It’s ok not to be ok – The four things I learned about employee wellbeing by taking time to reconnect

The four things I learned about employee wellbeing by taking time to reconnect

by Dale Smith

Mental health and employee wellbeing is more on the agenda than ever before, but we still have a long way to go to ensure that this issue is better understood. With an estimated 137 million working days lost due to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016. From this figure, 11.5% cited mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety and serious conditions). This is a staggering number and one that I believe could be better supported with more awareness and prevention.

Not long ago I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Portugal at a mindfulness, meditation and yoga retreat. The objective of the retreat was to find more compassion for both self and others and it took us on a journey to a collective community of happiness and contentment. This was my first retreat and I definitely had to go with an open mind and a willingness to embrace a personal transformation. I wanted to share some of my experience in support of others who are working toward creating a wellness culture in their work environment.

The retreat began with a welcome meeting and meditation and set the tone for the week ahead. It gave all participants the information needed and an opportunity to feel comfortable with both the agenda and the community of people that we would share the experience with.

Learning #1:  Don’t forget the importance of a great induction programme, as it too plays a massive role in the way employees start their connection with the community in which they will be working. This is their first step to feeling supported and it often sets the pace as they mean to go on. Having worked on various induction programmes I have always been a huge advocate for striking a balance between a clear company overview and allowing employees to feel excited and supported by the brand. It should delve into the values of the company, give insight into the culture and community and give participants a sense of belonging.

The introduction to the retreat left us with a sense of compassion; this allows employees to experience a deeper connection with the company. This is best placed in the live environment while new starters learn their role at a pace that allows them to feel more at ease. The pressure to get things right from the offset can continue to build throughout the earlier days of employment and impact of employees’ perception going forward.

I went into those early meditations with so much work stress and chaos in my mind that I felt like I was on the verge of exploding. I pushed myself so hard to try to meditate and master it quickly, that it just added to the pressure. The harder I pushed, the further I got from achieving what I desired. It was not until I discussed this in our open group session that I realised that I was not alone and that it was okay not to be okay. The community’s support and openness allowed me to be safe in my vulnerability and gave me the reassurance that it would happen when it was right. The intent of the group was pure and in that I felt more relaxed and less pressure to succeed. From this state, success was easier.

Learning #2: Create a more open and supportive community – one where it is okay not to be okay. The retreat aimed to show individuals how to have more compassion for self in a more productive and healthy manner. The compassion of the community gave me the calm and the wiliness to relax and ride my stress wave in a very different way. Stress and depression are debilitating and a negative spiral can further exacerbate a pre-existing condition. Whether it is physical, like an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise, or mental in terms of negative thoughts and self-talk – all can be better managed with the support of others.

I feel truly blessed that I was able to take this opportunity and I am still astounded by what I achieved in such a short period of time. My ability to manage many areas of my life were positively impacted; finding a more focused and honest approach to my own emotions and stress levels.

My time at the retreat allowed me to stretch both my mind and body in new ways but it was all connected to a higher sense of purpose and support of self and the community. Days began with 8 am yoga, breakfast in silence, three hours of meditation and group work, followed by an additional 90 minutes of yoga and meditation before bed.

Learning #3: Support future work by building more high-functioning and supportive teams. Prior to the retreat, I often struggled to find the time or energy to make it to the gym or yoga class, however, within the retreat culture, I never missed one session. It was within this collective that I found the desire to find a higher sense of commitment.

I truly loved the mindfulness aspect of the week and took great solace in our breakfast in silence. This even extended to a full 24 hours of silence and ban on all communications (including verbal, physical, and technological, such as email and phones). At first, the mere thought of this challenge occurring while the team in London was caught up in a busy workweek was almost debilitating. But I made it through – and it was phenomenal. If you are ever given the chance, try it. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Learning #4: It is impractical to think that we can run a business where we can choose to be silent for the day. However, it is not without question to introduce more mindful moments to our work life, whether that is self-led or set as a company directive by introducing sanctuary space that allows people to just be for short periods of time.

