Managerial Mindfulness

Over the past 12 years, I have been co-facilitating a longitudinal, action learning program for managers.  The initial program, Practical People Management, was developed by my colleague Julie Cork and Mike Nelson in 2004 to address the issue of poor-quality supervision that was negatively impacting the health of public servants.  Over time, different components such as managing change and managing generational differences were added to the content of the program resulting in a loss of coherence.

When Julie and I started working together, we began to pool our ideas, concepts, models, and experiences and repurposed the program as Confident People Management (CPM).  A key element of this change was the introduction of a cultural change framework to integrate the components of the program.  

We also became more conscious of the role the program played in assisting managers to create both a productive and a mentally healthy workplace.  As we explored the writings and research on mental health in the workplace, we became increasingly aware of the role that mindfulness could play in helping managers to develop self-awareness and self-regulation and to facilitate development of a workplace culture conducive to the positive mental health of their employees.

Action learning, mindfulness, and mental health in the workplace

We were conscious that the research on mindfulness demonstrated that developing mindfulness was conducive to positive mental health in the workplace and elsewhere.  We were confident that action learning also contributed to a mentally healthy workplace. So, I undertook research to identify what were the factors (active ingredients) that enabled both action learning and mindfulness to contribute to positive mental health in the workplace.

In a book chapter I wrote on the topic, Action Learning and Mindfulness for Mental Health in the Workplace, I explained how action learning and mindfulness are complementary and mutually reinforcing as they have the common intermediate goals of developing “self-awareness” and “agency” , both of which are conducive to positive mental health in the workplace.

Our initial efforts to incorporate mindfulness concepts and practices into the Confident People Management (CPM) Program involved adding a mindfulness session to the program content.  However, for various reasons, including time restrictions, this did not have the traction we had hoped for.

As we reflected on the CPM Program and its development, we began to reframe our facilitation processes as “consciousness-raising”.   More recently, in our lag time because of Covid-19, I have come to conceptualise a core outcome of the program as developing “managerial mindfulness”.

Managerial Mindfulness

Drawing on the definition of mindfulness proposed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I have developed a definition of Managerial Mindfulness as follows:

Managerial mindfulness is the awareness that arises when a manager pays particular attention, in the present moment, on purpose, to the impact they are having on the culture of their team.  This involves consciousness about the impact, positive or negative, that their words, actions, omissions, and time allocation have on the development of a productive and mentally healthy workplace. Managerial mindfulness is developed through openness, curiosity, and a commitment to reflective practice.

Over time, we have incorporated a range of reflective practices into CPM that facilitate the development of managerial consciousness by participant managers.  Some of these processes are integral to an action learning approach, others involve strategic questioning around the manager’s role in shaping team culture.

Reflection

Both action learning and mindfulness contribute to positive mental health.  However, in any given context, mindfulness practices can take on different forms.  Within the context of the CPM program, experiential learning and on-the-job practice, combined with reflective practice, enable participating managers to grow in mindfulness.  As they develop and enhance their managerial mindfulness, they can more consciously and effectively develop a workplace culture that builds both productivity and positive mental health.  They become acutely aware of the impact of their own words, actions, inaction, and time allocation in shaping their team culture.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Strategies for Managing Remotely

There are numerous suggestions available for managing remotely given that many people are working at home because of the social isolation associated with the Coronavirus.  In a previous post, I explored some of the challenges and opportunities involved in working from home that managers need to be aware of.  There are many common strategies employed by companies in relation to communication, support, information management, performance management, accountability and frequency and modes of interaction between managers and staff (and amongst staff themselves).  However, it is vitally important that the practices and processes of remote management reflect and reinforce organisation culture.

Reflect organisation values in remote management practices, processes and tools

While there are many suggestions regarding best practices for remote management (for example, on YouTube©), it is important not to just “copy and paste” them into your own company’s processes.  What is really needed is to build company-wide processes for remote management that reflect your company’s core values, e.g. friendliness, empowerment, accountability, transparency, consistency, inclusive.  Elizabeth Hall provides a comprehensive example of how Trello’s values are embedded in a wide range of remote management processes, systems and practices for their global organisation, e.g. virtual parties, chat system with multiple channels (work and personal), saying good morning (despite country of location) and mandatory overlap hours for working wherever in the world.

