World Mental Health day today then. It’s trending on Twitter under three different hashtags, several more on Instagram, Linked In has articles on it, people are posting memes on Facebook. I’ve also had emails on it, telling me what organisations are doing to raise awareness of mental health issues.
This is all very well, and I’m not saying it won’t help for people to be more aware and more sensitive to the issues surrounding mental illness.
But what really winds me up is organisations talking about what they’re doing to ‘raise awareness’, and what they’re not talking about is stress at work. How much is the workplace the cause of the mental health issues their people are experiencing? Are they working in poor conditions? Too much work leading to long hours? A culture that frowns upon anyone who leaves on time or doesn’t get in extra early? Having to take work home? A micromanager? A bully for a manager? Or management by absence?
I listened to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce podcast today, with interviewees from two large organisations in Birmingham talking about what they’re doing about mental health. Apart from a mention that work addiction is an addiction too, there was nothing about the role the workplace plays in causing mental health issues. There was a lot of talk about raising awareness.
Now these two businesses might be great places to work, but equally, they may be creating stress for their employees. If they’re not talking about it, chances are, nothing is being done about it. If their people have any of the issues I mentioned causing them stress at work, what are these organisations doing to address that problem? Are there genuine solutions available to them, and are they encouraged to take them up?
Birmingham Chamber also says that poor mental health and wellbeing is costing the West Midlands region more than £12 billion a year. The CIPD’s annual survey into health and wellbeing at work shows that stress is one of the top three causes of long term absences across all sectors, and the top cause of long term absence in the public and non-profit sectors. So it really doesn’t pay to ignore this issue.
One exception I did find on Twitter is Prof Sir Cary Cooper, speaking at the Mad World conference. He says that employers need to identify what could be damaging workers’ wellbeing, instead of looking for quick fixes like mindfulness at lunch. Prof Cooper is a professor of organisational psychology and health at MBS Manchester University, so has some authority to make these observations. Although it’s so obvious that if people are overworked for long periods of time, they’ll get stressed, and that will eventually result in sickness absence, I don’t understand why more employers don’t see this.
If you’re overworked and it’s having an effect on your mental health, I recommend you read How to do a great job and go home on time by Fergus O’Connell. It has some great strategies to deal with this problem. This book review tells you a little more about it.
O’Connell, Fergus 2005 How to do a great job and go home on time Pearson Education Limited, Harlow
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I recently delivered a short session on personal branding for a group of young people, on a Fastlaners course run by Uprising. Uprising is a youth charity, and Fastlaners is a short course to help ambitious young people with their careers.
A little bit of a departure for me – while I’ve done plenty of sessions for groups of young people, I’d never done personal branding before. But hey – I could do that.
I found while I was preparing that there’s quite a lot of cross over with stuff I’ve done before, stuff I’d done in the recent series of #abookintwominutes, and things related to confidence and public speaking.
We’re hearing a lot about how millennials (I think they still count as millennials? What have we decided to name the people after millennials?) don’t want to work hard, don’t want to get off their phones, don’t have any loyalty to their employers. In short, they want it all their own way.
I don’t believe this is true. The young people in this group all want to get on in the world, they all want decent jobs. I don’t think they’re that different to most others in this respect. Oh, and I didn’t see one mobile phone in the session I delivered.
On the other hand, I believe setting their own terms is a good thing. Why would they have any loyalty to an employer who doesn’t care about them as employees?
A couple of issues I wasn’t expecting came up, and mainly at the end, when they started asking questions about my background. And I realised I’d missed some opportunities. So here's the advice I gave them, and some I wish I ‘d given them.
I was asked, how do you have enough confidence? We talked about things like, fake it till you make it. Some the group were quieter and said little, others were more vocal. Either is fine, it’s all about your personality.
There are two types of confidence. There is the inner confidence in yourself – maybe self esteem is more accurate. The knowledge that you are worth something and have something to offer. I hope all the young people in the group have this – well, all young people to be honest. If not, seek help. Read books on confidence, change your beliefs about yourself, get professional help such as counselling if necessary.
The second is dependent on the situation. I don’t like driving. I’m confident enough to drive a short way, or even further if it’s a route I know, but not confident to take the motorway to Manchester for example. More on this can be found in this earlier post
There are ways to look and sound more confident, even if you don’t feel it.