Something happened during that week that is very hard to explain, however it was clear that a transformation had taken place. I reached a state of happiness and calm and my brain was clearer than it had ever been. Emerging neuroscience reveals that following your passion and doing what you love makes you happier and stronger; mentally and emotionally – and from a chemical rather than philosophical view. Two of the brain’s most powerful neurotransmitters – dopamine and oxytocin – are connected in rewarding and reinforcing the exploration and connection required in the pursuit of passion.If I could rebalance these two chemicals to go from the stressed individual that entered the retreat to a smiling, calm content person in just a week – then just imagine what could happen if we started looking at more long-term sustainable solutions that support employees every day.

I’m not suggesting we have to go away for such an intense or extreme tune-up. If organisations made even small changes to the way they view and support the mental health of their employees, we could better the lives of many people. It could mean matching the parallels that I experienced with practical solutions: guided meditation, coaching, mindful meals, downtime sanctuaries, yoga, encouraging more exercise and healthy food in the workplace. The culture also needs to give employees the license to not always be okay, to let them know that there is a compassionate and caring organisation open and willing to support them.

Great businesses are run by great humans, and humans are at their best when they are supported by great communities.

Video: Bridge Talks with the Dorchester Collection

Bridge Talks is back in 2018 starting with 'A Night with the Dorchester Collection' on June 12. Eugenio Piri, Chief People and Culture Officer, opens up the doors to the amazing cultures that support their businesses. The event will look at the important role that all employees play in delivering an outstanding customer experience and share their journey to putting in place a business case for culture.

Tuesday 12th June, 6:30pm. £30.

Book your ticket


Authentic You – Building your Personal Brand

“You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?”

Tom Peters, The Brand Called You

I never wear a tie. One of Bridge’s values is “Keeping it Real and Fun” – and ditching the tie means I keep it real and relatable. I use personal stories (almost every presentation includes one about my mum) and inject humour into my facilitation and keynote addresses. By staying true to who I am, I’ve built an authentic personal brand. The more authentic your leadership brand, the greater success you’ll have when living it. Humans are drawn to real, authentic people, not made up personas, so you need to embrace this to differentiate your brand.

As a brand specialist working with across a range of industries, my work often begins with an explanation of how, at the core, all brands have a unique set of values, a vision and a personality; ideally complemented with a clear direction and purpose; much like people.

“Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you.”

David McNally & Karl D. Speak, Be your own Brand

A strong personal brand is the successful self-packaging of who you are and what you stand for: your values, beliefs and purpose, expressed by what you do, and how you do it – including how you look and how you sound. When it comes to my own personal branding, one facet of which I had not been specifically conscious was how I dress and the colours I wear, and the affect that it has on how I am perceived by others. As part of my exploration into building a leadership brand, and in pursuit of my theory that ‘businesses are driven by humans, therefore behave like humans’ I had the opportunity to spend the day with Jackie and Helen at House of Colour.

House of Colour promises to ‘help you to look fabulous and radiate confidence in the colours and shapes that suit you as an individual’; offering master classes in colour, fashion and make up. Their philosophy is that when you look amazing, that’s the real you: “Your face lights up, your eyes sparkle and everyone pays you compliments.”

My day at House of Colour was spent looking at the power of colour, clothing and accessories in building confidence and in projecting the most positive version of myself, starting with the with the colours that best suited my skin tone. As humans, we have a relationship with colour and this experience enlightened my to the way that we choose colour in demonstrating our personality, and how sometimes colour chooses us.

Above: Watch what happened during my day with House of Colour

Based on what I took away from my day at House of Colour, becoming conscious of my outward projection, I wanted to put together some quick tips on building an authentic personal brand – one that projects a positive perception to the external world.

Ask yourself why.

