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Germanwings Crash Why Leaders Must Discuss Mental Health Issues

Alexandria Joy - Monday, April 06, 2015

In the wake of the recent tragic Germanwings crash, the working world is reminded of just how far we still have to go to identify, treat and manage employees living with mental illness and experiencing extreme stress or anxiety in the workplace, especially in high-risk, high-pressure professions.

The tragedy raises many questions for leaders and organisations today and not just should we allow pilots with a history of depression to fly passenger planes? Here are some questions you should consider as a leader:

  • Should we promote employees who have required psychiatric care?
  • Should we approach a workmate we suspect of experiencing depression or anxiety?
  • Should someone on medication for mental illness be allowed to drive vehicles or operate heavy machinery on job sites?
  • Should we permit a person with a mental illness to be promoted to a stressful job?
  • Should an employee ask a supervisor or upline RUOK?

This is a complex issue and has no simple answers. When faced with such complexity it is valuable to begin with the facts:

Fact: Smart workplaces provide support. If profitability and responsible business practices are part of your company’s vision, mental health should also be a priority. Your commitment to mental health should be communicated openly and frequently to all employees. For example as part of induction, displayed in tearooms on posters, as policies and procedures that everyone is aware of and visibly reinforced through the practices of management.

It's one thing to have a policy in place to to accommodate employees with mental health issues, but it is another to create a supportive environment where they don't feel inhibited to take advantage of them.

Fact: Healthy workplaces discuss Mental Health openly. Mental illness is a cloak and dagger affair in many organizations, mentally healthy organisations on the other hand start and continue the conversation. A good test of how supportive your organisation is is to ask yourself this question: “How safe is it in your company for an employee to let their manager know that they are on medication for depression and/or visits a therapist?”

Addressing the issue of mental illness in the workplace has to begin with an acknowledgement that it exists and needs to be discussed openly.

Fact: Healthy workplaces promote a culture of respect. Sometimes the greatest help to mentally ill employees comes not from some kind of official policy but from peers or line bosses who are willing to listen and offer genuine support. The fish rots from the head - organisational leaders and business owners need to make visible, long-term commitments to mental health in their workplaces as they are in the strongest position to positively influence the company culture.

Ensuring robust policies around bullying and harassment is also important, as well as encouraging employees to call out or report any inappropriate behaviour they witness or experience.

My heart goes out to the passengers, crew, families and all those affected by the Germanwings crash, especially the family of our two Australian passengers. The loss of life is heartbreaking and yet it may have opened a door to many employers to start having difficult, compassionate discussions about mental illness. As tragic as it has been, let us not waste this opportunity to create more awareness.

PWC research shows $2.30 is the average return on investment for every $1 invested in creating a mentally healthy workplace. Better productivity begins with a mentally healthy workplace

A positive workplace environment and good mental health go hand in hand. Let's honour those lost by beginning this conversation today.

If you are a leader in your organisation have you tackled any of these questions? How have you opened up dialogue? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you would like to read more about the benefits of creating a healthy workplace environment then you may also like the following articles and videos:

How Balanced Leaders Create Healthy Workplaces

How Workplaces Are Making Us Sick

How Toxic Workplaces Are Killing Us

Balanced Leaders Create Healthy Cultures

Alexandria Joy - Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Most people today could share a story about someone they've worked for who was highly intelligent, highly skilled and got promoted to a position of leadership only to drive their workers around the bend and leave them running for the hills.

This common story told the world over suggests that identifying individuals with the right goods to be a great leader is not an exact science or exercise in who has the best resume. After all, evidence shows that the personal styles of the best leaders vary greatly as seen from my recent list of the 50 leaders I most want to interview.

Some leaders are quiet, conscientious and analytical, others are bold and boisterous preaching their vision and values to the biggest audience they can find. Regardless of their external personality traits however, we have found through our work at UQ Power that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they create healthy workplace cultures where their workers feel safe and valued.