One young woman told me how she wanted to find work in fine art and illustration. She had earned a degree in this, and had some relevant voluntary work experience. However, she is looking for work in the retail sector, so she can get some actual work experience on her CV. Whilst I admire her pragmatism, it would be a real pity for her to not pursue her real desire. What I wish I’d suggested is – get out there. Even if you are working in retail, blog, vlog, Instagram, Pinterest, podcast, whatever social media works in your desired field, do something and get out there.
I recently read Crushing It by Gary Vaynerchuk, and he is a big advocate of using social medial for your personal brand, to raise profile. Do this, and when you’re ready to make the transition to your chosen field, you have some assets, a track record, instead of having a standing start. I recommend a read of Crushing It, it’s an uplifting book as well as practical.
I mentioned the Rules of Work by Richard Templar. There is a lot of practical advice in there on how to get on at work, but there were one or two bits I disagreed with. However, fitting in, learn the system and make the most of it is practical advice. Not in a cynical or dishonest way, but fitting in to the workplace culture is a must. If it’s a poor fit for you, do your best while you look for something else. You spend a big chunk of your life at work – if you don’t fit, it leads to a miserable existence. I know, I’ve been there.
I mentioned the job early in my career when I was bullied by a manager, and was asked how to deal with this. Not expecting the question, I don’t think I was very reassuring, and I hope I didn’t create fear around this. Whilst it can happen, it isn’t a certainty in everyone’s career. How to deal with it effectively? This is a lot easier if you have inner confidence (see 1 above).
If it happens – if someone makes aggressive or passive aggressive comments to you, the best way is to deal with it immediately. Let them know you understand what they’re doing, that you expect to be treated with respect and won't play mind games.
If things do get out of hand, go to your HR department or another manager for help. There are resources out there should you find yourself in this situation, and this earlier post gives more details.
Have a clear idea what’s important to you. What are your values, what does work mean for you? Your’re entitled to look for this. Yes, you have to play your part too, but being assertive and confident in what you want out of life and expecting to get it as a reward for everything you put in isn’t too much to ask.
We talked a lot about authenticity and integrity, and examining your values in this way can help you to bring your best self to work.
It was a pleasure to meet you all, and I wish you all the luck in the world in finding work you love. And if any of you do start a blog, vlog, podcast or something else, let me know, I’ll be delighted to share it on.
Apparently, we love it more than we love a pay rise. (Ok, that assumes we’ve already got enough to live on, and I know that unfortunately there are too many people who can’t say that. I don’t think that’s right, and we should do something about that. But that’s not the problem I’m working on today.)
A 2012 study at Berkeley university found that while a pay rise briefly made us feel appreciated, a far better indication was the respect and admiration of our peers. We do love a pay rise – let’s be honest, even if you’re not mainly motivated by money, a bit more is usually good. However, the feel good factor soon wears off, and we get used to that extra income pretty quickly. According to that study though, we never get used to feeling the respect and admiration of our peers.
What happens if we don’t get respect and admiration? A friend of mine used to work as a teaching assistant, working with children who had special needs, to help them integrate into mainstream education. A worthwhile and rewarding job, you’d think. And she did love the children, and enjoyed helping them with their schooling. But the teachers in this particular school saw the job as low importance and she always felt that the head teacher didn’t value her contribution or that she was a useful member of the team. Unsurprisingly, she eventually left.
Failure, burnout, stress, no motivation – these are all symptoms when you don’t feel appreciated at work. They are common in jobs like call centre work, retail, low paid work. And of course results in lots of stress and high turnover of staff.
So let me turn this around – if you’re a manager, how often do you show your appreciation for your team? Do they feel respected and valued? How many of your team have the respect and admiration of the rest of the team?
You might think you’re too busy to show appreciation. But as a manager of staff, that’s a key element of your job. And yes, I understand you need that too. Which brings us to workplace culture. If you have a culture of ‘too busy’, stressful, no time, don’t care about people, then you get what you deserve – people who are too busy to do a good job, people who are too stressed to give their best, people who will leave as soon as something that looks better comes along.
Even call centres can have a culture of looking after their staff. The Admiral Group is regularly named as one of the best places to work. In his account of working part time at their Cardiff call centre, James Bloodworth says
‘…even dull jobs could be made bearable for the workforce without any real cost to employers. Working in the retentions department of a car insurance firm was as dull as I had expected it to be. Yet the company did make a serious effort to ensure that it was not the sort of workplace that, sat at home watching Coronation Street in the evening, you dreaded returning to the next day. It was tolerable, and most of the staff I spoke to seemed if not to enjoy it then at least not to find it too oppressive, even if I thought they should be paid more.’
