how to be more human including a webinar with Samantha Woolvern and further resources join the Lucidity Network.  A place for curious humans who want to bring their whole brilliant selves to work. There’s more information on how to join us here.

No wonder working from home can feel stressful

2020 was series of unexpected events. Corona virus has had an impact on everything. Our health and stress levels, how we live and how we work. Many of us have had to change and adapt to a new way of living and it’s unlikely that we’ll return to ‘normal’ any time soon – if ever.

Months of adapting to change can take its toll. Many of the teams I’m working with are feeling exhausted, anxious and stressed out.

We’re all different and this sort of constant change and feelings of uncertainty affect us all in different ways. It’s true that we’re all in the same storm and yes, we’re all in very different boats.

Whatever boat you’re in, a useful tool is being able to spot your signs of stress early and then do something about them to stop stress escalating.

For me, I know that when I’m feeling stressed or under pressure I get clumsy, I’m irritable and I can’t concentrate or focus on anything.

You may experience physical signals, for example, headaches, feeling tired all the time, shallow breathing or the feeling that you’re not getting enough air.

What are your stress signals? What are the things that happen to you that signal ‘uh oh I’m getting stressed’?

When I used to say I was feeling stressed, sometimes people would helpfully suggest that I drink a glass of water or go for a walk round the block. It would really wind me up because having a drink or a walk felt like such an over simplified remedy for how I was feeling.

Then I did some research about what was happening in our bodies when we’re experiencing stress.

It turns out, that when we feel threatened, whether physically, for example feeling on edge walking down a dark street at night, or mentally, for example, threatened that our reputation is at risk if we don’t make a looming deadline our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones. These hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol prepare the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, and speed up your reaction time, preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. This was very useful for survival if we had to run from, or fight a wild animal. It’s less helpful if you need to think slowly and carefully about the best way to respond to a difficult email from a colleague or customer.

So when we notice early signs of stress, we need to act. We need to kerb the flood of hormones preparing us to fight or flee. This is about changing our state. Which is why, if you act as soon as you feel the stress rising by changing your state by doing something as simple as having a glass of water or having a chat with someone, it can help reduce feelings of stress.

Stress and working at home

So lets think about this stress response when you’re working in an office.

You’re already feeling the pressure of a deadline, the internet is running slow and everything is taking ages to download and then you get an annoying email from your boss. ‘Argh’, you think. Enough.

You decide that rather than fire back an immediate angry response to your boss, to get a cup of tea, and have a think before you reply. You get up and walk to the kitchen. On your way you pass Steve’s desk, you say hello and offer him a cup of tea while you’re making one for yourself. He says he’ll come with you because he needs to put his lunch in the microwave queue. So you go to the kitchen together and have a chat while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. You head back to your desk feeling a whole lot better than when you left a few minutes before.

So without knowing it, your stress was rising and you stood up and changed your state, walked around and chatted with a colleague. By the time you’re back at your desk less than 10 minutes later your cortisol and adrenalin levels have reduced and you can think properly about how best to reply to the annoying email and get back to the pressing deadline.

In an office that’s how you reduce your stress and you often do it without even knowing it. When you’re at home on your own, you don’t have colleagues to chat to on the way to the kitchen, and so its easy for stress levels to escalate.

So when you’re working from home and managing your stress, it helps to be more deliberate then when you’re working in an office. Here’s our tips.

  1. Notice when your stress levels are rising – what are your early warning signs?
  2. Remember that your body is being flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and what you need to do is reduce the levels.
  3. You do this by changing your state which sounds complicated but the actions to do this are simple. We’re all different so you might need to experiment with what works best for you. Here’s some suggestions;
  • Stand up and stretch
  • Breath – slowly in and out for a few minutes
  • Get up and get a drink (preferably water, preferably not wine or gin)
  • Walk round the block
  • Walk round the lounge
  • Phone a friend
  • Water your plants
  • Make a fuss of the dog
  • Sing a song
  • Dance about

Let us know how you get on. And if you’d like more practical help to boost your resilience, confidence and creativity then join Charly White and me for a one day training on 9 February. More details and sign up here.

