BEING and DOING is a fine balance.
Imagine constantly being hit by a stick whilst being asked to work harder.
This is how it feels for people who find it difficult BEING themselves at work.
Fears of rejection from a social group activates the same areas of the brain as physical pain.
To fit in, we wear the armour of DOING but this can create more distance between us and our colleagues.
BEING ourselves makes us vulnerable but this is the root of human connection.
This blog shows how organisations can create well-being by balancing DOING and BEING in the workplace.
What is BEING?
BEING is a cigar called happiness
Army officers are trained to make the right decisions whilst being in the most stressful environments. They call them ‘Hamlet moments’.
The phrase is taken from the classic Hamlet cigar adverts. The adverts playfully juxtapose BEING (smoking a cigar to relax) and DOING (trying to get the right picture in a photo booth). It shows that taking a ‘time out’ can bring us happiness, after all, ‘happiness is a cigar named Hamlet’!
This technique of focussing and ‘being in the moment’ is grounded in science.
“Here comes the science bit—Concentrate!”
When we are not DOING, our brain is still active. This BEING (or ‘resting’) state is called the Default Network (DN). When our brain is directed towards a goal or task (DOING) the DN deactivates.
One of the most significant discoveries in neuroscience found that when our minds are in the BEING state our personal and social lives are at the forefront of our thoughts. This suggests that our default state is social.
This discovery supports social psychology theories and the theory of our social brain – the idea that our cognitive abilities such as language, learning and collaboration allow us to live together by creating complex, highly dynamic social worlds.
BEING makes us human
In fact, our DN has been associated with these amazing human powers:
- Openness to Experience: Recent evidence has linked the default network to imagination and creative thinking. This is one of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits and is a person’s ability to change.
- Sense of Relatedness – In psychology this is referred to as the Theory Of the Mind (TOM). TOM is our ability to understand the perspective of others. Short interventions improve a sense of relatedness and belonging among LGBT+groups. A manager’s ability to understand the perspective of employees and create trust is also associated with improved task performance. In Self Determination Theory relatedness is also a key need for human motivation.
- Self-Projection – Another amazing human power we have is to mentally project ourselves into a future state. This ability to visualise is used by Olympic athletes to prime them for races. These are not positive fantasies that may drain our energy but specific tasks such as envisaging how you might talk an collegue.
- Strategic Narrative – The DN is also associated with our ability to create meaning from narratives. This ability to tell stories and link meaning in organisations is a key enabler of employee engagement. Here is a great example of KPMG creating a strategic narrative.
- Decision Making – the DN also allows us to vividly reconstruct personal events. This is a critical skill for organisations to be able to draw on the collective experience of their employees to make sound decisions. Being in our default state also reduces stress levels which also enhances our ability to make sound decisions.
Incidentally, these are very similar skills that the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2018 suggest organisations need to develop.
Maslow got it wrong!
Being social is so important it is associated with same parts of the brain that respond to hunger, thirst and breathlessness. Maslow got it wrong. There is no hierarchy. The need to belong is just as important as our physiological and safety needs.
This is why it hurts so much when we are excluded or unfairly treated – being social is who we are.
Given this evidence it should be no surprise that after studying 180 teams Google found that being in touch with other’s feelings (creating social cohesion) optimises the way teams work. For them it all starts with psychological safety.
Maybe we should consider reinvesting the millions spent on engagement in creating social cohesion and psychologically safety in workplaces?
Why are we not doing more BEING?
So, the science is clear – we are more human BEINGs than human DOINGs.
But at work we must balance DOING with BEING – we call this balance well-being.
But have organisations got the balance, right? The overwhelming evidence suggest that they haven’t.
The UK Health and Safety Executive identify the predominant causes of work-related stress as workload, particularly tighter deadlines. Other factors working against BEING at work are interpersonal relationships (e.g. lack of support, threat of bulling) and change (lack of control, role uncertainty). This increasing pressure to ‘DO’ is clearly undermining our ability to ‘BE’ in the workplace.
Also, we seem to find it hard to talk about BEING. DOING is quantifiable and objective – it fits with our scientific management view of work. BEING is qualitative and subjective and there is still a stigma attached to talking about our feelings and vulnerabilities at work.