Hired. Six months undercover in low-wage Britain, James Bloodworth (2018) Atlantic Books, London p1 185-6
The more valued we feel, the better we work. Those who regularly receive praise and thanks for a job well done are more likely to go the extra mile when it’s needed.
If you want to know how to change the culture in your workplace to one that fosters a culture of worth and appreciation, give me a call and we’ll talk about how Silvern Training can help.
Speak to Lindsay on 07976 816704
 Anderson, C et al ‘The Local-Ladder Effect: Social Status and Subjective Well-Being’, Psychological Science 23 (2012): 764-71. Quoted in Friedman, R 2014 The Best Place to Work Penguin Group New York
A quick Google search on what do employees complain about shows that communication crops up in most top 10s. An Inc article on how to make sure your employees never complain about you as a boss puts clearly communicating performance expectations at number 1. Another top 10 puts communication problems above not paid enough, job insecurity and a bad boss. A You Gov poll said that 94% of managers believe they are good listeners; only 65% of their staff agreed.
I remember when I worked at a largish charity a few years ago, we did a quality audit, using the EFQM model, and one of the key areas where we fell short was on communication. My particular grievance was that I felt left out of too many conversations, I didn’t know everything that was going on. While this might well be a personality fault – perhaps I’m too nosey – but I felt that as a fundraiser, I needed to have a good understanding of what was going on across the organisation. I hated finding out that someone else was doing a funding bid and I didn’t know it was going on, or needed funding urgently for a project, but then I couldn’t get the information I needed to apply for appropriate funding.
At the same time, we had lots of meetings. I attended lots of meetings, even without the ones I complained about not being involved in. And then I hated sitting there listening to people talking at length about the problems they were having, or some meeting they’d had and had to give us a blow by blow account of who said what to whom. Just give me the headlines, dammit!
Of course, with hindsight, I can see that the organisation had good intent, but just needed to get smarter about how it shared information. Peter Drucker, in his seminal book Managing Oneself, describes people as readers or listeners. Some people like to read for information, others like to be told it, to get an oral report. I realise now that, whilst I love to talk, and developing my skills as a listener, I get too bored if I have to listen too long to something, especially if I’m not involved. Conversation – I love a good conversation, but meetings aren’t about conversation. Give me a written report that contains the information I need, please. Meetings should have a specific agenda, good discipline about sticking to it, but most of all be necessary to meet a defined purpose. There are other, more effective, ways to share information
Another complaint often heard about communication at work is too many emails. Some organisations have a tendency to send long emails, cc ing in anyone they think needs to be kept informed. One charity worker I spoke to said the bane of her life was long emails, where she had to spend ages reading through to check if there was anything she needed to know or needed to do, buried somewhere in the missive. Often there wasn’t. But sometimes there was, so she still had to read them. And another manager complained that people sent him an email to ask a question, rather than get up, walk to another desk, ask him the question, sort it out straight away. On the other hand, if you have a culture of always open, you’ll be constantly interrupted, so this can have its drawbacks too.
One of the most crucial, and underrated, communication skills is listening. 94% of managers believe they are good listeners. But only 65% of staff say their managers are good listeners. So it sounds as though a significant proportion of managers are deluding themselves. The You Gov poll asked what is the biggest mistake leaders make when working with others? 41% said inappropriate communication or poor listening. When asked to choose the top five from a list of potential missteps by leaders, 81% chose failing to listen or involve others.
Why is it important? If we go back to my experience of feeling left out, as well as paradoxically hating to waste time in meetings, this taps into some fundamental feelings about work. My sense of belonging, how engaged was I with the purpose of the organisation and my role in it, was I clear on what was expected of me? Was my contribution valued? With hindsight, I accept that it was, this organisation had so much good intent, but there were some things it could have done better. As well as communication, several staff complained that they didn’t feel appreciated. If they had communicated this better, motivation and morale would have been way higher.
It’s not easy, but the rewards are worth it. Sometimes, your staff won’t know what they need, like me simultaneously complaining about not being involved in meetings, and going to meetings that are a waste of time. Back then, if someone had taken the time to work out what my actual complaint was, and consider my preferred style of communication, the problem could have been resolved. However, throw in that other team members will have differing needs, and you see how complex this can get.
