My dad was a very good painter and decorator, eventually running his own (very small) business complete with the obligatory Trotter’s Trading Company yellow van. I used to work with him in the summer holidays and was always impressed by the quality of the work we did. However, as with a lot of specialists, whilst he was great at decorating other people’s houses, ours was a mess. It’s something that seems to happen a lot, from the obese doctor giving you advice on how to reduce your blood pressure, to the number of psychologists who seems to have relationships issues.
I joined Impact two years ago from a large multinational who were a client of ours. We used Impact for a range of issues such as teambuilding, leadership development, aligning strategy and culture and wellbeing amongst others. So, when I joined Impact I expected to find the perfect organisation, especially as we are regularly in the top 10 Best Companies to Work For list. The reality is that, whilst we are a great place to work (I am writing this looking out over Lake Windermere on a cloudless spring day having just been for a walking meeting in the Bluebell Wood), we can always apply our skills to ourselves more often.
It was with this in mind that we recently ran one of our wellbeing workshops ‘Going the Distance’ for a group of our own employees. At the end of the workshop I was genuinely surprised by how positive the feedback was from my colleagues. I knew from delivering this workshop and similar ones over the past 10 years that it worked, but this was often with people in stressful environments. We have challenges at Impact, like everyone else, but it is a supportive environment, financially successful, with challenging but rewarding roles, doing work that we believe in. So this has made me think about why the workshop was so successful and I have identified three key features.
Firstly, me time. The people who work at Impact, in my experience, are similar in that they are motivated by helping other people be as good as they can be. In line with a lot of altruistic people, they often do this at the expense of themselves. On the workshop we talk about why, on flights, we are told to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before taking care of others and how counter intuitive this seems. The reason is, that if we don’t take care of ourselves, then we will not be able to take care of others. I have run the Going the Distance workshop with a lot of people from the social enterprise sector and, quite frankly, they are one of the toughest audiences. They take a lot of persuading that if they take care of themselves then they will be able to perform better and help more people. Time for yourself means that you will be able do more not less to help others. My colleagues have started to understand this.
Next, shit happens. It doesn’t matter how strong, good, rich, fit, wonderful you are, there will be times in your life when bad things happen. Taking time to reflect and process these events is really important in order to accept them and learn from them and then carry on. Unfortunately, we are still in a world where it is seen as weak to speak about mental struggles that we all have. As the publicity around the London marathon showed, we are getting better but we have a very long way to go. The workshop gave my colleagues some space, in a supportive environment, to reflect on some stuff that they had either thought they should just ‘get over’ or that they had already finished dealing with. My dad died three years ago at age 69 and I still cry regularly when something significant reminds me or something happens with my daughters that I know he would have loved or when I need some decorating doing.
Finally, I’m alright. The workshop gives people a lot of opportunities to reflect on what they achieved, what they’ve overcome and how, on balance, their lives are. We can have a tendency to focus on our problems, “I’m not doing as well as I would like at work’ and not our successes “I am healthy, I have a great family, there are people who care about me’, ‘I have roof over my head’ etc. This is an important skill for people to learn, especially when they are under pressure. When things get tough, we have a tendency to narrow our focus onto the issue that is creating the pressure and become less aware of the bigger picture. It’s one of the reasons we make mistakes in these situations. The more we can look up and take in the bigger picture, the more we can relax slightly, see things in perspective and put ourselves in a better position to deal with the challenges we are facing.
The key lesson for me is the importance of taking the time to invest in ourselves. This will mean that we will be in a much better position to do the things that really matter for us. In the short, medium and long term we will do more of the things we love doing.