360 degree feedback – a great way to improve leaders’ self-awareness

By Simon Shaw, Chartered Occupational Psychologist at the Kade Consultancy.

The importance of self-awareness in leadership

There’s a lot of research and opinion among psychologists about the traits that make a great leader.  Communicating effectively, being honest, making good decisions, showing integrity and having a vision are some that are widely discussed.  While these are undoubtedly important, there’s another, less glamorous leadership quality that’s commonly overlooked: self-awareness.  360 degree feedback is a great way of helping organisations to develop this important quality in their leaders. Self-awareness is hardly a new concept in the fields of psychology and leadership development.  In 1955 the Johari window model was proposed as a way of describing the degree of awareness that we (and others) have about ourselves.  However, 60 years later we still experience some of the problems it describes. According to the Johari Window we all operate within one of the four quadrants at any given time.  Which quadrant we fall into depends on:
  1. How aware we are of ourselves – e.g. about our motivations, feelings and the impact our behaviour has on others and
  2. How obvious these things are to our colleagues.
Of course we all move around these four positions in any given day, but by improving our awareness of our impact (“known to self”) and sharing more of ourselves with others at work (“known to others”), we can spend more time in the “Open” space.  On the flip side, we’ve all known people who seem to live perpetually in the Blind Spot.  These are the people who in the mirror and perceive themselves very differently to the rest of us. Research suggests that these blind spots can be very dangerous as they have the potential to act as ‘career derailers’.  Known derailers include being overly eager to please, aloof, attention-seeking or emotionally volatile.  Most of us have had some experience of working with people like this.  How did your time working with these people make you feel? Fortunately, most of us welcome the opportunity to get a real sense of how we’re seen by our colleagues and psychological research has proven that one of the best ways of doing this is through 360 degree feedback.

What is 360 degree feedback?

360 degree feedback is a method of gathering information – typically from middle manager level upwards – about how you are perceived by others in your workplace.  The information that’s gathered usually relates to the competencies (i.e. behaviours that individuals must exhibit to perform effectively at work) that the organisation has decided are important for its leaders. A range of people who work closely with you – including your line manager, colleagues, direct reports and possibly customers – provide feedback, in the form of numerical ratings and written comments, about their perceptions of how you measure up against each of the competency areas. Once data has been collated from all of those different people (known as ‘raters’), this can be compared with your own ratings to identify areas of high performance as well as any developmental needs.  Previous research indicates that managers often tend to rate themselves more highly for management competence and leadership effectiveness than do their colleagues. Some studies have also suggested that whereas leaders’ ratings of their own leadership fail to correlate with future performance and readiness for promotion, the ratings of their direct reports did.  The message? Leaders and managers who are willing to a) receive and b) act upon this feedback are likely to enhance their performance and career prospects. Discrepancies between our own and others’ perceptions can be particularly enlightening as they help to identify blind spots that are inadvertently sabotaging your performance as a manager or leader.   Feedback is usually provided by an experienced psychologist.  This helps to ensure that feedback to recipients is objective, constructive and that any resistance to difficult messages is managed professionally. Once completed, a useful next step is to produce a professional development plan to identify how any development needs can be addressed (and strengths enhanced).  Ideally, this should be supported by suitable ongoing development activities such as leadership development programmes, coaching, action learning sets or mentoring.

Benefits of 360 degree feedback to individuals and organisations

360 degree feedback provides many benefits, both to the leaders receiving the feedback and their organisations.  For example, it has been shown to:
  • be an excellent way to generate candid insights about how you’re perceived by those you work with most closely (which they may be unwilling to give face to face)
  • develop stronger working relationships, help teams to become more united and create better working environments
  • provide both the insight and motivation for you to grow as a leader and act as a foundation for your professional development plan
  • expand your personal awareness and highlight negative behaviour that has the potential to become a ‘career derailer’
  • provide objective data to help you ‘triangulate’ how you’re really perceived
  • establish training and development needs and inform succession planning.