In the course of the past year, my colleagues and I have focused on how leaders and managers can create the most physically, emotionally and psychologically healthy workplace cultures. Using our proprietary UQ Powerhouse Blueprint we have worked with numerous public and private organisations and examined the relationship between IQ - innovation and intellectual safety, EQ - emotional intelligence and psychological safety, BODY - cultural presence and physical safety and VISION - clarity of purpose and financial safety, especially in leaders. And we have observed how each of these four dimensions, the quadruple bottom line, shows themselves on the job.

Which is why most people today could share a story about someone they've worked for who had high IQ but low EQ and drove them around the bend. When we study organizational psychology, culture and well being we begin to see that one area connects to another, and another in such a way that it is hard to isolate one without considering the other. Organizations therefore could more appropriately be seen as a complex living organisms rather than simply as an organization.

Identifying what makes an organisation healthy is not a straightforward science as one needs to appreciate the UQ (uniqueness quotient) of each individual employee - basically every worker has different motivators and or stressors and each group or team has its own dynamic which in turn ultimately creates the organisation’s culture.

What we have found through our work is that just like any other living organism, an organisation needs to be nourished, maintained, and experience growth in order to sustain it over the longer term. It also needs some essential nutrients to ensure it maintains peak health including:

Nutrient 1 - Free Flowing Communication: Communication is always a two-way street and requires contextual listening (listening beyond words to what is being said, not said and felt). So many companies are built on top-down communication from management leaving employees feeling there is no point in saying how they feel as they have no direct channel and don't feel they'll have an impact. Effective leaders and managers are those who create an atmosphere that fosters trust and open, two-way communication. Communication can be critical especially during difficult times such as those recently experienced as a result of the economic downturn (Read this article to find out more about leading during a downturn).

Nutrient 2 - People emPOWERment: By understanding and appreciating the UQ (uniqueness) in each and every employee and leveraging their individual talents, a leader will build confidence and trust and empower individuals to self-manage. By empowering employees to be victors rather than victims, to celebrate their uniqueness rather than punishing their imperfections, by owning their responsibilities, a healthy empowered environment is created. Through an empowered workplace you will not only have the benefits of enhanced productivity but you can grow your reputation among your customers and stakeholders.

Nutrient 3 - Spreading PositivityIn The Happiness Advantage, former Harvard professor Shawn Achor argues that people who start off happy are more likely to succeed and using stories and case studies from his work with thousands of Fortune 500 executives in 42 countries, Achor explains how organisations can gain a competitive advantage by shifting employees to become more positive too. Similarly Professor Richard Boyatzis' Intentional Change Theory states that intense positive emotions will have a contagion effect on others. Likewise we must be conscious of the negative emotions one emits as well, Boyatzis suggesting that for every negative thought three positive thoughts are needed to counter the affect.

Nutrient 4 - Cool Collaboration: In short, teams that play together, stay together. A leader's job is to ensure everyone in the organization must work in solving problems while adapting change together. Cohesive organizations build unity toward improving and resolving issues as a team and not as isolated units. Simon Sinek frequently cites the Marine Corps for having found a way to build a culture in which men and women are willing to risk their lives, because they know others would do the same for them. It’s not brainwashing; it’s actually based on the biology of how and when people are naturally at their best. If businesses could adopt this supportive mentality, employees would be more motivated to take bigger risks, because they’d know their colleagues and company would back them up, no matter what.

The best company cultures are vibrant, healthy ones where the well being of individuals and the sustainability of the organization go hand in hand. It is ultimately a place where individuals are inspired to work, trust, and value the uniqueness in one another, while reinforcing the mission of the organization.

What interventions, improvement programs or cultural reviews have proven to work well for you and your organization?

What other nutrients do you believe support a healthy organizational culture, not listed in the list above? 

Feel free to share a comment or two about your experiences below, I'd love to know.

References
Achor, Shawn The Happiness Advantage
Adelson, S. and LaRoche, G . (n.d) The Power of Positive Emotional Attractors. Boyatzis, R. E., Soler, C. (2012). Vision, leadership and emotional intelligence transforming family business, Journal of Family Business Management.
Sinek, Simon (2014) Leaders Eat Last
Topping, Peter, (2002), Managerial Leadership. McGraw-Hill.