Communication practices and processes for remote management

One of the basic rules for managing remotely is to find ways to compensate for the lack of social interaction that people would normally have in a “bricks and mortar” environment.  From a management perspective, systems and processes for accountability are also important but need to be culturally compatible.  Communication strategies can be adapted to the nature of the work, location(s) of workers, time cycle of producing product and services and sensitivity/urgency of the core business.  Here are some communication strategies that companies employ to achieve these goals of social interaction, accountability and adaptability:

  • Mandatory online meetings – these can be daily or weekly and are mandatory often within a flexible working arrangement.  This ensures one form of interaction across the team and can build in accountability via a reporting mechanism (e.g. against KPIs, project milestones, or output measures). For teams that have a high level of interdependency, a daily “stand-up” meeting via video conferencing can be important to ensure that people are “in-synch” in relation to work-in-progress.  The sharing involved can take many forms, e.g. sharing “three things I did yesterday” and “three things I plan to do today”.  The manager then has the opportunity to check for coordination of effort and re-visit priorities in consultation with staff.  Some companies that have a mixed mode arrangement (work from home and work from company offices) ensure that all participants in the mandatory meetings are online (not a mix of face-to-face and virtual participation) – a practice designed to build in consistency and inclusiveness. 
  • Replicating the “water cooler” experience – finding ways to make up for the lack of social interaction of remote workers.  The processes employed are intended to build trust and understanding through mutual sharing, informal information exchange and storytelling.  Processes range from continuous online chat channels (both business and personal) to time-structured interactions for pairs or groups of four to enable them to share information about their personal life through online video conferencing (videos of the interaction can be shared more widely in the organisation with consent of the parties involved). 
  • Face-to-face interactions for the group – many companies institute an annual get together for a team (or linked teams) to create connections, build relationships, facilitate consistent communication of company information, share progress/strategies/intelligence and for forward planning.  These can take the form of retreats, conferences or workshops and incorporate games, partner interactions and/or social events.  It is important that the structure and processes of these scheduled face-to-face interactions reflect the characteristics of the company’s culture such as values, rituals and norms.
  • One-on-one interactions with the manager – ideally these entail visits by the manager to individual staff members.   However, regular and predictable one-on-one interactions are important to gauge how a staff member is coping with their work and environment and to provide a means of accountability.  It is increasingly important that managers find a balance between task and personal needs of staff when having these interactions.  In crisis times like the present, managers may need to change the balance by giving employees more slack and spending more time on personal matters to provide additional personal support.  This is necessary when working from home is enforced and not a matter of choice, when there are high levels of job insecurity and the broader environment is turbulent and uncertain.  Managers have a duty of care in relation to the mental health of their employees.  If they observe signs of mental illness, they can employ approaches such as the “R U Okay?” enquiry and access the relevant resources.

Processes and systems to support work achievement

It is important to put in place processes, systems, technology and policies to support effective remote management.  Clarity around expectations and system processes supports efficiency and effectiveness and reduces misunderstanding and conflict.  Developing protocols, practices and rituals provides some degree of certainty in a very uncertain world.  Strategies companies employ to support work achievement include:

  • Setting expectations: being clear with staff about performance and behavioural expectations is critical at the outset.  Included in this is establishing onboarding processes for new staff so that they understand what is expected of them as well as become familiar with the team’s processes and systems. It is common for different teams (e.g. system developers vs sales staff) to have different preferences about the means of communicating – e.g. email vs phone.  At the outset, the manager can support teams to develop groundrules about how they want to operate and collaborate.  For an established team, this could include exploration of the “unwritten rules” which create behavioural norms unconsciously.  Clear expectations provide the stimulus for personal motivation and contribution and the groundwork for performance management.  Some organisations employ 360-degree feedback to support performance management and identify development needs – the frequency of these feedback processes (e.g. quarterly, half-yearly or annually) will depend on the time cycle of the organisation and the need to highlight accountability.
  • Systems development: develop systems and procedures to support daily processing and achievement of team’s goals.  These should be documented and readily available to all staff.  In the absence of formal systems and procedures, information and intelligence can be lost and result in inconsistent treatment of staff and customers.  Systems should cover data storage, retrieval and editing. Cloud storage is often recommended for ease of access for remote workers. Visuals such as flow charts, diagrams and videos can be used to support communication about systems and procedures.
  • Support for workers in remote localities – often remotely located employees feel “left out” because their needs are not taken into account.  They suffer from inadequate infrastructure, the increased cost and limited availability of transportation and limited resources.  Ways to reduce the sense of isolation for remotely located workers include establishing a “buddy” system; visits by senior management; developing joint projects involving these staff and people in hub localities; and connecting them with local groups, organisations and government entities.  To help people in remote localities really feel as if they belong to the organisation, the manager can involve them in planning and review processes, ensure equitable access to training and be conscious of their timeframes (and time zones where relevant) and commitments when scheduling meetings.
  • Facilitate remote social interaction – this involves establishing a culturally appropriate way of providing fun and light relief so that staff can interact on a non-work basis.  Some groups have instituted virtual coffee breaks or lunches and others have introduced a virtual “happy hour”, while some groups with a light-hearted approach have enjoyed virtual games and parties.  Whatever form of remote social interaction you choose, it is important to encourage staff to take time out.

Reflection

Managing remotely adds considerable complexity to the role of a manager, especially in these uncertain times.  The demands for emotional agility and adaptability on the part of the manager are very high.  It is critical for remote managers to be able to manage themselves effectively in times of crisis.

With appropriate communication strategies and supportive systems and processes, a manager can help staff realise a work from home environment that is both enjoyable and productive.  As managers grow in mindfulness through reflection on experience, mindfulness practices and meditation, they will be better able to access their resourcefulness and resilience, heighten their compassion and build a sense of agency for themselves and their staff.

In his book, A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles writes about Count Alexander Rostov who was evicted from his usual plush suite in the Metropol Hotel and confined to an attic room in the hotel for an indefinite period by The Bolshevik.   During an early stage of describing the house arrest, Towles shares the Count’s reflection on his confinement and depleted situation (which incorporates a salutary lesson for dealing with changed circumstances):

Having acknowledged that a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them, the Count thought it worth considering how one was most likely to achieve this aim when one had been sentenced to a life of confinement. (p. 38-39)

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

How to Overcome Self-Protection to Create Personal Behavioural Change

ami Simon, in a recent interview podcast, spoke to Dr. Lisa Lahey about her co-authored book, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.  Lisa is also a member of the faculty for the Inner MBA, jointly conducted by Sounds True in partnership with New York University, Wisdom 2.0 and LinkedIn.  In the interview, Lisa and Tami explore our self-protection mechanisms, the need for courage to overcome them and the importance of supportive challenge to sustain significant personal change.

Our self-protection mechanisms create an immunity to change

Our self-protection mechanisms are designed to protect our sense of self-worth and overall psychic health – they stop us from doing things that would be harmful to our psychic welfare.  Research and experience demonstrate, however, that that many people in organisations find it difficult to make positive behavioural changes that would make them a better staff member or manager.  For example, staff may not change inappropriate behaviour despite regular corrective feedback and a manager may not be able to delegate effectively despite their belief in the need for delegation.

Lisa maintains that the real barrier to these desirable behavioural changes is not a lack of procedural or technical knowledge but the need to change our “inner landscape” – made up of our beliefs, inner rules, feelings, self-stories and assumptions about our self, others, and our world.  Many behavioural changes in an organisational setting require these “adaptive changes” – becoming aware of the specific, inner landscape barriers to a focal behavioural change and working consciously to remove them.  This perspective advanced by Lisa lines up with our earlier discussion of “absolutes” and their impact on our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Lisa likens our inner landscape to our immune system which is a self-protection mechanism designed to protect us against infection.  Our immune system, however, can also work against our physical welfare.  This can happen when it becomes hypersensitive to foods that would otherwise be good for us and creates inflammation in the form of rashes, hives, and other manifestations of food intolerance and allergies.  Another example is when the immune system rejects a liver or heart after a transplant.   Our inner landscape, just like the self-protective mechanism of our immune system, can work against making and sustaining desirable, personal behavioural change (whether within an organisational setting or in daily life with our family).