Here are five techniques that work, one of them, or a combination, may be right for you.
Whether you can improve your communication with a simple fix will depend on what your workplace culture is like at present. If you have generally good leaders and managers who are willing to work on their skills, then a few changes can make all the difference. However, if there are wider problems and the other Pam Cast principles are not an integral part of your culture, then the techniques above will be like putting a sticking plaster over a wound that needs stitches. If you’re afraid this is you, take the questionnaire now and see what your strengths and weaknesses are.[WPMKTENGINECTA id=”20c4f399329e401380″ align=”center” hastime=”false”]
 Murray, K 2017 People with purpose, Kogan Page, London p 186
How much do you invest in training and coaching your team? Does everyone feel they are good at what they do and take pride in becoming even better?
My husband runs the family tool hire business, and every now and again, asks me to go in and cover for him for a couple of hours. He works alone, so if he needs to make a delivery during the day, I get to go in and be the sales assistant. It’s fine, until someone comes in and asks for something.
Firstly, I struggle with the stock control on the computer – I’m not that familiar with it, so it takes me a while to work out if we’ve got an angle grinder available. Once I’ve established that we have, the next problem is that a) I don’t know what it looks like; b) I don’t know where we keep it on the shelves; and c) don’t know what disc you need to for the job you want to do.
So I end up feeling useless and incompetent, and just hate being there. It’s really not a nice feeling. And yes, if I worked there full time, I’d learn and improve, but because I don’t that feeling of incompetence arises every time I’m on the premises. Also, it’s his business, he wants it run his way, so I don’t get much autonomy either.
We return again to Daniel Pink, and his book Drive; the surprising truth about what motivates us. As well as purpose and autonomy, there’s mastery. To develop mastery we need three things.
How is this relevant to you as a manager? I’ll introduce another writer here, Cal Newport. In his book, So Good they can’t Ignore You, he contrasts the passion mindset with the craftsman mindset. He uses the example of a young man who composes guitar and banjo music, and how he practices small sections repeatedly. You may have bought into the premise that you should find work that you’re passionate about, if work is your passion you’ll never have to work a day in your life. I certainly did. Newport says this is all wrong, for many reasons I don’t have time to explore now. But one that’s relevant for our purposes, Newport says this is all about what the job can do for you. Contrast this with the craftsman approach, which is all about what you can bring to the job, what value you add. If you take this approach to your job as a manager, how can I be a better manager today than I was yesterday, how can I continue to improve and learn more about serving my team, then you will be adding tremendous value to your organisation. If you can encourage your team to take the same approach, then they too will continue to grow, improve and add more value to your organisation.
Through this approach, you will develop passion, find motivation and have moments of flow, which is beneficial to your wellbeing. It’s a win-win. You and your team will be adding value to your organisation, and as a result your motivation and wellbeing increase.
If you want to master your team by developing the craftsman mindset, I’d love to hear from you. What do you think of this idea? Let me know in the comments below.
How much do you hate being told what to do? It’s one of my pet hates – tell me what to do, and I’m likely to do the opposite, even if what you’re telling me is what I was going to do anyway. Except… can’t really do that at work, if you want to keep the job.
Control is the flip side of autonomy. We’ve all come across those managers who keep a close eye, micromanage, make a song and dance if you’re even a couple of minutes late getting in to the office. You might even be the kind of manager who likes to keep a close eye on your team, afraid that they won’t get on with it if you don’t.
I once worked for a manager who kept all the bigger picture information, about the key strategies and objectives, in his head. He only shared what he thought he needed to, jobs were allocated as and when he wanted them done, usually with detailed instructions. He’d be checking how we got on. As a result, no one showed any initiative, and waited for his approval before getting on with stuff. In turn, he’d be really frustrated that no-one showed initiative, setting up an unvirtuous circle.
Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive; the surprising truth about what motivates us, says there are three things, autonomy, mastery and purpose, and that autonomy is the most important. There are four ways we can exercise autonomy
Different people will prefer autonomy over different elements, and it may be a little more difficult to have control over who you work with; you may have inherited a team, or joined an existing team. There’s still some room for creativity though.