The business case for BEING
Getting companies to ‘opt-in’ to BEING requires a strong business case.
The numbers are quite convincing. An analysis of 228 research studies suggests that these causes of stress have real human impact. Long working hours can increase mortality rates by 20%, high job demands can increase physician-diagnosed illness by 35% and job insecurity increases the odds of poor health by 50%!
But, as Thames Water have found, using initiatives that are tailored to organisational needs can significantly reduce workplace illness. Aimee Cain Occupational Health and Well-being Manager at Thames Water explains…
“90% of our employees are engaged in our Mental Health Strategy and we have seen an 84% reduction in work related illness cases over 4 years.”
Thames Water also introduced an employee ‘MOT’. It cost £50 per employee and within 4 years had diagnosed 30 cases of prostate cancer. Imagine how an employee would feel about a company that helped saved their life!
In an another example, Australian fire and rescue service conducted a 4 hour face to face training session costing £625·55 creating a £6243·60 saving in work-related sickness absence – a cost benefit ratio of 1:10. Other studies have found less modest but still impressive cost benefit ratios of between 1:3 – 1:6.
Maybe challenge your fellow Directors and see it they can match those rates of returns!
Here is a useful spreadsheet that will help you work out how much you can save.
But the benefits of practicing BEING in our default state go far beyond reducing absenteeism, presenteeism, staff turnover or accidents and injuries.
Balancing BEING and DOING creates meaningful work. It should be regarded by organisations as a strategic asset not simply a tactic to reduce employee stress. Well-being should be used by companies to outsmart and out-perform the competition. A strategy based on strength rather than a deficit.
How to increase BEING at work
The Strategic Approach
Here are some of the ways of creating a strategic approach to increase well-being at work:
- Tone from the top – Findings from 15 empirical studies show that servant leadership enhances employee well-being. Creating a positive work climate leads to greater organisational commitment which increases job satisfaction reducing employee turnover. Servant leaders create the climate for trust (defined as a willingness to be vulnerable to another) development, creativity and helping behaviours so critical to collaboration. Behaviours from leaders that indicate their openness to change will also increase employee voice.
- Employee voice – It is impossible for employees to be themselves if they have no voice. There is a good reason not to speak-up. Managers can perceive employees who challenge their views to be lower performers. But if managers can listen, be open to new ideas and involve employees in decision making they can improve creativity, trust and employee retention.
- Create safety – William Khan, the father of employee engagement, suggested that companies that create psychological safety and meaning engage employees. This is because they feel they can bring more of themselves (physically, psychologically and emotionally) to their role leading to higher levels of performance. However, psychological safety does not emerge naturally in organisations and can vary from department to department and team to team. In her TED talk Amy Edmondson outlines a 3-step process to create psychological safety in the workplace : Create a reason for speaking, Acknowledge own fallibility and Model curiosity.
- Be just – Research shows that the implementation of High Performance Work Systems can be counterproductive and reduce well-being if they are perceived to be unfair. This suggests that well-being and organisational justice should be at the heart of HR strategies. Analysis of 413 scientific studies shows that trust, commitment, support and relationships are strong drivers of task performance and citizenship behaviour.
The Tactical Approach
There are also numerous tactical ways of trying to manage employee absenteeism and stress:
- Well-being training – The RESPECT well-being awareness programme which was used by the Australian fire and rescue service delivering great results.
- Virtual Reality – Thames Water use virtual reality headsets to help employees experience what it feels like to be suffering from mental health issues.
- Mindfulness – this seems to be ‘in vogue’ but recent research has questioned the benefits of mindfulness suggesting is may reduce motivation with negligible effects on performance. However, it may still be a good tool used to enhance our rational and ethical thinking processes, not limit or displace them.
Other coping methods include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Neurolinguistic Programming and resilience training.
Tactical approaches deal with the symptoms of poor well-being and, from my discussion with practitioners, sit with Health and Safety functions. This makes perfect sense but potentially positions well-being as deficit based (dealing with employees DOING too much) rather than strengths based (encouraging BEING in organisations) which is the realm of HR.
Wherever well-being sits in an organisation it needs to balance both sides of the well-being coin – BEING and DOING.