Thought Leadership

Rather than reset, reacquaint this autumn

NABS CEO Sue Todd shares how some of the most fundamental and basic principles contribute to more mindful and productive cultures

Sue Todd

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It’s well-recognised, psychologically, that September, with its back-to-school vibe and the beginning of autumn, has certain ingrained feelings for many of us. For some, it represents a positive return to routine after the juggle of summer. A head-down, new-workbook energy. A more familiar and certain rhythm than July and August, with the in-and-out of people and meetings as summer holidays disrupt normal patterns. For others, it’s time to go on holiday now the family throngs have disappeared and you’re no longer needed to cover absence for parents. It can also be a period of dread for some as an inevitably busy and stressful planning cycle begins in earnest.

This hesitancy seems more prevalent this autumn as the news all summer has been a low but increasingly loud hum of getting us all mentally prepared for the triple whammy of a new PM, a looming recession and smack in the face from the already significant increases in the cost of living as colder weather sets in. I’ve heard a few business leaders say that this September is significant as it represents a chance to reset certain ways of working after the first nine months of 2022 and the ‘test phase’ of how the post-pandemic world of work would unfold.

NABS statistics from the first half of 2022 show that mental health concerns represent 28% of all reasons to contact NABS

Sue Todd, CEO, NABS

Seeking to instil some degree of certainty amidst this unsettling landscape is totally understandable. We know plenty about the brain and our nervous systems to be able to connect the dots from our physiology to our emotions and ultimately behaviour and performance. Uncertainty generates a strong sense of alert response in our limbic system. Our brains seek patterns in part to help manage resources and to stop us from being on alert mode all the time. We simply can’t afford, from an energy management point of view, to be looking for the unexpected 24/7, nor from a mental health perspective – where we know in our industry already this year that there are worrying trends.

NABS statistics from the first half of 2022 show that mental health concerns represent 28% of all reasons to contact NABS (128% up from the same period in 2021) and that emotional support remains the main driver of calls to the Advice Line (61%).

Although the context and reasons for the calls range from ongoing personal post-pandemic trauma to current work pressures as a result of the talent shortage, we at NABS have a sense that work itself is going through such a wholesale transformation and cultural change that we are unsettled at our very foundations.

The old team development model that was often taught in leadership courses described teams needing to move through the stages of forming, storming, norming and performing. Our whole industry might be disrupted to such a degree that we’re still forming when it comes to issues such as working practices and the striking the right balance of collective and IRL work versus individual and online work.

Rather than a reset this autumn, (which sounds quite definitive and fixed to me), perhaps we need to reacquaint ourselves with the most fundamental and basic principles around workplace wellbeing to create more mindful and ultimately productive business cultures. My five tips for doing this, which I try to model and bring into my role as the CEO at NABS, are as follows:

1.     Consider the type of work you need to complete each day/week and the best environment in which that work can get done successfully. Within this, we need to see a broad definition of what constitutes work, and to value the non-task things we do on a daily basis - like catching up with colleagues and getting to know them better as people - as highly as finishing the deck we’re working on.

2.     Remember to have fun/laugh and keep some lightness in work, even when it’s tough and the subject matter you deal with is serious. In fact, even more so. Nobody likes forced fun but being flexible enough to allow for spontaneous joy is really important at work.

3.     Begin with trust and enable autonomy. I was a big fan of Drive by Dan Pink, which identified autonomy, mastery and purpose as key motivators and factors driving performance at work. Being self-directed within some clear parameters (ideally value- rather than rule-driven ones) supercharges wellbeing and performance at work.

4.     Share. I am an oversharer, so maybe this is just me, but making sure everyone in the organisation feels that, if they want to, they can talk about anything with colleagues and their boss without fear of judgement. The mind we bring to work is the same one we go home with. If there’s something on it that’s causing pain, I believe it should be safe to share this.

5.     Be fluid. Keep talking, reviewing and adjusting. The only way to keep up, improve and frankly deal with the amount of uncertainty and instability around us, is to recognise it and keep talking about its effect on us individually and collectively. That’s why ‘how’s work’ is the most important question we can ask ourselves and one that’s central to NABS’ proposition. Create enough time and trust to answer this honestly. The first lesson back at school in September was often a sharing of how everyone’s summer. Maybe it isn’t a bad place to start by resetting with our teams this month and simply asking: “How’s work?”