How to Stay Cool When Under Pressure

Pressure and stress are all too common in today’s modern workplaces. The good news is that although stress is an instinctive reaction, there’s always a short moment as the stress response kicks in where we can choose whether to respond constructively or react impulsively.

When in a state of stress, the body takes one of three options. Fight, flight or freeze. This is a natural instinct that happens automatically, yet it’s entirely possible to manage our stress responses so they happen less often and less strongly. These skills are particularly useful in times of pressure and challenges that all of us face at different times in our lives.

The key is to learn how to control and manage your stress responses when they come up.

This, as we all know, is a feat that’s easier said than done. It takes practice. And then some more practice. But it is possible and the outcome is worth the effort.

The better you become at managing stress-related feelings, the calmer and more resilient you will become over time.

And who doesn’t want to feel calm as often as possible?

Action Steps

So how do you stay calm and reduce feelings of stress when you’re under pressure?

Here are four ways that all make a positive difference…

1. Self soothing
Self-soothing isn’t just for newborn babies. It’s for full-grown adults too. Self-soothing can be achieved by any number of ways that suit you and your lifestyle, as long as their end result is to calm your body and your mind. Think yoga, mindfulness, spending time in nature, deep breathing…

Create your own go-to set of soothing techniques to use whenever you are under pressure. They will help to reduce the intensity and duration of your stress.

2. Minding your language
Words matter. They can inflame a situation as quickly as they can diffuse one. So aim to keep your words positive, both to yourself and to others. Positive statements such as “I can handle this”, “We’ll get through this together” or “One step at a time” are simple to do but are powerful contributors to keeping yourself calm and strong in pressure situations.

3. Cutting to essentials only
Clear the clutter so you can see the wood from the trees. Defer as many non-urgent, non-essential tasks as possible. Reducing these distractions will allow you clear air to breathe and get through the challenge at hand.

4. Seeking support
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether from colleagues, friends, family or support services, don’t shy away from calling in some favours or seeking assistance. If the budget allows, hire in help. Try to reduce the load you are carrying by whatever means possible.

Above all, be proactive in managing your stress and maintaining your wellbeing. It’ll make life much more enjoyable. And it’ll ensure that you can be calm and strong when pressure and challenges arise.

What could you do to proactively manage your stress and maintain your wellbeing?

Limiting the Effects of Toxic People on Your Wellbeing

We’re often reminded of the importance of limiting harmful toxins for our body. There are warning labels on certain foods, documentaries made, and even cleanse diets to rid our body of harmful toxins. Should we not enforce such warnings when it comes to the people we surround ourselves with?

Toxic people can wear down your mental and emotional wellbeing in the same way that a steady stream of junk food can throw your body out of sync.

You’ll no doubt be familiar with the traits of toxic people. Their behaviour is predominately negative. They are generally critical, self-absorbed and often create drama around them. They’re the people you feel a sense of dread rise up from your feet to your heart when you see them.

Sound familiar?

If so, the key is in how you manage these relationships. It’s often not possible to avoid these people completely or to expel them from our lives – particularly at work and particularly as we move into the festive season.

The most effective way is to limit the amount of time and energy that you put to the interactions, so that their negative energy doesn’t adversely affect your positive mood, energy and attitude.

Action Steps

1. Limit how often and how long
Set limits on how much time you spend with them. If your time is an obligation you can’t avoid, try to shorten the duration and frequency of your interactions.

2. Limit your emotional engagement
This may be difficult but do try to not take on their energy and opinions. Listen politely but keep an emotional distance to preserve your values and opinions.

3. Limit the interactions if they turn negative
Negativity can breed negativity so set boundaries and stick to them. If they try to engage you in negative behaviours such as gossiping or complaining, try to limit the interaction and exit the situation at your earliest opportunity.

Caring for your mental and emotional wellbeing involves many of the same principles as caring for your physical wellbeing – including limiting unhealthy influences.

Who comes to mind first when you think of ‘toxic people’? What steps might you take to limit the effects of that person on your wellbeing?