The Best Leaders Embrace Imperfection

Alexandria Joy - Friday, January 16, 2015


I have a dream.

I imagine a world where everyone has an opportunity to love their work and do their best work using their unique strengths every day.

Sadly many modern workplaces with their rigid policies, procedures, measures, position descriptions and obsessive overwork cultures are doing little to encourage individuals to embrace their uniqueness and quirky ways.

In my experience the most important people in organisations are not the executives at the top but the team leaders and middle managers as they are the catalyst for every success or failure a company has. Everything from communication, innovation, and change to productivity and growth, flows through the team leader or line manager.

We all know the old saying that people join a company but leave their manager and through my work I speak to lots of leaders, supervisors and line managers and they all say they want to build a great team culture – but they don’t always know how or where to start.

One of the first steps in becoming a great Expander Leader is to stop beating your self and your people up for not being perfect.

Perfectionism is not healthy striving. When we aim for perfection we focus on the negative, on what’s not working and what we are lacking.

Perfectionism is crippling. It’s the vice of a Container Manager. It comes from a place of low self-worth, of controlling, insecurity and devilish detail.

Imperfection is freeing. It’s the joy of being an Expander Leader. It comes from a place of growth and expansion, of delighting in possibilities and being comfortable with emotions and being authentic.

Think of the bristle of a paintbrush left stranded in a painting. The uneven glaze of a Japanese ceramic cup. The delightful quirkiness of a homemade go-cart.

Perfection comes out of moulds or off assembly lines.

Things made by nature or by hand, like us are imperfect. It’s the little things that make us unique and unlike any one else that allow us love our work and give our best performance every day.

The same is true for leaders, companies and workplace cultures too. There is no one perfect way to build a great culture or team or business. There is no best structure, framework or performance management system.

What makes Expander Leaders great is that they:

  • Are not the strongest, they are the ones who are honest about their weaknesses
  • Are not the smartest; they are the ones who admit how much they don't know.
  • Are the ones who can't do it all; they are the ones who look to others to help them.
  • Are the ones who don't try to be perfect, they try to be themselves.

If you are a manager, supervisor or team leader what's one thing you can do to celebrate the UQ (Uniqueness Quotient) in your people? Remember to #StartwithU

Now it’s your turn. Tell me, where has perfection held you back from progressing from doing your best work?

I'd love to know. Share your thoughts in the comments below.


How Poor Leaders Are Killing Us

Alexandria Joy - Friday, November 28, 2014
"Our jobs are killing us and the people who are responsible are our leaders."


I recently heard Simon Sinek say this in a YouTube video and it really struck a chord. How did you feel when you read that? Harsh reality? Don't believe me? Or perhaps you have had an experience yourself or heard someone say "my boss is busting my balls" or "my manager is killing me!"

These might be throw away comments around the water cooler but sadly they are a reflection of reality. 
In my view and experience leadership is not a rank or position – it is a choice. It is a choice to be of service and support others. Since first reading Robert Greenleaf's powerful book The Servant Leader when writing my thesis paper for my master's degree in my late 20's, to working for the General Manager of a large teaching hospital with 3,000 staff who clearly cared about his staff and how they cared for their patients, I began the journey of studying servant leaders.

Some of the most powerful lessons I learnt came from working in toxic environments where there was a clear container manager culture of restrictive, measured and fear based decisions that created a dog eat dog, dobber mentality amongst staff. Here I saw how even one container manager at the top could have a negative impact on people's self-esteem, health, wellbeing and relationships both at work and at home.

Almost as bad as the container manager was the disinterested manager where I witnessed people shrivel and lose their spark as they became undervalued and invisible.

And the research proves working for these poor leaders is a problem for individual employees as well as for the organisation. Studies from Europe and the US are showing that when people say “my boss is killing me”, quite literally this could be the case - around 25% of people who have worked for a poor manager for a short period of time and 38% of the people who have worked for a poor manager for a longer period of time are more likely to have a stroke or heart disease later in life as a product of working with them.

Biologically working with a manager who makes us feel paranoid and anxious and unsafe creates too much cortisol in our body which compromises our immune system, will make us self-interested and stressed, and makes us less empathic and considerate of others.