Why is this important? According to Pink, the old fashioned style of management is ineffective at motivating us. He gives examples of a results only work environment, where employees can decide for themselves how they go about their work, and when it’s done. Night owls can work at midnight if they like. They are accountable for results of course, but the results are typically an improvement on the old style of management – a 35% increase in productivity in one example. Another successful initiative is allowing 20% of time to be spent on a side project. Employees are allowed to spend one day a week working on a project of their choosing, working with who they’d like. Google is maybe the best known of these employers, and has made a great deal of money from side projects like gmail, and other organisations have also had success with this.
What issues does this raise for you? You can harness the power of autonomy for your team if you're a manager, and will all reap the benefits. If you're only responsible for you, there are ways you can craft your work to develop your own autonomy. If you want some ideas how, please leave a comment below.
You can also find out more about Daniel Pink's book here.
What’s your purpose? Do you have a clear idea? Do you live every day to fulfil that purpose? What does the question even mean?
You may have some ideas – if you’re a family man or woman, you might view your purpose as raising the best children you can, if you’re religious (I’m not) you might have a clear idea of what God’s work is for you. But what if you’re not? Or you think that fine, I’ll agree that one of my purposes is to bring up a happy healthy family, but surely that’s not my only purpose? (I’m a feminist, so yeah, that.) So what about at work, what’s your purpose at work?
I believe that the work we do is intrinsic to our identity and self esteem. You meet someone new, fairly early on they ask, ‘What do you do?’ How you feel about your work is bound up in how you feel about yourself. If you can give an answer with which you’re proud, or at least comfortable, you feel better about yourself. If you don’t like what you do, you’ll show this in your reply to your new acquaintance.
I’ve worked in all types of organisations, and many years ago I worked in the civil service. One job involved collecting unpaid taxes, including prosecuting evaders. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think we should all pay our taxes, and if not, we should be responsible for the consequences of paying a penalty. I just didn’t want the be the one chasing them, especially for a government whose policies I largely disagreed with.
That job didn’t end well for me – I had a major disagreement with my manager. She wanted to maximise income – I’m sure you could argue that was a legitimate purpose for the job. I thought we were persecuting motorists and the penalties were not in proportion to the offences, and my team thought the same. The purpose of the job just wasn’t a good match for my personal values, and I eventually left the civil service to work in the charity sector.
This anecdote also demonstrates that what works to make one person proud can make another uncomfortable. ‘I’m a civil servant’ – it’s fine to be proud of that. ‘I’m a tax collector’ – also a worthy purpose, but I just didn’t feel comfortable saying so.
From Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, via Daniel Pink’s Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, to Kevin Murray’s People with purpose, authors and researchers are showing us how purpose makes a difference with our motivation and productivity at work. According to Murray, your job as a leader is to give everyone in your team or organisation a greater sense of purpose. It delivers better performance and faster growth. Employees live longer, have fewer illnesses (less sickness absence) happier lives and feel fulfilled.
Murray also inadvertently demonstrates what can happen if you haven’t nailed this. He gives the example of Monarch Airlines, and how they saved the business from the brink of collapse. This was in 2014. They also teetered on the brink again in 2016 and were saved. Only to collapse the following year, September/October 2017. His case study talks about how they reviewed their purpose, mission, values and goals, got feedback from employees, buy in from the managers. The CEO seemed to be going about things in the right way, but the framework for success was, to my mind, still full of management speak and jargon. The purpose – ‘to show we care’. Care about what? Their medium term vision was double passengers and double margin. There were six strategic goals, four about finances, one about customer satisfaction and one about employee satisfaction (the last one on the list). Hmm, so that’s what they mostly care about then, profit.
Surely the purpose was to get people to fabulous holiday destinations? Have a wonderful journey? Or for the holiday division, to make sure people had fabulous holidays? I accept that there were other factors in the collapse, economic and Brexit, but I still think they got it wrong with their culture change.
The non profit sector has a head start in this – we’re already thinking about more than profit. Tapping into this for your organisation will increase your team’s productivity and create more value for your stakeholders.
Knowing the point of what you’re doing, and getting the meaning of it. Being engaged in the mission, vision and values of your organisation. And your team all get it too. The non profit sector is full of people who joined because they believe in its purpose, but sometimes, in the pressure of being overwhelmed, stressed and overworked, this can get lost.
If you would like to reconnect with your purpose, and help your team re engage too, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know, what are the challenges you’re facing right now? Leave your comment below.
