Only fires should burnout, not people!

Brain Friendly ways to protect Mental Health through workplace Brain Wellbeing

As the founding brain of Springboard Tribe, an executive coach with over 18 years’ experience and with a previous business director role in global companies, I know only too well the signs of impending burnout. Sadly it’s behavioural signs are ones that others see in us, but we don’t see in ourselves.

Many people are experiencing COVID fatigue and have lost their motivation. For some the prospect of not returning to normality but a new, new normal is also causing anxiety that can spiral to mental ill-health.

Fortunately, this isn’t something that happens to everyone with one of the reasons being leadership and HR putting employee wellbeing, productivity, and team communications high up the management agenda.

By putting in place workplace safeguards they are protecting against burnout and ill health amongst their teams, themselves, and others.

The good news is that there is a lot that can be learnt from past recessions to protect against poor wellbeing that could impact work engagement, caused by the uncertainty and pressures of the past year.
One big difference that was not wildly available then, is our knowledge of how and what our brains need to thrive, which is being evidenced on what seems like a daily basis, by Neuroscience.
One thing we know for certain is that we are all more than capable of putting extraordinary pressure on ourselves due to many influences.

A central pressure point that I am sure we have all heard is a belief from those working from home or in a work environment, that they must be available when needed and be seen to be working long hours-presenteeism.

There are many reasons for this but the two that I believe should be considered and which are evidenced from a neuroscience brain perspective are:

The culture of the organisation people work in, one where being seen to be present is expected, and blame is part of the leadership/managers style.

We know from Neuroscience that this is totally unhealthy for the brain as it is then always second guessing and operating in fear or anger, so the Pre-Frontal Cortex or the executive area of the brain is not open for business and valuable focused, quality thinking is being lost as attention wanes.

Second are people’s personalities and mindsets. Specifically, the beliefs they have around their work practices that can often influence them, unconsciously.

The most common belief that we have seen when running our ‘Resilience and Wellbeing’ masterclass and through coaching is perfectionism and self-efficacy needs such as ‘I need to be seen to be doing well’, magnified during this pandemic when people are worried about their futures.

These types of mindset patterns can lead to burnout. Being always switched on means that the brains daily energy is being chugged through and the emotional drivers that the person constructs can quickly become debilitating. Resulting in cortisol, the neurotransmitter associated with stress, being active at unsustainable and unhealthy levels.

So what can be done?

We normally assume that the person involved has the majority of responsibility to change, but do they?

In our experience the need to adapt or change can be easily passed onto the individual, with the organisation so locked within their own pressures and fixed mindsets focused on growth at all costs, that they forget that there is a human element to all they are doing.

It’s all too easy when under pressure for companies to over-look that they survive only because of the human drive and that the care of those people is their responsibility and part of the psychological contract.

This is especially true during the pandemic with all that we have been experiencing. Particularly, the danger and uncertainty our brains are perceiving all around us. It can create a very toxic atmosphere for people to be productive in.

During the neuro leadership coaching conversation, we have with leaders they know how important these practices are, but with the added responsibilities and pressures they are under, they can easily lose sight of them or find it difficult to constructively think what they could practically be doing.

Their brains are also in fight or flight mode so cognitive thinking is being highjacked by emotions such as fear. As we explore through the calm and safe space of a coaching session, they identify what they can do that reflects their company culture and values, and that they can action quickly.

From a neuroscience perspective and our work with clients, we have identified 2 simple suggestions:

  1. Yes, it’s good to talk. Communication is at the heart of wellbeing. However, as we all know, some people open up and are more transparent than others. They may also trust their managers more hence feel safer to share their true feelings. Others may be more hesitant for a variety of reasons. We recommend to our clients that they use questions based on coaching techniques to signal to people that it’s safe to open up. The way the questions are framed creates a more automatic, honest response. Questions can be as simple as ‘If I could change one thing for you today what would it be?’. You are not telling, but asking, demonstrating respect, signalling to that person that you are wanting to listen and value them. As you know this is one of the most basic human needs directed by our brains.
  2. There are many companies making some really useful and friendly working arrangements with their staff, especially for those with children or other care responsibilities. What other working arrangements can you shape into their roles that include working from home but also ways to be flexible for when hours are worked, or over delivery of a project. The speed of technological growth over the past year means that how work and communication is shaped for the future won’t need to be around 9 – 5. From a brain perspective encouraging teams to agree their own charter in how they work and when creates stronger internal social relationships and trust, which in turn leads to better work satisfaction and performance, adding to a richer culture.

As you consult with your teams over the coming weeks, we are sure there are many other practices that reflect your company purpose and values and which don’t cost anything apart from some creative and collaborative thinking.

At Springboard Tribe we also have a variety of different options to help leaders, senior managers, HR and their teams replenish their brain-friendly resilience reserves and mindsets for mental wellbeing.

If we can help you to shape your companies world of neuro-friendly work, please contact us or view our website for the latest products and services. Join our tribe and join our monthly newsletter.

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