What can you do about the Monday night blues?

Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, is allegedly the most depressing day of the year. As much as the pseudoscience has been debunked over the years, it is stubbornly sticking around, so we might as well acknowledge it.

Many of us are familiar with Sunday Syndrome, that sinking feeling as the weekend draws to a close that it will soon be Monday all over again. But what can you do if you have the Monday night blues? If the reality of being back at work was as bad as you had been fearing: what then?

Right now, I suspect more people are feeling Monday night blues than ever before. It’s January, which is never a cheery month in the UK, as it’s cold, damp, Christmas has been and gone, and the January paycheck seems an eon away. And this is January 2021. In the UK we’re in our third full lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The last 10 months have been tough, and the promised hope of 2021 is slow to come. People have lost jobs, loved ones and opportunities.

The job market is hard right now, and we are expecting this to continue for some time. You may not feel able to leave a job right now, which can lead to you feeling trapped.

If you regularly have the Monday night blues, here are a few suggestions that may help. And if you are struggling, there are some links to how you can get help at the end.

Focus on the things you can change

While you may not be able to change your job right now, what changes can you make to make things more enjoyable? Talk to your manager about taking on a project or task that you would enjoy, or would give you a stretch, and a sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed it.

If you’re employed, self-employed, or out of work right now, is there a new skill you could learn that you would enjoy. Even better if it could improve your chances of a new job, or piece of work.

And focus on how you spend your day. Gary Gower wrote his guide to life in lockdown in April last year. While his suggestions can’t change a job you don’t like, he has useful tips for when life is tough. Breaking up your day so that you get away from your desk can help break thought patterns that may be contributing to how you are feeling about your situation right now.

Celebrate your wins

Every week in the Lucidity Network Facebook group we celebrate our wins for that week. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Whether you’ve secured a promotion, won a long-planned for pitch, gained some insight from a ‘failed’ project, or managed to go outside for a walk every day that week, you’re encouraged to share this with the rest of the group.

Why do we do this? Because we know that many people are pretty rubbish at celebrating their achievements: I know I am. By being asked to think about this at the end of each week, we’re prompted to reflect on what we wanted to achieve. This can gradually train our brains to have a growth mindset, and to focus on what we’ve achieved rather than hasn’t gone well.

There are many ways you can celebrate your achievements. Some people like to write three positive things in a journal at the end of each day. This year I’ve started a jar of achievements, and I’ll write down my achievements and watch the jar fill up over the year. The important thing is to start doing it, so why not join the Lucidity Community Facebook group where you’ll be prompted to each week. You never know, you might find it helps.

Do something that sparks joy

Not to get all Marie Kondo on you, but joy is important for us all. I need to point out that joy and happiness are different things. As a rule of thumb, joy is cultivated internally, and happiness tends to be impacted by external events.

Author J.D. Salinger once eloquently described the difference as: “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.”

Because we can spend a huge proportion of our time working, we can often feel that if work isn’t going well that means life isn’t going well. Finding and doing things outside of work that spark joy and meaning in your life can help mitigate some feelings of dissatisfaction. Perhaps there’s a hobby you’ve been meaning to take up, a class you’d like to start again, or volunteer for a cause you really care about. If you’re feeling fulfilled outside of work, it’s easier to feel a level of joy that isn’t easily shaken by bad days at work.

Jo Gibney is Head of Business Development at the Association of Volunteer Managers, a membership organisation for anyone who works with volunteers, and a freelance digital community manager.

Need help?

If you are struggling right now, your GP should be able to signpost you for help, or the Mental Health Foundation has a page of resources: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/getting-help

*Coined by psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2004, after a holiday company asked him for a “scientific formula” for the January blues, Blue Monday falls on the third Monday in January every year. Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-51173730