In addition, being ignored by a manager results in a 4 in 10 chance you’ll be actively disengaged in your job on a daily basis. If your manager tells you what you’re doing wrong – there’s a 2 in 10 chance you’ll be actively disengaged at work.

On the other hand if you are fortunate to work for an expander leader who focuses primarily on your strengths – there’s only a slim 1 in 10 chance that you’ll be disengaged at work.

So what is it that expander leaders do differently to poor leaders or container manager? Expander or servant leaders:
  • create more leaders – they are of service
  • see possibility in every individual employee and seek to find the Uniqueness (I call it the UQ) in every single person
  • are more likely to sacrifice self for the good of the many and the organisation
  • take care to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.
  • focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
  • give control, not take control.
Of the company's I've studied over the past two decades, those with an expander leader driven culture experience:
  • less staff turnover
  • less OHS issues, disputes and claims
  • increased productivity
  • increased profit
  • increased stakeholder and employee engagement.
Creating a positive, productive and mentally healthy workplace culture is one of the important issues businesses face today. A recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report identified that ignoring it costs Australian businesses around $10.9 billion a year in lost productivity. And with stress, anxiety and poor mental health likely to affect one in five employees, by taking action the benefits can be profound.

The benefits are clear. Business leaders need to make a long-term commitment to a creating positive, mentally healthy workplace, not killing their people. By taking the initiative, you'll not only make your company a better place to work where people feel respected as unique individuals, you can help make it more productive and profitable. And that's just good business.

Want to change the world? Become an Expander Leader and #StartwithU
If you're sick and tired of working for a container manager and are at your wit's end you might like to watch my video "How to tell your boss they suck".

Why You Need To Engage And Retain That “Un-Loyal” Generation

Alexandria Joy - Monday, February 03, 2014

The people who have fulfilled the world’s need for skilled workers over the past three decades are now moving into retirement. This shift in demographic has a huge impact on companies that want to remain relevant and strong in changing times

While the Baby Boomers are moving out, Generation Y has moved into the workforce pipeline. The Human Capital Institute estimates that by 2025, Generation Y will make up 75% of the workforce.

The key to creating a profitable, sustainable business is developing a strong leadership pipeline.

Unfortunately, many companies continue to use “old-school” management practices that were originally targeted at Baby Boomers. This means that these organisations are not equipped to attract, engage, and retain Generation Y employees.

During our time helping business to power up their people, we’ve seen reluctance to targeting this demographic. Gen Y has a reputation for their lack of corporate loyalty; they change their jobs as often as they change their hair style.

But, for companies that stop “blaming” and develop strategies to meet the needs of this group, Gen Y stops jumping from job to job because they feel engaged and satisfied in their position.

We are now right in the thick of a workforce demographic shift; it is now more important than ever to prepare your organisation to fulfil expected talent shortages as Baby Boomers step out of skilled roles.

How Do You Do This?

First, you need to be fully aware of the needs of Gen Y, how they operate, and what makes them tick. Second, you will need to implement marketing, recruitment, staff engagement, and corporate culture strategies to ensure you meet those needs.

Here Are Some Quick Tips:

Provide Transparency
The 15th Annual Global CEO Survey 2012 revealed that Gen Y prefers development and growth opportunities three times more than a cash bonus as a form of benefit. When you communicate the future direction of the company and develop a personalised plan of how a Gen Y employee can develop in line with that vision, they’re more likely to stick around because they can see a clear path forward for themselves.

Provide Flexible Working Conditions
Unlike Baby Boomers, Gen Y don’t chase the idea of work life balance because they actually have a healthier perception that two aren’t mutually exclusive. This generation has a reputation for slacking off at times, but this is in comparison to Baby Boomers who have a belief of “success=work your butt off 100% of the time”. Things like flexible hours, flexible working conditions, and flexible “procedures” will help Gen Y employees to maintain the perfect blend of work and life. Focus on the outcomes, results and achievements they make rather than the how and when. If they check their Facebook Page every hour, does it really matter, especially if they achieve all that’s expected?