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When You Hate Your Job But Can’t Quit

Here’s the thing… we’re often told to ‘do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’. That would be lovely wouldn’t it!

But the reality is that sometimes it’s just not possible at particular points in our lives. There are often little mouths to feed, mortgages to pay, and lives to be lived. And of course, they all cost money. Your body and mind might want you to quit but you can’t. The wheels just need to keep on turning.

Surveys show that the majority of everyday folk DON’T love their day job. People who do are definitely the lucky ones.

Yet, hope is not lost for everyone else. There are things you can do to improve your experience of work. It’s about being proactive, not passively waiting and wishing for your job to bring you ongoing happiness.

Action Steps

Here are 5 simple ways to make your job more enjoyable on a day-to-day basis…

1. Build new relationships
Positive and supportive relationships are crucial for our wellbeing. Take the opportunity to get to know your colleagues better. If you already have a staff buddy, step outside of your inner circle a bit. Make it a priority to get to know people outside your work team and build new friendships.

2. Look to learn
Actively seek ways to broaden your knowledge. Put your hand up for a new project, volunteer for a committee, or help someone who’s feeling overloaded. This may offer you new perspectives and new opportunities.

3. Use your breaks wisely
Instead of stuffing down your lunch at your desk or missing your break entirely, use it to your advantage. Do things you enjoy and wouldn’t make the time for otherwise. Indulge yourself! Read a book, call a friend, go for a walk, draw, or meditate. Do the same on your commute too, if you can. This will enrich your mind and spirit, and help to lower any tension before you arrive home.

4. Practice gratitude
This is such a lovely thing to do but one that we often don’t do enough. On your way home, spend a few moments identifying how many small yet good things happened in your day. You may be surprised at how much you have to be grateful for. It’ll also shift your focus away from dwelling on the negative.

5. Look at the positives
When all seems lost and your boss is driving you crazy and you are on the brink of losing it, try to shift to a big-picture view. Think of the benefits of being there – the financial stability, saving for the kids’ education, the skills you are learning, or simply that awesome feeling when the end of the week arrives.

It’s the little things that make a positive difference!

Which steps will you take this week, to make your work more enjoyable and fulfilling?

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Mental Health: An Inspiring Story We Can All Learn From

One of the most positive developments in the area of wellbeing over the past few years is the number of high profile people sharing their experiences with mental health challenges.

Earlier this week, one of the highest ranking people in the Australian Federal Police, Commander Grant Edwards, shared his mental health journey on the television program Australian Story. It’s an inspiring story that we can all learn from.

Here’s a summary of Grant’s journey, as described by the Australian Story website…

Australian Federal Police Commander Grant Edwards was once Australia’s strongest man. He was able to pull massive locomotives, aeroplanes and semi-trailers with his brute strength. But no amount of physical power could protect him from psychological injury.

Grant was at the coalface of the AFP’s most difficult work, heading up a team investigating child exploitation. The thousands of images and videos he was exposed to took their toll. But as one of those charged with protecting society, he’d always been taught to harden up, close those boxes in the mind and move on.

After a highly-charged year training police in Afghanistan, things began to unravel. It took a breakdown for Grant to understand he was injured in ways not seen by the naked eye. After the suicide of an AFP colleague, he decided to go public with his own struggles, becoming a lightning rod for change inside the AFP. Now Commander of the Americas, Grant is on a mission to remove the stigma of mental health not just in policing, but society-wide.

The program delved into post traumatic stress disorder and the need for greater support for our service men and women. It also shared a range of lessons and practical steps that we can all use in our own lives.

Action Steps

Here are some of the points that stood out to me as relevant for most of us…

For looking after yourself…

1. Speaking your truth can be an instant weight off. Sometimes the people around you can see that you are not your normal self, and are waiting for you to be ready to receive help.

2. There is always hope. As Grant said “You can go through this and you can still have your career and get your life back together”.

For looking after others…

3. You never can tell. Even people who are perceived as being strong can still struggle at times. Don’t assume people are okay.

4. It’s not about the situation at hand. Sometimes people come through a hard time and seem to be okay and then fall apart later. Things build up.

