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Conversations around mindset, mental health and designing for happiness

Can a haircut help your mental health? What does airplane safety have to do with culture in your organisation? How do you empower people to talk, and to listen?

These were just a few of the questions asked at this year’s Good Day At Work Conversation, proudly sponsored by the Bank Workers Charity. The day took a hard look at what the future of our health and happiness at work might look like, and some common themes emerged.

Don’t blame the pilots

The Times journalist Matthew Syed spoke about the links between our mindset and success.  ‘Growth’ mindsets view failure primarily as an opportunity to learn and improve. And organisations that operate with this type of approach not only perform better, they also have a happier and more content workforce.

As an example of an industry with this outlook, Matthew talked about the achievements made in airplane safety over the last hundred years. Recognising the need to improve poor safety standards, the aviation industry came up with a way to make every failure rich in data, and so the black box was born. These flight recorders (actually orange, not black) mean when accidents happen, airlines and the industry can find out what went wrong. Then, crucially, they can put in place better systems or designs so the same mistakes don’t happen again. This approach has vastly reduced accident rates in aviation and it’s given junior team members the power to challenge those above them.

In a future of rapidly changing conditions, success will mean the ability to adapt and improve. So how do you begin to encourage a growth mindset in your organisation’s culture? Matthew had a few pointers.

  • Empower people lower down the chain to challenge those above them. This gives everyone the opportunity to speak up when something’s not right, and helps ensure improvements don’t fall by the wayside.
  • Admitting to weakness is a powerful tool for organisational change. Recognise that high performance is about figuring out what you don’t know and getting the knowledge you need to improve.
  • Step away from a blame culture. If people think they’ll be blamed for problems in the system, they’ll be less likely to raise their hands when they spot an issue.

Pursuing a state of parity

‘It’s on the move,’ said former Downing Street Press Secretary Alastair Campbell, speaking about the campaign for reducing stigma around mental health. But attitudes and words are one thing. As we make progress on removing taboo, let’s not stop the fight for services and support, he said.

Alastair emphasised that we still have a long way to go before achieving parity between mental and physical health. He called for business leaders to stop defining people by their mental health issues. We wouldn’t do this if they had cancer, so why make the distinction?

Redesigning for happiness

We spend around 90% of our time indoors, and it looks like the buildings of the future will take more account of how the spaces we inhabit impact our wellbeing. Paul Scialla from the WELL Building Standard spoke about the improvements it’s possible to make to people’s health and productivity when you incorporate preventative elements into building design. Looking at concepts like air, water, light and fitness, the WELL Building Standard considers how we can put people at the heart of  buildings of the future.

For example, it’s now possible to install lighting systems that complement circadian rhythms – our bodies’ cycle of waking and sleeping. This type of lighting can make us feel more energised and alert at work. And can also help us get a better quality of sleep.

And the benefits don’t end at the office door. ‘What we’re seeing with the WELL Building Standard is that people are changing their behaviours at home because of what they learn about health in work’ he said. ‘That’s the best engagement vehicle I can think of.’

The barbershop approach

More men feel comfortable discussing mental health with their barbers than their doctors, which is why men’s health charity Movember is giving barbers some basic training. ‘I’m fine’ doesn’t always mean ‘I’m fine,’ so the training focuses on boosting barbers’ confidence in starting conversations around mental health and reminding them to keep an eye out for stressful times in their customers lives.

Similarly, the role line managers play in supporting employees’ mental health is a topic that came up throughout the day. Managers are often afraid to ask the right questions because they’re not sure what to do with the answers. It seems they’d make good candidates for this barbershop confidence-boost around beginning the conversation about mental health.

The future of wellbeing

In a panel on the future of work and wellbeing, Cathryn Barnard of Working the Future talked about opening up dialogue with employees. ‘If you’re reading that 30% of UK jobs may be susceptible to automation but you can’t go into work and have a conversation about it, you’re going to start worrying. None of us know what’s coming in detail, but we need to start having open conversations about the human impact.’

Our own Head of Wellbeing and writer for this blog, Paul Barrett, spoke of the need for a more nuanced debate about the impact of artificial intelligence. ‘There’s a fear that whole areas of work will disappear. But in many cases it’s likely that jobs will remain but that key elements will change and become more people-centric, as happened in bank branches following the introduction of ATMs.’ Employers will need to work with this. Paul called for businesses to leave disconnected wellbeing programmes in the past and move towards a strategic approach that takes more account of how employees will work in the future.

The day’s conversations show how much the concept of wellbeing has matured in recent years. More people are taking it seriously and more organisations are beginning to have the conversations they need to have. Whether it’s a barbershop or an office, there’s an appetite for creating spaces that better serve our needs, and equipping people with the skills to listen and the power to speak up.

How we work is changing. Thankfully, how we support employees to meet their goals and be healthy and happy at work seems to be changing too.