 Ibid pp 170-6
Knowing the point of what you’re doing, and getting the meaning of it. Being engaged in the mission, vision and values of your organisation. And your team all get it too. The non profit sector is full of people who joined because they believe in its purpose, but sometimes, in the pressure of being overwhelmed, stressed and overworked, this can get lost.
Reconnect with the purpose of your organisation, and help your team reconnect too, and everyone will feel the sense of achievement that comes with doing something worthwhile.
Once your team has clarity on what is expected of them, leave them alone to get on with it. If you’ve delegated the task, delegate the power for them to decide how to carry out the task. All you need concern yourself with is the outcome and when it needs to be done.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should wash your hands of all responsibility. As well as ensuring your team understand what success looks like, they must also know that they can come to you if they need help or it’s going wrong in some way. But don’t be looking over their shoulder and micromanaging. Everyone hates that.
We all like to feel that we’re good at something. On occasions, I’ve had to cover for my husband’s business – dealing with tools like angle grinders and reciprocating saws. No, I don’t know the difference, and I hate the feeling of incompetence when someone asks me something I have no clue about. So make sure
· You recruit people with an aptitude for the work you need doing
· Equip them and train them for the work
· Continue to support them and give them room to grow
Look at the communication culture within your organisation. Is everything done on email, even though you could get up and go talk to someone a few desks away? Or do you have the opposite problem, anyone thinks nothing of interrupting someone deep in concentration on a lengthy report or statistical analysis? Do you have endless unproductive meetings? Or never keep people informed of what’s going on so they feel left out?
It's important to have good systems of communication so that you can strike that balance of keeping people in the loop, without wasting their time on too much information. A team manager in the banking sector holds a 30 minute skype call every morning at 8.30 with her team, and finds it a great way to ensure clarity amongst her team. That might not be quite right for you, but think about what might work and give it a try.
We all thrive on praise, even those who think they’re motivated by money. If we feel truly valued at work, we work better. When there are problems, we are more likely to stay late if needed, get in early, do whatever it takes to achieve the desired outcome, when we know that our efforts are appreciated. The appreciation comes first though – if we don’t feel valued, we don’t go the extra mile. If we already know we’re valued, then we will. So it’s up to you to make sure your team knows you appreciate them and their work.
Research has shown that people who have a friend at work tend to stay longer with an organisation. That feeling of support, knowing that someone cares about you, makes a big difference to our work experience.
Take it a step further, and if we know our managers care about us, that our organisation has our back, this helps to create that feeling of being valued. Like appreciation, the support has to come first. If someone is having difficulties, show them that you care by giving practical support. If they’re having difficulty with a task and you can help, then help. Expect others to help too, work together as a team. Prioritise as a team, rather than work in isolation.
It’s not just work difficulties where we need support. A friend’s wife is seriously ill in hospital, and he’s spending every evening after work visiting. His employer allowed him time off without limiting it when the accident first happened, and again when she took a turn for the worse. How much more stress would it cause if he was worried about losing his job as well as losing his wife?
Probably most crucial of all is trust. It’s fundamental to how we work, and if it’s not there, it will take a long time to develop. It won’t develop without the other six factors mentioned above, it can’t exist in a vacuum. But as the manager, you can lead the way. Show your team you trust them by communicating the purpose clearly, giving them the autonomy to manage themselves, investing in their growth and mastery, communicating effectively, appreciate what they’re doing, giving them support when they need it, so that they know you sincerely have their backs, and they will grow to trust you.
Do all this, and your workplace will be phenomenal. I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy, but the results will be worth it.
Want to know where to start?
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There are a lot of changes afoot in the world of work, and the non profit sector isn’t protected from them. In fact, it can be even more volatile than the private sector in some ways.
I wrote some time ago about workplace culture, but now I want to take it wider and look at a bigger picture of trends affecting non profit sector workplaces. What else is going on in the world of work that can affect how much you enjoy your work and how effective your team are? This post aims to look at the wider picture. Workplace culture has an effect on employee engagement, and we’ll have a look at that, as well as trends in employment generally, like zero hours contracts, part time and self employed working, and what’s happening in the voluntary sector. We’ll briefly cover some recent studies into the future of work and productivity, and the changes that technology is likely to bring.