5. The manager’s response is all-important. It can make all the difference for a staff member to know that their manager has their back. Commissioner Andrew Colvin’s response to Grant in that initial meeting was the key to where Grant is today.

For a cultural shift in workplaces and society generally…

6. We need to remove the stigmas around mental health and make it okay to say “I might need a break” or “I might need a little bit of help”. We can all do that by being open and supportive to each other.

Watching this program is 30 minutes well spent. Watch the program or download the transcript here.

What could you do this week to use Grant’s story for positive benefit in your own life or workplace?

Simple Opportunities That Are Often Missed

Have you ever been excited about something that’s happened and then been disappointed when you shared your good news with others? They didn’t share your excitement, seem interested, or didn’t ‘get’ how important it was to you?

When it comes to relationships, it turns out that how we respond to other people’s good news is as important as how we respond to their bad news.

Research shows a strong correlation between the quality of a relationship and the way the participants respond to each other’s good news. How you respond to others can build up or undermine the relationship – even if you don’t say something negative.

When good things happen, we typically share the news about the positive event with someone else. This is a process called capitalisation.

Capitalising amplifies the pleasure of the good situation and contributes to an upward spiral of positive emotions and wellbeing. The problem is, the positive effects of capitalisation are dependent upon the responses of the people with whom the events are shared.

These are the four ways we can respond to someone else’s good news…
1.    Active constructive
2.    Passive constructive
3.    Active destructive
4.    Passive destructive

Active and constructive responses involve showing genuine interest in the good event being described and being excited and happy for the other person. These responses communicate that you understand why it’s important to them and that you are interested in what happens to them.

In contrast, passive or destructive responses communicate that you either don’t understand it’s importance to them or you don’t care about their thoughts, emotions or life.

Here’s an example of possible responses to someone’s good news about a promotion…

Active-Constructive: “Wow, that’s great news! I know how important it was to you. Let’s have lunch to celebrate and you can tell me all about it.”

Passive-Constructive: “That’s nice.”

Active-Destructive:  “Wow, that sounds like a lot of responsibility to take on. Can you handle it? Maybe no-one else wanted it!”

Passive-Destructive: “You won’t believe what happened to me today!”

Action Steps

Responding in an active and constructive way is a great way to build a new relationship or strengthen an existing one. Here are some simple steps to get you started…

1. Stop and listen. Really listen. Often we get so caught up with the task at hand or our own thoughts that we don’t listen properly. As a result, we miss cues and miss opportunities to really connect and share the joy with the other person.

2. Ask questions about the situation. Seek to find out more – how the situation arose, how it unfolded, and how they feel about it.

3. Stay focused on them. This is not the time to tell them what similar thing happened to you. Enjoy their enjoyment with them.

How could you use Active Constructive Responding to build your relationships at work and at home?

Managing Team Members with Undisclosed Personal or Mental Health Issues

“Help! I have a staff member who doesn’t seem to be coping well in the office and has asked for my help but I don’t know what to do.”

As an HR Manager, I’ve had many managers come to me with this type of scenario. Managing staff can be a daunting experience. Sometimes it’s only when you find yourself in a challenging position that you wished you had paid more attention to all those management articles that went past your desk and you couldn’t find time to read.

So what should you do when you encounter a situation with a staff member who is having difficulties at work?

You absolutely need to talk to them but make sure you prepare for this as you want it to be a helpful conversation that opens a dialogue so a solution can be devised together.

Sometimes at these meetings, you may wonder if there’s a personal or mental health issue but your staff member isn’t at the point where they are divulging information about themselves. What can you do?

Every individual and circumstance is unique but here are some general guidelines:

1.    Don’t assume anything and don’t offer opinions or judgements

2.    It is critical to build trust in the relationship so the person feels comfortable having a conversation with you. At this point the more you know, the more you can assist with.

3.    The work still has to be done but can some of it be accomplished by others? Can you lighten the workload and make allowances for the circumstances in the short term?

4.    The staff member needs to feel secure and be assured that any information provided to you will remain confidential, in most circumstances.  If a situation is life threatening, then this takes precedence over any confidentiality and assistance must be sought immediately, but hopefully in most cases this won’t be something you are faced with.