Create A Culture Where They Can Question The Status Quo
As Gen Y have a burning desire for professional development, it’s important to create a culture where they are safe to challenge the status quo. This is will not only keep them engaged, it will also grow a corporate culture of innovation and creativity – giving your company a unique competitive edge!

Succession Planning

Finally, succession planning is a brilliant strategy to fulfil your workforce pipeline with skilled employees. Teaming your experienced Baby Boomers with upcoming Gen Y leaders has a three-way benefit. Your Baby Boomer feels valued because they are given an opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with others. Your Gen Y employee is engaged because she is being groomed for further development and is learning new skills. And your organisation continues to build a culture of learning, sharing, teaching, and growth.

Here at UQ Power, we believe creating the right culture is the number one strategy to building businesses with influential brands. If you want highly specialised support in powering up your people, UQ Power’s Culture Improvement Program will turn your employees into loyal company advocates.

Ridding your vocabulary of the "F" bomb

Alexandria Joy - Thursday, December 26, 2013

Everybody uses the “F” bomb. It’s a word that we attach so much negative emotion to – ego, pride, fear. Too many people connect their self-worth to the word – failure.

Failure is not an end point

If scientists saw their first attempts at creating cures for disease as a failure, we would not have any known cures in the world. If you think about it, we would be living a VERY simple, primitive lifestyle if everyone throughout history saw their mistakes as an end point – a time to give up on curiosity and discovery.   

 Replace “failure” with “lesson”

When an infant learns to walk, she has to find her centre of gravity by trial and error. She will wobble and stumble and fall for some time before she walks on her own two feet without support. When she leans to the left too much, she learns that it will tip her sideways. When she leans too far forward, she learns that she’ll tumble to the ground.

People who have all four quarters of their UQ Power House in balance, in particular their IQ quadrant, understand that failures provide lessons by a process of elimination.

When you’re mentally strong, you know: what not to do, what chemical compound doesn’t belong in the cure, leaning to the left will make you stumble, and what success doesn’t look like. So you try again with a more informed foundation of knowledge.  

The saying “Success never comes without failure” should really say “Success never comes without a lesson to be learnt”.

A leader with a strong IQ also knows when it’s time to call it quits. The difference with this leader is that he takes with him is a better idea of how he can succeed.

A recent Forbes article that went viral with popularity also pointed out that mentally strong people know when it’s time to move on.  

We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s when we take the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than we’ve gotten before. A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs.”

The end of year is a great time to reflect. Today, power up your IQ quadrant by contemplating all the wonderful lessons you’ve learned throughout the year.

 Please share with us below how your past “failures” have helped to move you closer to your goals (because that’s exactly what they do!).

Open Plan Office Hinders Productivity

Alexandria Joy - Monday, November 04, 2013

Open plan offices with cubicle partitions were created in the 1950s to encourage communication and boost teamwork. It’s a trend that is still in fashion, but a recent study has revealed that this type of environment attracts higher levels of staff dissatisfaction.

The Downside Of Open Plan Working Outweighs The Benefits

Working in an open plan office has its benefits, especially if you love to take regular breaks to share hilarious tales of your life from the weekend. But it’s this type of distraction that could affect staff productivity and satisfaction levels.

The study, conducted by the University of Sydney, involved analysis of 42,764 survey samples collected in 303 office buildings across the globe. Noise and lack of privacy and space were the top gripes.

Professor Richard de Dear, Head of Architectural Design Science at the University of Sydney and a co-author of the research paper, said worker satisfaction was important because it was linked to productivity.

“The productivity benefits of teams working together have been used to sell the open plan office for decades. Yet, if you do these evaluations and actually talk to occupants of open plan offices, very few people think that they are productive spaces. You need places to concentrate.”

A Better Way Of Working

New to the 21st century, savvy companies are bucking the antiquated open plan trend to create an Activity-Based Work Culture.

When the Commonwealth Bank moved its headquarters in 2011, it used the opportunity to change the way their employees worked day to day.

The Bank’s Chief Financial Officer, David Craig explained: “Activity-based working recognises there is a spectrum of work styles and demands and that each day, people will have different activities to complete requiring varying levels of concentration or collaboration.”