Making adaptive change through the “immunity change process”

In her Book, Immunity to Change, Lisa provides a detailed four-step process for making adaptive change which she calls “the immunity change process”.  In the podcast interview, she offered a brief description of each step and these are illustrated below:

  1. Have a clear goal in mind – Clarity around your behavioural change goal is critical because it enables a focused exploration of your “inner landscape”.  Lisa gave the example of her gaol to overcome the fear of public speaking.  Here I will focus on the goal of improving delegation as a manager, drawing on my experience working with managers over many years.
  2. Honest exploration of your self-sabotaging behaviours: As a manager, you might work against the achievement of your delegation goal by constant interference/ checking in with the person to whom you have delegated work (the delegatee), expressing a lack of trust in the delegatee’s ability to complete the work successfully, showing increasing signs of nervousness, and/or being unclear in your instructions/requirements when establishing the delegated task.  These behaviours can feed your anxiety cycle and thwart effective delegation to the delegatee and, at the same time, undermine their confidence so that they do not do the delegated job very well (an outcome that reinforces your belief system about the threats to your self-worth involved in delegating).
  3. Honest exploration of your inner self-protective goals:  These inner goals lie beneath your self-sabotaging behaviour and provide the unconscious rationale for behaving in a way that works against the achievement of your goal.  These self-protective goals could include trying to avoid the embarrassment of staff making mistakes, ensuring the security of your own job, maintaining a sense of superior knowledge and skills (“better than”) or avoiding being seen as lazy. 
  4. Identifying and challenging the underlying assumptions that give rise to the self-protective goals: These could include the assumption that if the delegatee becomes really good at their work your job will be at risk, they will see any poor work that you have done in relation to the delegated task,  they might do it the wrong way if you don’t constantly check on them, you will be seen as incompetent if they do the delegated task poorly or you will lose control of the task and the delegatee and reduce your influence.  These assumptions are interrelated and self-reinforcing, reducing your capacity to see possibilities and explore creative options.  Once these underlying assumptions have been surfaced, you can challenge them by exploring alternative assumptions.  Lisa suggests, for example, in relation to delegation, that the process could be seen as adding real value to the organisation and the delegatee by enabling them to be the best they can be.  This not only contributes more fully to the achievement of organisational goals but also builds staff motivation and mental health through providing a sense of agency.  Also, as neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains, you grow your influence by letting go.

Reflection

Our inner landscape acts as both a self-protective mechanism building our self-esteem and a self-sabotaging system that comes into play when we perceive that our self-worth is under threat.  As we grow in mindfulness through reflective processes such as the “immunity change process”, we can become more aware of our self-sabotaging behaviour, our unconscious self-protective goals and the underlying assumptions that hold them in place.  As we challenge our assumptions and associated expectations, we can break free of their hold over us and be open to creative options that we can pursue with courage and persistence.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Managerial Agency through Action Learning

In an earlier post I discussed how mindfulness enabled sustainable employee agency.   I subsequently discussed the need to underpin mindfulness training with organisational interventions that develop managers and leaders and create a culture that is conducive to mental health and enables the realisation of the individual capacity-building benefits of mindfulness.

Building managerial agency through action learning

Previously, I discussed a particular longitudinal action learning intervention that addresses both manager and leadership development and appropriate cultural change.  The Confident People Management program is designed to enhance the people management skills of managers and leaders.

One of the consistent findings about this action learning program, drawn from self-reports and external reviews, is that the action learning based, manager development program is an intervention that builds manager confidence to take up the authority and responsibility that derives from their managerial position.

The action learning based program builds managerial capacity to develop people management practices that are conducive to mental health in the workplace.  Of note, is the development of managerial and employee agency embedded in the philosophy and approach of action learning.

Managers have the responsibility to improve their work environment, build the competence and confidence of their staff and establish a workplace conducive to mental health.

The authors of Mental Health at Work stress the legislative underpinning of a manager’s responsibility for mental illness in the workplace.  They point, for example, to relevant Australian legislation such as:

  •  Health and Safety legislation (which varies between States)
  • Common Law and related Case Law
  • Anti-Discrimination legislation
  • the Fair Work Act
  • Worker’s Compensation Legislation

Our experience with the Confident People Management (CPM) Program is that, despite the weight of this legislation, managers often need “permission” to shape their workplace culture and to engender employee agency through delegation, employee development and positive feedback.