Times when others may need to be involved…

–  It is critical to let the staff member know if you are seeking advice from others, BEFORE you do so. This helps build trust and provides transparency around your actions.
–    If work needs to be reallocated or shared, you may need to chat with the team but team members don’t necessarily need to know everything. Situations can be explained in general terms
–    If advice about management strategies is required, you could seek general advice from your HR Department or appropriate people within the organisation that can be trusted to provide sound advice
–    If the circumstances are time or situation critical, you could perhaps let your own Manager know some of the general details without breaching your staff member’s confidentiality. If the situation doesn’t allow for this, again ensure the staff member understands how this will be communicated before going ahead

5.    Sometimes you need to bend the rules and come up with new ways to assist a staff member – for example working from home, working part time, working different hours, time off when needed, purchased leave arrangements or different working arrangements. You may need support from others within the organisation to achieve this.

6.    Look after yourself and don’t try and do it all on your own. Seek support from your work counselling service if you have one, your HR Manager or someone you trust in or out of the workplace.

Helping staff to manage personal difficulties or mental health issues doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be rewarding to break down barriers and help provide solutions so staff feel valued and the work is still achieved.


Want more tips like this?

If you like what you’ve read here, why not join thousands of people from across Australia and the globe for ideas, insights and inspiration every “Wellness Wednesday”. Every week, our founder and head coach, Adele Sinclair, and her guest experts provide practical tips, articles and inspiration to our growing community of subscribers.

Simply enter your name and email address into the form below. And be assured, we will never share your details with anyone. Ever.

Conversations For Life: Understanding The Risk Factors & Warning Signs of Emerging Mental Health Issues & Suicide Risk

This talk will outline the key risk factors and warning signs of developing mental health issues and suicide risk.

You’ll learn what you can do if you encounter someone with increased risk of suicide, to help the situation before it becomes a crisis.

Download interview audio

Download interview transcript

About Glenn Baird, OzHelp FoundationGlenn Baird-2

Glenn Baird is the Support Services Manager at the OzHelp Foundation.

OzHelp Foundation is a national men’s mental health organisation which aims to prevent the suicide of working men by supporting them in workplaces to be more resilient and confident in meeting life’s challenges, providing services to 34,000 people each year.

OzHelp was founded in 2001 after the suicide of young Canberra man, David O’Bryan. David’s mother Lorraine worked with local organisations to put in place support services targeted at young men working in the construction industries, to help prevent other families experiencing the same loss.

OzHelp’s focus is still male-dominated industries such as building and construction, along with mining, trades and automotive industries. It is precisely because men are traditionally less likely to seek help that we seek them out and provide mental health support and training in their workplace, along with counselling.

OzHelp offers training and support services to both men and women in workplaces, including Employee Health and Wellbeing Programs. OzHelp’s suicide prevention and other wellbeing programs can be licenced by employers. Train the Trainer services are also provided.

You can connect with Glenn via:

Something we all enjoy and want more of, yet forget to do

How often are you praised for your work? How often do you praise others?

I was talking with a former colleague the other day who’s been in a new job for the last three months and recently received praise and positive feedback from her new managers for a large project she’s been managing. She is beaming and blossoming as her previous managers gave only negative feedback, never any praise.

Giving and receiving praise is one of those perennial workplace issues. Praise is something we all enjoy and want more of, yet it’s something we don’t do often and when we do, many of us don’t deliver it as effectively as we might.

The good news is that it’s simple to learn and easy to do. It costs nothing and takes very little effort yet delivers great benefits.

As we all know, praise is encouraging, it makes us feel good about ourselves and our efforts and it motivates us to keep going with what we’re doing. Without praise, we lose that positive feedback loop and can easily become discouraged and disengaged.

More Positives at Work = Better Relationships, More Productivity, a Better Workplace

Research has found that one of the key differences between happy relationships versus unhappy or dysfunctional ones is the ratio of positive emotions experienced versus negative ones.