In an activity-based working environment, employees aren’t necessarily stuck to the same desk. It recognises that sometimes they’ll need quiet time to focus. Sometimes they’ll need access to technology and sometimes they’ll need to brainstorm or share tasks with others.

At places like the CommBank’s headquarters, there are quiet, enclosed spaces, open spaces for collaboration, and areas for formal and informal meetings. Employees choose where to set up for the day, the morning or afternoon according to what type of work they need to do.

“Activity-based working delivers the working environment and tools for staff to choose different work styles to suit their work activities. It is about empowering them and engaging,” Craig said.

You can read more about the Commonwealth Bank’s workplace environment here.

Your Environment Affects Your Psychology

Your physical environment has a huge impact on your brand, your culture, and how your business is perceived (by employees and customers alike). At an individual level, it affects how people carry out their work, how they feel, and how well they perform.

Take a look around your workplace now. Does it scream efficiency and precision? Does it encourage creativity and innovation? Does it feel fun, cosy, or friendly? Does it have dedicated spaces to cater for different activities?

Every day the UQ Power team visit organisations from a range of industries and we see a lot of desks. We can usually tell straight away what the appearance of a desk says about the desk owner and the company culture of the organisation. See for yourself here - http://www.uqpower.com.au/_blog/desk-a-day

Why Train, Develop, And Power Up Your People?

Alexandria Joy - Monday, August 26, 2013

For many companies, a knee-jerk reaction to the challenges of increasing costs and outside influences has been to shrink, cut, slow, and reduce. Businesses from a range of sectors are shrinking the size of their workforce, cutting services, slowing production, and reducing diversified investment activities.

While it’s important to make these moves to stay in the game, it’s now more important than ever to power up your people. Job cuts and redundancies also affect the remaining employees and overall company culture. Shrinking and tightening the organisation in these ways makes the remaining employees see their position as being “vulnerable”. They go into survival mode and become protective of their patch – creating competition amongst peers rather than collaboration.

Rather than going to ground, now is the time to invest in and grow your people. After all, it’s valued and engaged workers who contribute the most to their employers and its companies that stand out from the crowd and tap into their UQ Power that get the customers.

Training and development is one of the best ways to power up your people. Here’s why:

Invest in your staff and enjoy the benefits - The benefits of developing and training your employees to help them reach their full potential are boundless. Not only will you see participants improve their performance as a result of what they learn you can also make use of action learning projects to solve some longstanding company challenges that might otherwise never have been addressed.

Invest now and reap even more benefits later - We all know business isn’t just about the present – we are forever looking to the future to secure our longevity. By investing in your company culture and employees now, you will expand and improve the quality of your company’s bench strength and have a larger pool of qualified talent when developing the company’s succession plans.

Retain your top talent - Showing you care about the future of your employees by contributing to their development demonstrates to them just how valuable they are to the company. This could help you to retain some of your top talent that you might not otherwise have kept.

Bring performers into the spotlight - By giving your employees the chance to shine in a more forgiving environment, such as a training workshop, you may just start to see them in a different light and find new ways to put their talents to work.

Weed out under performers - You will be able to identify some employees who had seemed to be rising stars, but who fail to perform well in a learning program, which will help the company avoid potentially costly promotional errors.

Reconnect to the business - With the pace of business today it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. By bringing your executive team on a learning and development journey you will help company executives feel more connected to many parts of the business through their participation in the training.

Power up fast

With less workers to share the load no doubt you’re wondering how you can fit in training programs to up-skill your employees. By using a Bite Sized Learning approach and focusing on your company’s key competencies, you will quickly help employees develop the business acumen and execution skills they will need when they assume new leadership roles.

Rather than spending a lifetime studying degrees and higher qualifications, short bite sized courses gives people the opportunity to update their skills in only a fraction of the time. Ranging from 1.5 – 3 hour workshops, our bite sized workshops are perfect if you’re looking to build upon existing talents or increase motivation.

Drop us a line at http://www.uqpower.com.au/contact-us to find out more about our Bite Sized Learning program.

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