Firstly you need to establish why you want to define your personal brand. An exercise in building your personal brand is an exercise in self-awareness and one that all people should embark on. Are you looking to move into a new career or gain a promotion? Are you looking to master an environment in which you want more control? To understand how this brand will add value to your desired future state is very important, and this step will help you to visualise in the later steps, when you are ready to unleash your brand.

Identify Your Brand Values

Like every brand, having a core set of values is key to guiding you and ensuring your brand maintains its integrity. Remember that these values will be the support network that underpins the actions and behaviours that bring life to your brand. An authentic brand will align with your core values, so take some time in defining these.

The list of values need not be extensive, and should be manageable and a true representation, personally and professionally. For example, if ‘innovation’ is one of the values that you respect in yourself and desire from others, then put this to the test by outlining actions that will bring the value to life. Always remember that your values are yours to own and are the gifts that have been given through life’s journey.

What will be your icing on the cake?

As with all brands, it is important to recognise what will really make you stand out. What is your USP? To find this, you will need to tap into your true passion in life – what excites you? How does this passion define the unique parts of your brand?

“Differentiation is one of the biggest factors contributing to a strong and successful personal brand, and the core of finding what differentiates your brand is typically embracing something unique about yourself.”

John Hall, CEO and co-founder, Influence & Co for

Your brand must encompass your true passion and purpose in life; embody your heart and mind and be the best reflection of you. Passion is yours to own and no one else can define this for you – so whatever it is, it helps you celebrate your uniqueness.

Look and sound the part

The devil is truly in the detail – I have seen many corporate brands miscommunicate their message or fail on execution. In corporate branding, we use terminology like ‘company voice’ to describe the way a brand sounds in its written and verbal messaging – the language it uses. For example, Coca Cola is always positive and happy, Innocent’s tone of voice is well known as laid back, playful and humorous and Mailchimp is tongue-in-cheek; whereas a government agency is more likely to use formal, easy-to-understand verbiage. The key to authenticity in your brand voice is a strong connection to your values, in written and verbal communications. When your voice is a reflection of what you believe in, it’s more likely to resonate with the people you are trying to attract.

From website design to advertising, to colour choice in a logo – it all says something about the promise and the personality of the people behind the brand. Yellow for the familiarity and warmth of McDonald’s arches; green for Starbucks’ sustainability and harmony; white for Apple’s intuitive and simple interface, purple for that luxurious, royal service of Virgin Atlantic (despite the red logo!).

Colour and emotion are intrinsically linked in both how we feel about ourselves and how the world sees us. This is no different when building your personal brand as all the choices that you make from the way you dress to the language you use plays part in the continuity and consistency of your brand projection.

Know Your Audience

Always be clear on your audience and ensure that you have enough flex in your personal brand that you can work openly with more than one audience profile. Being authentic means that you are unlikely to appeal to everyone, however you still have the ability to bring your light to a broad spectrum of people. A strong brand will naturally attract like-minded individuals, but also self-awareness will allow you to gain respect and build a connection with your audience without overpowering them with ‘100% real and authentic’ you.

Building your personal brand is not about being set in stone or having the attitude of ‘ this is how I am – take it or leave it!’ To gain self-awareness, you will need to seek out honest feedback from trusted friends, family members or advisors. In the early stages of building your personal brand, it is important that you practice humility and are prepared to take advice.

Great brands maintain a high level of self-confidence and have the ability to unite people from all different walks of life, but always remember that not everyone is your customer. It is important to stay true to yourself, and as with all clearly defined brands, your projected personality must be aligned to your unique offering.

Take Pride in your Brand Story

In the last few years, many companies have invested heavily in defining their brand story and making this the foundation for both their marketing and brand positioning. A brand story is exactly what it says on the tin – the journey that the brand has taken to reach the current state of who and where it is in its life cycle. It can be a collection of anecdotal stories that when brought together give the brand a sense of humanity.

From success to struggle, this narrative allows customers to forge a stronger connection to a virtual brand entity. This is no different when building your personal brand, in terms of having a better connection to your life journey. The stories that truly define the authentic you are the key to your sustainable success. Life has brought us all love, joy and pain; but when framed correctly, it is your unique story and one that will always make the best version of you.