The CPM Program, consistent with the action learning philosophy, incorporates a collaborative ethos and involves the participant managers in undertaking a project designed to improve the workplace environment and the way the work is done – thus engaging their employees in these endeavours which are designed to build employee agency.

Action learning, managerial agency and mindfulness 

Action learning based manager development programs, properly designed, can thus build managerial agency which, in turn, activates the individual capacity-building benefits of mindfulness, seen from the perspective of both the manager and the employees.

As managers grow in mindfulness, they become confident enough “to let go”, develop deeper insight into their authority and responsibility, experience enhanced motivation and self-control to engage employees in improving both work and the working environment and, thus, creating a workplace conducive to mental health, not only for their employees but also for themselves.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

 

Agency through Action Learning

In a previous blog post I focused on agency and mental health – highlighting the mental health benefits that accrue when an employee is given the capacity to influence their workplace environment and to have a degree of power over the way things are done.  How then does a manager create a workplace environment that is conducive to mental health through employee agency?  One way to address this issue is for the manager to adopt an action learning approach.

Action learning and agency

Agency is a defining characteristic of action learning which involves learning with and through action and reflection on the consequences of your action, both intended and unintended.  It is typically conducted in groups within a workplace where employees are collaborating to improve the work environment and the way the work is being done.

Reg Revans, the acknowledged father of action learning, argues that the best way to improve a workplace and the way the work is done, is to involve the people who have the “here and now” responsibility for the work.  He suggests that you do not get a Professor of Medicine to solve the problems of nurses having to look after dying children – you get the nurses themselves together to explore the issues they are confronting, identify what creative solutions they could adopt and take action to implement them.

In the same way, Dr. Diana Austin found that the way to address the seemingly intractable problem of midwives experiencing trauma after the death of a baby and/or mother before, during or after birth, was to have the midwives share their thoughts and their feelings after experiencing such a critical incident.

In her presentation at the Learning for Change and Innovation World Congress in Adelaide in 2016, Diana explained that her research involved working with an “action group” of affected parties who gathered information about traumatic events and reactions from each other, from interviews with other affected parties and from external health professionals.

The “action group” identified the unconscious rules of the health professionals as the major impediment to improving the midwives’ work situation. The research resulted in the creative solution of an illustrated Critical Incidents e-book that addressed and challenged the fundamental assumptions underlying the unconscious rules.  The e-book is now accessible to all health professionals throughout NZ and the world.

Diana explained that the research by the “action group” led to some key organisational outcomes:

  • the conspiracy of silence about the personal impact of trauma after a critical incident was unearthed, challenged and removed
  • destructive assumptions and unconscious rules were surfaced and challenged
  • the e-book support package was created and made accessible to all
  • new supportive processes were implemented and self-compassion was encouraged (refer: Austin et al, After the Event: Debrief to Make a Difference)
  • a collaborative ethos was established that replaced the old ethos of “going-it-alone’ when suffering trauma after a critical incident.

Clearly, the activities of Diana and the “action group” not only improved the work environment and the way the work was done but went a long way to redressing the potential, long-term effects of experiencing trauma, by providing a supportive environment conducive to positive mental health.  In the final analysis, the action learning by the group provided increased agency through the ability to change their work environment and the way trauma of health professionals was handled.

As managers and leaders grow in mindfulness, they are better able to facilitate action learning processes within their organisation, thus increasing the agency of employees and improving mental health.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Mindfulness: Enabling Sustainable Agency in the Workplace

In a previous post on agency and mental health, I stressed the need to create healthy workplace environments where employees had a sense of control over their workplace environment and the authority and responsibility to decide how the work is done.

Mindfulness enables worker agency by impacting positively on both the manager and the employee and thus enabling the development of employee agency – which is conducive to mental health.

Mindfulness and the Manager: Enabling Agency

Managers need to cope with their own thoughts and emotions when providing agency (some control and power) to employees.  There is a natural fear of loss of control which can impede the delegation of authority and responsibility to employees.  There is also the ongoing concern when things do not turn out as hoped for or mistakes are made.  Managers need the self-awareness and self-management skills developed through mindfulness, if they are to remain calm and to resist the temptation to curtail employee agency to prevent any reoccurrence.