It turns out that to feel well and happy, we need at least three positive experiences for every one negative experience. This ratio increases to at least five to one at work or within relationships. This is called the ‘Positivity Ratio’ and it’s an indicator of the wellbeing or otherwise of an individual, a relationship, a team or even a workplace.

If you’d like to work in a happy workplace, an easy way to boost your workplace’s ledger on the positive side is to recognise and praise people for positive behaviour – you don’t have to wait for management to do it!

Action Steps

Here’s how you can give effective praise and contribute to a happy work environment this week…

1. Find the Good, Sincerely

Find the good things a person is doing and tell them what you appreciate about them. Be genuine, since insincere praise will undermine trust and won’t aid learning or development.  Even if you don’t like ALL that they’re doing, find the good in it and focus on that. Otherwise say nothing. Better to to say nothing than to give untruth or insincerity.

2. Be Specific

Highlight what they did in detail, both particular actions and attitudes. This helps them to know what you noticed and appreciated – and what to repeat in the future.

3. Give Them Time to Process and Respond

Many people will try to brush off praise, even if they secretly appreciate it. Pause to help them to enjoy their achievement and share in that small positive moment together.

4. Take Their Style Into Account

Some people like public praise, others only private praise. Would the recipient prefer face to face verbal feedback or an email? Choose how you praise based on their preferences, not yours. (This is one area where many people miss-step.)

5. Focus on Things They Can Control

This part is crucial. The recipient can’t control their intelligence or natural traits so praising these is not useful. Instead focus your praise on what they can control – ie their efforts and attitude. This is a key way to make sure your praise has the greatest positive effect, both at the time you give it as well as into the future.

You don’t have to leave it to management to deliver all the praise and appreciation in your workplace. Tell your colleagues when you see them do a good job and enjoy the joy and positivity that comes from it!

Who do you have an opportunity to praise at the moment?

Starting Culture Conversations

We never speak about workplace culture when things are going well. Typically, we feel the need to improve culture when the recent past has been rocky or the future looks bleak. Revenues are sliding, costs are rising disproportionately, customer complaints are trending upward or industry regulations have changed and we don’t know how to respond. Maybe you detected an internal fraud or serious misconduct issue that would have seemed impossible to have occurred only a couple of years ago.

So much is written about culture today. Much of what I read sits at the conceptual level, offering very little practical advice. The success stories are interesting to read, but for the most part they focus on major multi-nationals who invested millions. My clients find much of this difficult to translate to their own experience and immediate challenges.

Dealing with organisational culture starts with courage to have difficult conversations around the management table. The trouble is, when we discuss organisational culture the conversation naturally and quickly flows to leadership, or at least it should. These discussions can quickly start to feel deeply threatening for management teams. We therefore speak in generalities, not prepared to name or own the real issues at play. We don’t want to offend and we definitely don’t want the focus to turn to our own department.

Management teams are inherently conflicted in these situations. There is a power imbalance with the CEO sitting at the table. Inevitably, whatever the CEO says carries far more weight than any other person in the room. Once the CEO speaks, boundaries are created around what is discussed and emphasised from that point onward.

Each person around the table is massively invested in keeping their jobs, so is unlikely to suggest anything radical that might destabilise their own position. The default response is to turn attention and the blow torch to middle managers or front line supervisors and staff. Phew….Crisis averted! And by playing out this charade, which occurs time and time again, you guarantee that the top team has just sabotaged any real chance of developing a constructive response to improving culture.

Some practical tips on getting a conversation started on culture:

  1. The top team must acknowledge that workplace culture starts with them. Poor workplace culture is a leadership problem and changing culture requires a change in leadership behaviour.
  2. Get an expert facilitator involved in framing culture conversations. The CEO should not lead the early discussions. Too heavy a shadow is cast over the group by the CEO leading the conversation. The facilitator must model the constructive yet direct approach that the group needs to learn and hold them true to any behavioural commitments that they make. If the facilitator becomes too chummy with members of the group, then it’s time for a new facilitator.
  3. Over time, the facilitator fades away and the CEO assumes the facilitation role, but that is only after new rules of senior team engagement have been developed, practiced and reviewed.
  4. Senior leaders should replicate what happens in the top team with their own businesses or departments. Whether the General Manager likes it or not, they have to learn and practice exactly the same skills that the CEO is attempting to master. Later, middle managers and team leaders must learn these skills and apply in their own contexts.
  5. The early facilitation process must include the team agreeing on a way of tabling and constructively discussing difficult issues which inhibit the delivery of your strategy. It is not a forum for pet peeves.
  6. Agree on the information that the top team needs to see on a regular basis that gives a holistic picture of culture across the company. It is usually a mosaic of data across multiple domains.
  7. Find a way to measure culture. Until it is measured and reported, then it risks remaining an esoteric subject and will be abandoned when things get tough.

An experienced and high profile business leader once told me that you can look in every corner of the organisation for the clues to improving culture, but of all the things that must change “it’s probably you”. That remains a very good place to start a culture conversation.

Want more tips like this?

If you like what you’ve read here, why not join thousands of people from across Australia and the globe for ideas, insights and inspiration every “Wellness Wednesday”. Every week, our founder and head coach, Adele Sinclair, and her guest experts provide practical tips, articles and inspiration to our growing community of subscribers.

Simply enter your name and email address into the form below. And be assured, we will never share your details with anyone. Ever.

A Personal Story in Support of RUOK Day

September 8 is RUOK Day – a day when we should stop to take the time to ask our friends, relatives or colleagues if they are OK. Suicide is a hugely complex issue and every person that considers taking their own life has a different scenario but even caring enough to ask if someone is okay could make a difference in a way you may not be able to realise at the time.

Nothing can really ever prepare you for the death of a workmate or colleague, especially if they have taken their own life. I know because in a large organisation I worked for a number of years ago, at a time when significant changes were occurring to many of the processes in the workplace and it was taking its toll on staff, a staff member took his own life in the workplace. Whilst his death wasn’t directly related to the changes occurring, he did have a work related injury and HR had been working with him on this issue.

As you can imagine it was shocking for everyone in his workplace, in fact, everyone that knew him in the organization, throughout the state. As a lot of staff were already in a bad place with changes occurring, it was difficult to know who needed assistance, how soon and for how long and the HR team worked hard to try and put measures in place to try and help work colleagues deal with his loss.

Responding as an organisation

We were fortunate to have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place so were able to have a team of people available in the workplace the next day for staff to be able to talk if they wanted. This is sometimes called critical incident counselling and can assist people in the immediate aftermath of an event. Whilst considered essential after such an event occurring, not everyone can process such an event so quickly and be in the right frame of mind to speak to a counsellor that quickly. It would be have been worthwhile for us to have the counsellors come in for a series of days over a number of weeks rather than just immediately after.

The same counsellors also contacted HR staff by phone to ensure they were coping. This was actually fairly confronting for me as I didn’t consider I needed the assistance and hadn’t asked for the phone call but this had been arranged by the HR Manager. Of course I was exactly the person they should have been speaking to as I had been very involved in the management of the injury, my Dad had recently died and I was part of the team managing changes to the organization but possibly didn’t have that insight at the time.

As well as the critical incident counselling, there was the opportunity for staff to go off site for one on one counseling or even have this over the phone. It was important for people to have options as we all grieve differently and process events at different timelines.

Lessons for Managers

What would you do as a Manager or a colleague of someone in a workplace who takes their own life? How do cope personally, how do you know where to go for resources and how do you then talk to your staff or other colleagues about what has happened?

We all need to have some of our own strategies in place to be able to tackle this issue because really you just never know who is at risk.

People react really differently to death and communication from Managers and between staff is critical in situations like this, even though some people won’t appear to appreciate or need it. That might come later but as a Manager you need to be able to offer the time and space anyway.

A lot of people in our workplaces were obviously sad and some were also really angry – some because they felt guilty and thought they should have seen the signs, some because the staff member chose to take his life in the workplace and a colleague found him, some were angry with HR and blamed us for managing his injury properly.

Some were angry with the managers of the area because they felt the Managers should have seen the signs. It was hard to listen to some of what was being said as we knew we had offered as much support as we could but we just listened and didn’t try to justify ourselves or push the blame to anyone else. What would be the point?

