Friday 12 August 2016

Working Better is Working Smarter

Larissa Hämisseger
Based in Switzerland, Larissa Hämisseger, has a background in the business working in the fast-paced startup environment, where she is constantly in contact with people that work long hours on a daily basis. She is also a yoga instructor, teaching about, different health practices in the workplace. She is convinced that we are able to change everything in our lives that doesn't serve our highest best interests.
That's why she, sees a huge value in applying these practices in the business environment. Because both, organizations and individuals, have to play their part in creating stronger organizations with healthier and happier people.Here she gives her views of being healthy in today’s work environment.

MCE : There is so much being written and talked about stress at work. Do you think that we need a new approach to looking after ourselves better in our workplaces?

Larissa Hämisseger (LH) : There are so many approaches out there. Instead of coming up with a new one we just have to become more disciplined in following the existing ones. For example, the very simple one of taking breaks to find a balance between tension and relaxation within the working hours is a very valuable approach.

However, let's look at one of the still most mentioned approaches: work-life balance. Let's be honest, that one just arose because work was perceived as too negative (stress, pressure, too long working hours, etc.). So suddenly we came up with the idea of taking clear breaks from working in the evening, during holidays or weekends. However, this concept does not take into account making the hours at work less painful and even fun.

We gained more knowledge about what creates a healthier work environment though a strong and healthy company culture. Policies and exemplified behavior by the leaders such as no internal emails, not having to be reachable at any hour of the day, and especially supporting the employees in taking brakes do help.
Yet, we all choose for ourselves how we are living our lives and the organization is limited in supporting the people. If you are unwilling personally to change something about your stress level, it will be much harder for the organization to support you and vice versa.

If you had a choice what would you say are the three most important things to get right about looking after yourself at work?

LH :
guess it's the same you do in whatever area in your life.
First , being very conscious about your stress level is crucial yet many of us lost this ability. Get to know your body and don't ignore the signs that make you notice when a short break is necessary, or when a situation needs to be changed. Interpersonal relationships, for instance, need to be healthy, everything else makes you sick. So never ignore these signs and unhealthy situations but act on them. They arise for a reason.
Second, very basic but very important: get enough sleep, eat healthy and drink a lot of water.
Finally , Remember you always have the choice. Having piles of work to do is less stressful if you stop thinking about it and just focus on the task you are working on.

MCE : We all seem to complain about so-called ”digital overload”. Any tips for dealing with that or should we just make a rule to switch off once or twice a day ?

LH : First of all, don't complain because it's always a choice.
It's a challenge to wake up and not check your phone immediately, or wait for the bus and not reading the newest posts. But why bother to take a minute of doing nothing? Well if you are a 100% healthy, completely happy, not stressed, have great sleep and are doing what you love, then don't bother.
During the day switching from and tuning into different channels in a short time creates sensations of stress. Focus on one device and one channel at a time and keep breathing.

I would say the most important thing though is to set the rule to not check your phone as the last thing you do before bed and the first thing you do after waking up. If you manage to have a more healthy evening and morning ritual, without rushing and without any brain stimulation, you are doing a pretty good job. If that is hard, choose one day in the week where you apply another ritual than checking your phone.

MCE : Give us an example of a “good way” to switch off and the kind of benefits you get : e.g. better ideas, more creativity, happier employees ?

LH : As mentioned before taking conscious breaks from your task does not only help your stress level but fosters your creativity, thus your ideas and your solutions. By stubbornly staying at a task for hours you will most likely not deliver the best solution, it's frustrating and you had no time for human interactions. There is two ways of taking breaks: one is moving completely away from your task, having a chat with your colleagues, play some foosball or even go for a run or read a book. It helps you to look at your task from another angle and maybe more inspired.

Yet you can also take a break by becoming very conscious about the situation you are in and all that is related to the situation by centering yourself and looking at everything objectively, called mindfulness. Taking a few moments every day to just observe your breath (basic mindfulness exercise) can make a huge difference if practiced on a regular basis. It brings you back to the moment and helps you to act consciously instead of out of rage, tension or any other sensation. Not to mention all the other even scientifically proven benefits, mindfulness meditation has, such as more focus, better creativity, and healthier relationships.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Leading in a Disruptive World

The tragic trail of events, that seem to permeate our day-to-day lives, has become a sad, yet all too real, defining trend to the start of this new millennium – an age that promised so much. Looking back through the blurred and bloodied lens of recent history, it doesn’t seem that we have very much to hang our hopes, dreams and aspirations on. In fact, for many of us the opposite is true, fear becomes replaced by defiance, rhetoric is reduced to often hollow phrases as we find it hard – perhaps impossible – to comprehend what’s going on (or going wrong) with our world.

It is then that we need our leaders more than ever: individuals who have the innate ability to make us feel better about ourselves and safer in our skins. Despite the terrible events of recent history, we must not forget that we live in what has been termed a VUCA world.

A world that is by turns Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous

It is a most unforgiving place, where seemingly anything and everything can happen and really does. It is a world where disruption is the order of the day.

It is Volatile: Because at any moment the box of tricks called ‘life’ can explode in your face. Just when you thought you had all the loose cannons tied down on the deck, a storm appears out of nowhere.
It is Uncertain: Whatever you think will happen won’t – and just when you least expect it.

It is Complex: There’s no doubt that a techno-driven web of super-complexity and connectivity drives our world and we cannot get away from it – not even for a nano-second.

It is Ambiguous: The rules we grew up with just don’t apply anymore. It is almost as though doing the opposite from what logic tells you is the right response.

There’s a lot of utter rubbish talked and written about leadership, that’s what keeps the consulting industry gainfully employed. But what seems most clear to me is that every CEO or so-called world leader has one thing they need to do and take responsibility and accountability for recognize that the world is, as I’ve just emphasised, unbelievably complex and no single person, no matter how much a genius they may be, can run it effectively. 

Therefore, as we wade ever deeper into the mire and slime of our self-inflicted VUCA world, the ability for our leaders to build effective teams of people around them are going to be what defines our organizations (and governments) of tomorrow. Equally, the ability of these leaders to inspire their teams to go the extra mile to try and navigate the storms of tomorrow is going to be paramount.
If we are to succeed and prosper in a world defined by ongoing disruption, where our world can be instantly turned topsy-turvy by a single, terrible act, then we must be able to feel that those who run our organizations have access to the best advice and counsel they can get. 

This is no great time to be a CEO; a toxic climate marked by markets in turmoil, geopolitical tremors and zealous stakeholders finding new agendas to prosecute. All this takes the attention away from providing fulfilling work experiences, not to mention the small matter of turning a profit. Little wonder then that many of the best and brightest prefer to take a back seat rather than face the cut and thrust of daily life in the spotlight.

My message to leaders is, take it on the chin. Surround yourself with the best and brightest you can get (a few battle-hardened old war horses aren’t a bad idea either). Then when all hell breaks loose (and all the signs indicate it will do just that sooner or later) be as ready and able as you can. There’s not much more we can expect, but being ready to act is giving yourself an even chance, which is not a bad outcome when the odds are stacked against you.

We didn’t deal the cards, but we can dictate how we play them.
Real leaders know, intuitively, what’s in their hand all the time. Think about it for a moment. A suit of cards is not unlike a team of people; all have their uses. You just hope you don’t get dealt too many Jokers.

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage direct with Rudi Plettinx here.