The more positive and healthy perspective is to encourage honesty when mistakes are made, to undertake a systemic analysis of what went wrong (rather than an inquisition of the individual involved) and enable all concerned to learn from what happened.  This requires robust self-esteem on the part of the manager and a willingness to trust employees – a trust that helps to develop a constructive, mentally healthy environment.  This does not preclude the manager from ensuring that adequate training is provided to employees to undertake the tasks assigned to them.

The manager’s calmness, self-control and empathy in an apparent crisis (developed through mindfulness practices), will inspire employees and build their trust, confidence and risk-taking as they move outside their comfort zone and take up the opportunities presented by increased agency – increased authority and responsibility over their work environment and how work is done.

Mindfulness and the Employee: Building Capacity for Agency

Mindfulness builds the capacity of employees to contribute effectively in an organisation by taking up the authority, responsibility and opportunity provided by increased agency.

Like the manager, employees need to develop self-awareness (understanding their own thoughts and emotions) and self-management (keeping their thoughts and emotions under control).  It is natural for employees to feel fearful as they move outside their comfort zone (typically based on dependence) to exercise more independence and judgment.

Some employees are reluctant to agree outcomes and outputs in advance, even while having control over how they are achieved, because this freedom of choice and agency brings with it a new level of responsibility.  Self-awareness and self-management developed through mindfulness, and support of an empathetic manager, can help employees to take on the responsibility associated with increased agency.

Mindfulness, too, enables employees to develop clarity in relation to their role and responsibilities while enabling them to develop creative solutions.  It also helps them to build resilience, not in the sense of endurance of unreasonable demands, but in the sense of being able to bounce back from difficulties and setbacks when pursuing specific goals and outcomes in the workplace.

Relationships in the workplace are enhanced as employees develop social skills through mindfulness training and become better able to contribute to the team effort and collaborative endeavours.

Mindfulness: Enabling Managers and Employees to Build Sustainable Agency 

Mindfulness, then, enables managers to offer increased agency to employees and, in turn, assists employees to take up the opportunities and responsibility that come with increased agency.  These mutually reinforcing outcomes of mindfulness training, not only enhance productivity in the workplace but also employee wellness.

As Tali Sharot points out in her research-based book, The Influential Mind:

Just giving people a little responsibility, and reminding them that they had a choice, enhanced their well-being (p.98).

As managers grow in mindfulness, they are better equipped to provide the psychological and productivity benefits of giving increased agency to employees; on the other hand, employees trained in mindfulness are more able to take up the responsibilities and opportunities entailed in increased agency and to enjoy the satisfaction and well-being that results.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

 

Agency and Mental Health

Trade Union Congress (TUC), in their 2015 document, Work and Wellbeing: A Trade Union Resource, included concern about the management style adopted in some dysfunctional organisations and the negative impact that this had on “worker involvement, and the level of control a worker has over their work” (p.5).

Agency and Worker Participation

What the TUC is referring to here in terms of worker involvement and control over work, is often referred to as “agency” – the capacity of a worker to influence their workplace environment and to have a degree of power over the way things are done.

As discussed in an earlier post, Grow Your Influence by Letting Go, many managers are reluctant to delegate authority and responsibility for a wide range of reasons.  As pointed out in the previous blog post, most of these reasons for not delegating and sharing power are not valid and come from a fear of loss of control.  Mindfulness practices can help a manager to get in touch with, and overcome, these often-baseless fears.

The narcissistic manager represents the extreme case of not letting go because they need to be “in control” and will micro-manage to achieve a sense of total control, which is an illusory goal.  Narcissistic managers, then, work directly against this goal of agency and deprive workers of the mental health benefits that accrue to those who experience a strong sense of agency.  The behaviour of these managers in denying agency, leads to frustration, anger and mental illness.

Agency and Mental Health

The TUC report on wellbeing in the workplace, contrasts four worker situations (pp.3-5):

  1. unemployed people – substantially higher rates of mental health illness and suicide than those employed
  2. not employed in paid work – but who have access to a reasonable income level, and achieve lots of social interaction through community or other voluntary work – do not have increased physical or mental health risks
  3. employed in low pay work – with long working hours or little agency (control over their work environment and how the work is done) – “suffer the same health problems as those who are unemployed”.
  4. employed in productive workplaces – where there is a high level of agency for workers, effective people management policies and trust between managers and employees – a healthy workplace with low risk of mental health issues arising from the workplace.