A few months after the death we also organised a Health Expo at various workplace locations and as well as people having the opportunity to check their physical health BeyondBlue provided us with a mountain of resources to give to people as well as having experts from their organisation on site for the duration of these expos. This were really good events as a little bit of time had passed and maybe people were starting to heal so the Beyondblue stand was a very popular one.

I think it would have been useful to run some type of facilitated workshop session for Managers around this time as well so people could talk amongst their peers about their experiences and discussed some of the difficulties they faced at the time and what could we do better next time.

The most important lesson I learned was that you can’t really be prepared after something like this happens but you have to be prepared to talk and, probably more importantly, you have to be prepared to listen.

 Action Steps

  • Use RUOK Day to ask if your colleagues are okay.
  • If there is a death at work, remember everyone processes loss in their own time. They react and grieve differently.
  • Be prepared to talk and start discussions but be more prepared to listen – to your staff or colleagues, to ask how they are, give people opportunities to talk about how they are feeling but also the space and time to do that, give them a chance to unload on you or to just be.
  • Be present – whether you are a colleague or a Manager, be aware of how people are coping – have their work patterns changed, are they coming in later, does their appearance seem different, do they look like they might want to talk but don’t necessarily approach you or anyone else, is their work suffering, do they seem to be acting differently?
  • Have resources in place for people to use – if your organisation is lucky to have an EAP, utilise their services as much as you can and provide contact details to everyone in case they want to do this on their own, in their own time. Look for information from organisations such as Beyondblue, Lifeline and the Black Dog Institute.
  • Look after yourself and take the same opportunities as your staff – this is so important as many people may turn to you for assistance and you may also be grieving.
  • Keep checking in with people – a debrief session for Managers may be useful to help them cope and work together as a team.
  • When the time is right think about holding a memorial service or find a way to honour the person’s memory.

Do you or a loved one need help? Lifeline is available for 24/7 support on 13 11 14.

Five key factors that determine organisational culture

From the beginning of time, human behaviour has remained very predictable.  One of the most predictable aspects of human behaviour is that tension and conflict inevitably arise when two or more people are required to work together to achieve an outcome.  That is a good thing.  Tension and conflict are necessary conditions to achieve a heightened sense of purpose and when constructively harnessed, spectacular results are possible.

At an organisational level, culture is a factor of the interactions between the people in that workplace.  Our collective ability to constructively manage workplace relationships, particularly in the face of inevitable tension and conflict, defines our organisational culture.

In the end, organisational culture has next to nothing to do with what type of work is performed, but how effectively we consciously and unconsciously resolve internal tension and the impact that this leaves on all involved.  When managed well, the good will and trust that develops, positions an organisation and its people for greatness.

Therefore, when I am looking for clues to uncover what an organisation’s culture is really like, I am drawn to those things which are most likely to cause conflict in the organisation.  Like a theatre production unfolding before you, if you sit back and watch how well or how clumsily, how aggressively or passively people manage organisational tension, then much will be revealed.

But what should you look for?  After many years of trial and error, I settled on five main factors of organisational life that I try to observe and understand.

1. Leadership

How important is status in the organisation?  How close or removed are top management from the shop floor?  What gets rewarded and recognised by leaders? How do leaders communicate with their employees? How trusted are leaders?

2. Workload

To be clear, this is not an observation of the work itself, but of the expectations of how much of a load employees are expected to carry.  Is the workload distribution equitable? Is it predictable?  When an employee arrives for work today, will she know what lies ahead during the day? Is the workload shared and what happens to the work when they take leave?

3. Capability

How well are people trained to do their jobs?  How long does it take for an employee to reach a level of job mastery? Is the approach to learning and to training structured so that employees can expect to reach a level where they can function in an autonomous way?

4. Relationships

Does the workplace support and encourage relationship building?  What are the social norms of the workplace?  What happens if somebody steps outside the social norms?  Do employees trust the organisational complaint or grievance systems? How dependent are employees on one another in being able to achieve success?