Have some fun in building your leadership brand.

Learn to laugh at yourself, embrace your best qualities and be clear on your intent. All brands behave in a similar way as they share a commonality in knowing who they are and what they stand for. They are clear on the way they project their personality through each of their chosen mediums and are led by a higher purpose. Many great brands have changed the landscape of business forever, as have many individuals. So when building your personal brand, always remember that the best version of you will positively impact and influence many people. Stay true to yourself and keep your intent pure. The recipe for success sits in self-awareness, humility and bringing all of your best qualities to the forefront and sharing these openly with the world around you.

The Human Element: Insights Week 3 & 4

How to transform an organisation to a compassionate working space with a higher purpose.

Revisiting the 30 days of one human’s transformation gave us insights how to balance creativity versus process.

Transforming these principles into a working environment leads to the questions:

  • How do we measure success and at the same time create a long time sustainability through motivation?
  • How do we continuously engage employees?

Change or Transformation?

Engaging with the Unknown: Taking a break from it all to gain motivation.

This week, I have faced my fear of the unknown and ventured to Portugal on a mindfulness, meditation and yoga retreat. This is something that I have considered doing for years; always finding reasons not to offer myself the gift of inner awakening. However, as part of The Human Element, it is imperative that I immerse myself in new challenges with an open mind in my quest to better understand the connection between how people behave as individuals and as part of the collective of organisational culture.

Sharing my journey with 24 others, I have entered the world of collaborative working at its best. The word ‘transformation’ has been openly used, but not once have I heard discussions about ‘change’; a word that is often over-used in the world of business. The 24 individuals with whom I have shared some of my innermost thoughts are also on their own personal journeys, much like that of any company culture. What I learned early on in the week is that the secret is not needing to build something new, but tapping into the positive and powerful essence that already exists inside of us.

When I looked more closely at my own experience, I could see how leaders can be more authentic champions for transformation by drawing parallels between their own personal journeys and the organic state of all businesses. We are in the constant flux of change, but we must look to our strengths and those of employees to build a transformation narrative that embraces employee success stories.

Rolling out a ‘change programme’ in an organisation indicates that employees have been doing something wrong. Employee engagement should not be about change, but of unleashing the greatness that already exists within a company culture – a true transformation, bringing life and energy back to the organic state of the company culture. It is an opportunity to release processes and attitudes that no longer serve its employees, in their pursuit of happiness. It is also a time for the collective to work together in support of a common goal and purpose. Employees want to work for a company that they feel part of, one where they have a connection to a higher purpose.

“Businesses are driven by humans, therefore behave like humans,” has never been more true than when you delve deep into why corporate values exist. They are not a tick-in-the-box, created to keep up with other companies, or to make a great marketing statements. They are the foundation that makes a business human and should drive its projected personality and ideologies. Transformation allows all employees to come together around the values and be on a journey as one collective; and this has been at the heart of every successful engagement programme Bridge has been part of. Solutions should put real-life context to the values that employees are being asked to live as organisational citizens, in a place that the entire team can come together in a relaxed and open environment to share both successes and challenges.

An engagement programme needs to be unique to the personality of an organisation and its people, and creative learning opens minds to transform staff alongside the business. Never confuse training and transformation, simply because they both take place in a training room. Creative solutions that inspire employees must be woven into their daily lives for them to want to participate in the future of the business. At Bridge we often say that the first stage of engagement begins with having your voice heard. My advice: before you embark on any employee programme, find out what the team thinks.

The Neuroscience of Passion

Understanding challenges in human transformation processes – Week 1of the Living Brand Project gave us insights into breaking habits and the aim of reviving passion in short how to positively channel transformation and get started. Dale delved into neuroscience understanding that when you follow your passion challenges will be dealt with more ambition, the key to successful transformation is happiness – follow us next week in our research on The Human Element and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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