Neuroscientist Tali Sharot, author of The Influential Mind, reinforces the strong relationship between the sense of agency and mental health when she stated that research shows that being able to control our environment “helps us thrive and survive”.

As managers grow in mindfulness they are able to increase their level of self-awareness, address their fears such as fear of loss of control and develop healthy workplaces where trust abounds, employees experience real agency and people management policies support the full engagement of employees.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of kalhh on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace

If you revisit the previous post and listen to Goldie Hawn’s statement about the tools and skills that children are given in MindUP™ , you come to realise that she is creating the foundations for mentally healthy workplaces . As Goldie pointed out, she set about creating a new culture, conducive to world peace, by developing children as future leaders with dignity and humanity.

In their guide, Mental Health at Work, produced by Portner Press, the authors discuss the need to create a workplace culture that is conducive to developing and maintaining mental health in the workplace. What they identify as the elements that go into making a mentally healthy workplace culture align very well with Goldie’s focus and goals.

They also align very closely with the manager development work I have been doing over more than a decade with my colleague, Julie Cork.  The Confident People Management Program that we have been facilitating for over 2,000 managers is a longitudinal, action learning program of four to six months focused on people management skills.

To create a culture that is conducive to mental health in the workplace, requires, fundamentally, an awareness of, and willingness to address, the basic needs of staff.  Staff have three basic needs, (1) tell me what is expected of me, (2) give me honest feedback about how I am doing, and (3) provide me with the resources to meet the expectations of the job.

Job expectations

Clarity around job expectations is particularly critical for creating a workplace environment that is conducive to mental health. Much stress, conflict and mental illness is caused by unclear job expectations which are manifested in role confusion, role ambiguity and/or role overlap.

Communication of expectations should cover both performance expectations and behavioural expectations. Performance expectations, in terms of the quantity and quality of work to be done, have to be reasonable and not excessive. It is okay to establish high expectations as long as you enable negotiation of those expectations and provide the requisite level of support to achieve the desired outcomes.

The other aspect of job expectations is behavioural standards. It is one thing to communicate workplace values, e.g. professionalism, it is another thing to explain these values in behavioural terms so that staff understand what is required of them behaviourally. So for a value like professionalism, a manager would need to ask, “What does professionalism look like behaviourally in our workplace context?” (or, alternatively, “what would be considered unprofessional behaviour in our context?”).

Clarity around job expectations, both performance and behavioural, is a critical first step for a mentally healthy workplace.

Feedback

An essential component for a workplace culture that is conducive to mental health is regular feedback about performance and behaviour. This involves both positive and corrective feedback.

Positive feedback builds a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy. It respects and values their contribution and encourages positivity in the workplace.

Corrective feedback is designed to correct performance/ behaviour so that the staff member can meet the job expectations. If it is provided in a professional manner it can be generate respect – the focus being on the performance/ behaviour, not the person or their personality.

In both forms of feedback, it is important that the feedback is timely, specific, accurate and sincere.

Resources

It is unreasonable and damaging to mental health to provide staff with resources that are inadequate to enable them to meet job expectations – this includes the provision of training in both performance and behavioural requirements. In terms of assisting people who have mental health issues, it is important to provide access to independent, external health professionals to give adequate support for the individual involved. What is often overlooked is the need to train managers in how to deal with mental health issues in the workplace – resulting in managers experiencing undue stress and, potentially, burnout.

Listening for understanding

If a manager is to genuinely meet the needs of staff, they have to have skills in active listening. One component of this is empathetic listening skills – the ability to understand the emotions involved for the other person, to empathise with them and to work with them to help alleviate the associated pain where possible.

Being present

Underpinning the above elements of a healthy workplace culture is the capacity of a manager to be really present to their staff.  Listening for understanding, communicating expectations and providing feedback (both positive and corrective), require the manager to be in-the-moment and really present to their staff.

As managers grow in mindfulness, they are better able to create workplace environments conducive to mental health. Kindness and gratitude form part of the emergent skill-set and these, in turn, contribute mental health and happiness, not only for staff but also for the manager.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source:  Courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay