In our book “Stealing from the future and how you can stop it” we discuss our observation that far the majority of people that we work with in businesses have the ability and intention to operate at an “interdependent” level. In other words most of us set out to collaborate, share, support colleagues, team members, clients and other stakeholders.
However, we also know that there are many examples of authoritarian and controlling line managers, unwilling and unhelpful colleagues, demanding and unreasonable customers and so on. In “Stealing from the future and how you can stop it” we explore the idea that much of this behaviour is not fundamental to those individuals, but caused by different kinds of stress that “trigger” us back to lower levels of maturity in our behaviour. When triggered, instead of being the best “interdependent” version of ourselves, we become a lesser version operating from:
An Independent level of maturity where we feel the need to compete with others
A Dependent level of maturity where we struggle to take the initiative
A Self level of maturity where self preservation is our only priority.
We have worked in organisations where the very act of walking into the office is enough to trigger a majority of colleagues to an Independent level and some to a Dependent. Once you have a large number of people operating at these levels trust and collective confidence are quickly eroded by people working Independently and failing to share information, failing to collaborate and even sabotaging colleagues or by people blocking activity by waiting for instructions and decisions and failing to take the initiative. The corporate effect of such a climate can be to drastically chill productivity, to increase stress and mental health issues and to lead to sickness and staff turnover. In other words these effects have a significant cost for organisations.
The causes vary, any sort of corporate crisis from poor results to accidents and simple change projects can cause mass triggering. The quality of leadership will play a very significant role leaders who are themselves triggered will deepen and prolong the problem. Leaders who are able to maintain an Interdependent level will diminish the problems and accelerate recovery.
An aspect of triggering that we did not cover in the book is the roles that physical wellbeing plays in enabling resilience. At Holos we are fortunate to work with a remarkable array of talented and experienced colleagues. One of our colleagues Theis Husfeldt has worked across these areas of physical wellness and leadership and team and organisational culture. He has tremendous experience of creating high performance in challenging environments, both in sport and business, so the next part of this post is written by Theis to explore how organisations and individuals can improve physical well being as a route to reduced triggering, increased resilience and enhanced performance.
I have worked for many years with individuals and teams in both high performance sport and business. My background is as a professional athlete for 20 years and more recently as a Physiotherapist, Coach and Business Leader have given me a lot of experience and knowledge in this field.
The aims have been to increase results, increase performance sometimes in sports and sometimes in sales. We have always worked to inspire and transform teams to work in a performance-culture, based on trust and collaboration, as well as working with the individual psychology helping people to be more conscious about themselves as well working with the social part of communicating well and listening.
In sports teams the physical dimensions of training are at the core. In sports the combination of physical and psychological strength are key determinants of performance. In business it is far less common to work with the physical side of performance, the general expectation appears to be that people will take care of their own physical well being and the organisation only needs to work with psychological and skills development. However as Neil mentions there is a strong correlation between low physical well-being, endurance and energy and our vulnerability to being triggered into a negative spiral. Conversely there is a great deal of evidence that we have more confidence, energy and endurance, higher stress tolerance, better listening skills, higher concentration and more positive mindset when we are fitter and healthier.
How much impact does the physical part have on our performance in business and what can we do about it?
Perhaps one of the most demanding environments any of us could work in is that of a Formula one team with 21 races in 2019, every one taking place at the weekend, many being a long haul flight away and always intensely competitive. Engineers, mechanics, strategists, project managers, sales and marketing, HR and all of the usual functions have to work under extreme pressure for extended periods of time and deal well with huge emotional swings from victory to accidents and injuries. F1 teams take physical wellbeing seriously for all staff not just drivers and pitcher, because they know that it makes a difference to performance.
In a more conventional environment Drew Stevens Ph.D., a business development consultant to the medical industry and the author of “Split Second Selling,” worked with a team of more than 300 workers to see if exercise would make a difference.
“Our professionals were mostly selling professionals and marketing managers that travel frequently, eat deplorably and work out when possible,” Stevens says. “We reviewed diet, nutrition and exercise programs. After six weeks on the program of proper nutrition and exercise, there was a 81 percent difference in performance.” He adds: “There was less dozing at meetings, better closing rates on sales calls and less customer service issues.”
Of course wellness works at both ends of the performance scale with fitness reducing the number of sick days. In studies in the Netherlands workers meeting the recommendation of vigorous physical activity (active at a vigorous level for at least three times a week) had significantly less sick leave: two thirds of one day over two months, and more than four days over a year. A Finnish study concluded that ideal sleep patterns could reduce sick days by up to 28%.
So there is real commercial value in enabling the health and wellbeing of employees.
The basics of wellbeing for performance would include:
Hydration: Simply drinking enough water and avoiding or managing diuretics such as tea, coffee.
Nutrition: An emphasis on green and fresh and avoiding processed foods and too much red meat, with a suitable balance of carbs, protein and fats.
Exercise: A regular routine of cardio (walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing) with strength (weights and body weight) and flexibility (yoga and stretching) work as well.
Sleep/rest: 7 to 8 hours sleep per night complemented by downtime and meditation or mindfulness.
For most of us exercise and diet are considered fairly personal choices, it is all very well for exotic destination jobs like F1 teams or for a short term trial to interfere with personal choices, but how might a regular employer influence employee behaviour?
Let’s look at three basic wellbeing nudges that employers can make:
Many employers already have drinking fountains and fruit bowls widely available and do a good deal to encourage hydration. Generally most office canteens have a good range of healthy meal options, although perhaps more unhealthy options than would be ideal. Exercise is harder, some employers have gyms, some have cycle to work schemes and suitable parking, changing and showering facilities – few make specific time available for exercise or encourage walking meetings. Some organisations have sleep or rest rooms, Google famously has well organised meditation training and communities.
While simply making time available for wellness is probably the biggest step that many employers could make, technology also offers intriguing opportunities for support. Apps which help remind us and track hydration and nutrition could easily be made available to employees at scale, while devices such as fitness and sleep trackers and smart watches could also be made available. Sleep hypnosis apps can be as effective as sleeping pills and without the side effects for those who travel or struggle to get a good nights sleep. In the hyper competitive world of F1 some teams use gym time to help determine who gets to go to races and who does not. Some companies may wish to offer perks to those who take their health more seriously.
Humans are communal animals and we are highly influenced by the conversations and behaviours that surround us. If leaders (formal or otherwise) are seen to be doing and discussing things it will influence those around them. Ergo if leaders take their fitness and wellbeing seriously, it will encourage their team members, the converse is also true. Given all of the commercial benefits of healthy and well reseted employees, incentivising senior staff to take their health seriously is just good business.
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