5. Controls

What job controls exist to guide the work?  How closely are people supervised?  Is their work checked, approved or randomly sampled?  Can an employee expect to receive regular feedback on their performance from a line supervisor?


Culutre Model branded

These five categories are at the centre of the majority of organisational conflict.  Interestingly, they align with the SCARF Model, developed by Dr David Rock, the pioneer of Neuroleadership.  The five domains of the SCARF model are listed on the Leading Culture Model.

Invariably, there will be conflict around one of more of leadership, workload, capability, relationships or controls.  At any time, there may be several people in the organisation who are in conflict around these factors.  The manner in which employees are able to express their feelings of irritation and the desire and capability of the organisation to resolve issues in a way that demonstrates genuine concern and respect for the importance of these factors has a large bearing on determining its culture.  Organisations that engage constructively and invest in each of these factors report far more productive cultures than those who do not.

Surrounding the Leading Culture Model are additional aspects of organisational life which are also relevant, but play a more static role in culture, rather than the dynamic role experienced by the five key factors.  The tools, accommodation, remuneration, organisational governance and its commitment to adherence to legal compliance also play a significant contributory role, but only really become factors in influencing organisational culture when they are sub-optimal.  To this end, I describe these as cultural hygiene factors.

Organisational culture is a complex issue.  Leaders who develop mature work systems and model constructive behaviour around the five key factors will find that organisational culture becomes a much simpler issue to understand and master.

10 Simple Steps to Reducing Negativity At Work

Modern workplaces can be stressful – lots of work, pressing deadlines, people issues and working extra hours to name a few – and stress can easily lead to negativity.

If you’re experiencing negativity at work – whether it’s coming from somebody else or from within yourself – you can take steps to change it. It often takes patience and practice because negativity can be a habit but, as you’d know, habits can be changed!

It’s entirely possible to reduce negativity and help make your workplace a happier place for everybody.

Here are 10 simple steps to help you get started today…

1. Take an honest look at yourself. Are you spreading negativity? It’s normal to sometimes to feel discouraged, overwhelmed, jealous or angry at work. The trick is to become aware of when you’re sharing how you feel to try to make yourself feel better. By telling everyone how bad you feel, you can easily become a happiness sapper and source of tension for the people you work with. Try to be a positive companion where possible.

2. Step up your self-care. Stress can lead to negativity and if you’re under stress, you’ll have lots of stress hormones in your body. That means physical self care is crucial. Eating well, physical activity and adequate sleep all help to reduce the toll of stress hormones and are proven to improve your mood.

3. Engage your curiosity. When something or someone doesn’t do what was expected, don’t get angry or upset. Approach it like a puzzle. What parts of it went right? Where was the pitfall? How could you use this knowledge for future planning?

4. Refocus your energy onto what’s strong and less on what’s wrong. That could be particular people, a process, a relationship; anything that is strong and working well. A strengths-based focus is proven to boost wellbeing.

5. Find and give support. Research shows that having a trusted friend at work is crucial to being happy and resilient to stress. Invest time and energy into positive relationships at work.

6. Challenge negative thoughts. Sometimes negative thoughts are justified but more often they come from our internal fears or lack of confidence. Ask yourself “what would I tell a friend who was feeling this way?”. Coach yourself – or others- into taking a balanced and realistic view.

7. Reassure when change seems threatening. When uncertainty comes up, be friendly and kind – whether it’s to yourself or others. We all need encouragement from time to time.

8. Create a sense of meaning. Finding a way to connect your work to what is meaningful to you can help you to take a bigger view and remain positive in challenging times.

9. Let go of how things were “supposed to be” and accept “how things are.” Management or others might not act in the way you believe they should. Systems and processes might suck. That’s normal. To keep these things from stressing you and making you negative, find some appreciation in ‘what is’.

10. Keep things in perspective. Or try on a new perspective. Getting get stuck in negative thinking patterns will only create a downward spiral of emotions for yourself and those around you. Stay realistic, avoid comparisons, and take a longer view.

Action Steps

Which will you use TODAY to help reduce negativity in yourself and/or others?