The government is celebrating highest levels of employment since records began in 1971, but in the meantime, many charities are all too well aware that levels of poverty, including in work poverty, are increasing problems. The level of employment masks a growth in part time work, zero hours contracts and self employment – much of which is low paid, or not really self employment such as delivery driving. The voluntary sector is a big employer of part time staff, a significant proportion of whom would like more hours, and the highest proportion of staff on temporary contracts, so high levels of uncertainty and instability. Many people in the sector know that they are trading better pay and long term prospects for making a difference in the world, but that doesn’t mean they won’t suffer the consequences of low pay and uncertain employment status.
Skills shortages are affecting all sectors, though information on the non profit sector specifically is hard to come by. Despite the recent election and the challenges of Brexit, there are a few government reports that address the issue of work. The recent Taylor review of modern working practices examines what constitutes good work, and BEIS issued a green paper, to be followed in due course with a white paper, on the UK industrial strategy. (References are provided in the full report, available to download.)
And what about technology? It's hard to say how much this will affect the non profit sector, or how, but what is certain is that there will be changes. Some jobs will go, and others will be created in their place, and those who can adapt, as always, will weather the storm best. Jobs that need the human touch won’t be taken on by AI or robotics though. The data input finance person will be replaced, but the finance director won’t. Fundraisers won’t be replaced. Care staff will still be needed.
Ever since the banking crisis in 2008, the sector has been suffering from the financial squeeze. Voluntary funding is recovering slowly, but still not up to pre recession levels. Earned income has been rising slowly, to some extent compensating for this. But charities are having to do more with less, with rising demand for services in the wake of a shrinking public sector. Local authorities are fast approaching the point where they can only just about meet their statutory obligations, according to one report, and there will be little or nothing left for other services, leaving the non profit sector to fill in the gaps.
At the same time, public trust in charities is declining, possibly because of the unfavourable press they’ve received. This has led to a change in the regulatory framework. Whilst still called self regulated, I find it a bit of a stretch when we’re subject to some of the same regulations as other organisations, plus charity law. There is now the new Fundraising Regulator to monitor our fundraising communications, and the advent of GDPR law that comes into effect next May.
All this has cost implications for organisations. Not just in the sense of running costs, overheads, but in the effects they have on the leadership and staff. Productivity drops when people feel overwhelmed and overworked and unappreciated. Since the recession, government and business thinkers have been puzzled by the drop in UK productivity. Equally, there are those who link productivity to motivation, employee engagement and other factors at work. I previously said my favourite definition of workplace culture is the by product of consistent behaviour, and if you have a team who feel overworked and underappreciated, I’ll wager you have a culture you don’t really want. You may even have stated aims that run counter to this, but stated aims mean nothing in the face of consistent behaviour.
Sickness absence continues to be a cost for organisations, and stress is the biggest cause of long term absence. Presenteeism (where people come to work even though they are ill) is reported to be rising. Staff turnover is difficult to quantify for the non profit sector as a whole, but the costs of fully trained and experienced staff leaving, recruitment and training to replace them are undeniable.
Employee engagement is becoming a bit of a buzzword, but Gallup have been collecting figures on this for a decade, and their findings are remarkably consistent over this time; fully engaged staff are a minority. UK figures are not easy to find, and non profit sectors even thinner on the ground. If you’ve done a staff survey that may give you some indication about your organisation. But just measuring it and finding out if it’s low isn’t enough, what actions are you taking as a result of your findings? Engaged staff are committed to the purpose, enthusiastic advocates for your organisation, are more productive, stay longer and are less prone to sickness absence. What is it costing you to have staff who are not fully engaged? What is the cost of the actual culture being at odds with the culture you want to foster?
We live in interesting times, as the old saying goes. There are many challenges facing the non profit sector, and I’ve only really scratched the surface here, focusing on matters that will affect those employed in the sector.
With the challenges you’re facing – a difficult jobs market, skills shortages, rising demand for services, changes to the regulatory framework, technology, it makes sense to do what you can about the things you have some control over - overwork, stress, low productivity, absenteeism and high staff turnover. By making some changes to your leadership and management style, you can quickly increase engagement and notice the benefits of a better workplace.
I know from many years working in and with the non profit sector, it's full of people who are committed to doing their very best to make a difference in the world and help those with less.
By taking steps to make the workplace better, you're not just helping the people you work with, you're making a massive impact for the people your organisation serves too.
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