February saw the end of International Coaching Week and the launch of World Happy Day. Events of this nature are designed to raise consciousness about the benefits of a particular topic or cause, or indeed the challenges of particular groups in society. We are bombarded with messages for a brief spell and then move on rapidly to the next event, cause, or campaign.
So now International Coaching Week and World Happy Day are over, is there a way to ensure well-being at work becomes sustainable, or even possible?
Stress related absence from work is at an all-time high and almost half of middle managers say they are under excessive pressure either every day or once or twice a week. The Association for Coaching UK (AC UK) believes that coaching has an important role to play in building resilience and well-being at work, particularly at a time when employees are feeling under more and more pressure.
The link between being happy at work and high productivity is well established, yet if the demanded level of high productivity is unreasonable and unrelenting it has quite the opposite effect, causing increased disenchantment, reduced motivation, absence as a result of stress and ultimately resignation. The likelihood of sustainable high performance and happiness at work is increased if certain conditions are met, but first of all let’s look at the forces that mitigate against well-being at work.
An estimated 134 million working days were lost to sickness absence in the year to June 20112, which equates to 2.1% of all working time. Since stress is now the number one reason for absence let’s consider some of the commonly recognised causes:
At risk of burn-out?
Whatever the performance arena, whether that is the office, the mountain or the racetrack, people can normally exhibit high performance in their area of expertise for short or even medium term bursts of output. However, it is obvious that if this high level of output is required over an excessive period the performance will drop or the performer will simply not have enough time for recovery between expected outputs and will burn out.
For someone with high expectations about their own performance, and for high achievers, this is particularly stressful. It is also very demotivating and the longer it continues, the greater the demotivation and sense of defeat. This puts stress on both body and mind.
Impact of line management behaviours
Apart from sole traders, all other people engaged in a business have internal relationships as well as external facing relationships, the majority of people as employees. A high number of absences and departures relate specifically to human relations within the workplace and CIPD have reported that 4 in 10 managers are ineffective. It is critical that line managers pay attention to the impact of their behaviours and requests.
Suffering from anxiety?
In the recent environment, this has created a wave of anxiety among various sectors of the working community. As unemployment and inflation have risen, greater pressure has been exerted on those whose job security is fundamental to the happiness and security of themselves and their families.
Working long hours?
Spending long hours in a place which is not conducive to the required work is stressful. Open plan offices which save space and are reputed to give employees better opportunities to build relationships can be noisy and stressful. It’s difficult to find an article which argues for the benefits, but many thousands on the negative impact.
How do you match your personal goals & values?
So with all these factors mitigating against well-being at work what can be done to create a sustainable agenda for well-being and to help people to be happy at work?
The Association for Coaching believes that coaching provides just such an antidote to enable sustainable well-being, when used as part of an overall well-being strategy.
The links between mental well-being and physical well-being are now taken for granted. The best conditions for mental well-being include the ability to develop one’s potential, do productive and creative work, build strong and positive relationships and contribute to community. It is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil their personal and social goals and achieve a sense of purpose.
A mismatch between organisational culture and personal goals, values and purpose can create stress and tension in the workplace and working with a coach can help people to think through and identify points of conflict and take steps to resolve conflict. Personal values, if harnessed, can be a tremendous motivation, but if these are contrary to the behaviours expected in the workplace, or are polar opposites of the culture within which someone is working then sustainable well-being is placed in jeopardy. Clarifying a sense of purpose, personal values and personal goals are often at the heart of Professional Coaching, and the Association for Coaching believes that coaching can provide the conditions to improve mental well-being in the workplace.
The balance between work and the other parts of life is a delicate one in a society which sees workers in the UK working longer and longer hours, many of them longer than our European counterparts. It is critical for people to be able to balance the needs of self, family and the workplace in a way which is sustainable over the longer term. Many companies are now offering flexible working as a means of giving people as much choice as possible over their working lives. Again, working with a coach can offer people an opportunity to think through the best approach to keeping a balance over the demands of varying aspects of life, with someone who is non-biased.
Sustainable well-being in the workplace will also be influenced by the resilience of the individual, and the behaviours and tactics people adopt to minimise the risk to their health and well-being from the long hours culture. However, there is evidence that resilience can be developed and again coaching can help people explore current levels of personal resilience and develop strategies to improve and develop resilience.
In short, sustainable well-being at work is possible. However, it requires action on the part of both employer and employee. For individuals it is important that whether your organisation provides it or not, you take responsibility for your own well-being and invest in your mental and physical health. Even a short coaching programme or on-going low frequency programme can make the difference between being happy and well at work, and being one of the statistics.