Good practise for using 360 degree feedback

When used in the right way, 360 degree feedback can be a fantastic way to improve your leaders’ self-awareness.  Use our checklist below to ensure that your organisation can maximise the value of the process:
  1. Is there a clear purpose about why the 360 degree feedback is being introduced and how the data will be (and will not) be used? The majority of organisations use 360 degree feedback for development, rather than as part of recruitment or performance appraisal process.
  2. Has this been clearly communicated to those involved?
  3. Is there visible commitment to the process by senior management?
  4. Have the raters who will be giving the feedback been clearly briefed about the purpose and methods of the 360 degree feedback process?
  5. Is there an established organisational culture that supports giving and receiving feedback?
  6. Will feedback to managers and leaders be provided by appropriately trained internal staff/experienced psychologists? Difficult messages should not be avoided as these can unlock the greatest learning, but they should be delivered as sensitively as possible by a skilled professional who can manage any resistance that may occurs
  7. Do the line managers of those receiving feedback have the time and skills to support the production of a professional development plan and action planning?
  8. Are there sufficient organisational resources available to meet the development needs identified? 360 degree feedback is most effective when incorporated into a wider development context – for example to identify areas of strength and development need prior to a leadership development programme, as the basis for an executive coaching programme etc.

About Me

I’m Simon Shaw – a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with over a decade of experience of working with organisations. I’m accredited with the British Psychological Society and the Health and Care Professions Council and have professional qualifications in psychometric test use and executive coaching. I’ve worked on a wide range of assessment and development projects, including:
  • designing and delivering assessment and development centres,
  • using ability, personality and career development psychometrics,
  • delivering leadership development programmes and psychometric test training
  • providing executive coaching programmes.
Read more about me here.

Contact us to find out more…

If you’d like to know more about whether a 360 degree feedback process would be suitable for your organisation, please contact the Kade Consultancy team on 01422 372222 or email info@kadeconsultancy.org.uk. The Kade Consultancy team is currently developing our own in-house 360 degree feedback tool.  If your organisation is considering using a 360 degree tool, we are looking for partners in our trial.  If you’re interested in partnering with us, please contact us for an informal discussion.

Further reading

  • Brotherton, P. (2012) ‘360 instruments are the most popular way to assess leadership’, Talent and Development, volume 66(8), 18.
  • Lepsinger, R. and Lucia, A.D. (2009) ‘The art and science of 360 degree feedback 2nd ed.’, San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
  • Russell, L. (2015), ‘Focused feedback’, Talent Development, volume 69(2), February.

Dyslexia assessment: what can you expect?

Do you or your employees experience difficulties with reading or writing accurately or quickly? Have you considered a dyslexia assessment? These are not the only symptoms currently understood to be a part of the group of conditions which are becoming increasingly known as “neurodiversity”. This term replaces the one used in school and college environments – “specific learning difficulty”. These symptoms can include difficulty in maintaining attention and focus, or organisation and time management. An assessment can highlight the ways an individual can be supported in the workplace, not only through adjustments, but also through skill development and finding alternative and efficient ways of working. While dyslexia and related conditions are not referred to specifically in the Equality Act (2010), they are referenced in the guidance documentation. If you look at the definition of a disability, we can see how this fits.

Why we need to assess people at work

If you’re an employer, you might wonder why you need to do this? Case law has found that if an employer has reason to believe that a person might have a neurodiverse condition, they must act. A landmark case against a large accounting firm deemed that an employee was unfairly dismissed after failing an examination which led to her dismissal. This was despite not having gone through the formal assessment process before the examination.  The company then faced a large compensation pay out. Starbucks have been in the news recently as an employee won a discrimination case against them. Even though she told them she had dyslexia, they failed to support her. An assessment and small number of adjustments could have saved the company a lot of money and public embarrassment. Sometimes these adjustments can be low in cost. You can find this story on the BBC here.

What will the assessment tell you?

Assessments don’t just have to answer the question – is this a disability?  An assessment can answer the question as to why tasks are difficult, and give recommendations of support or development regardless of the answer. Sometimes, for example, it might highlight the need to develop a particular skill. Our trained assessors have many years’ experience in understanding how to help build and develop a person’s potential.

Who does the assessment?

The recent increase in awareness of the impact of dyslexia, ADHD and other disabilities has led to a change in the way these are dealt with. Occupational Psychologists, with experience in workplace issues and competencies, are now more prominently involved than Educational Psychologists. There are new guidelines in place as to what happens before, during and after assessments. A working group of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology has been developing the research base to inform our understanding of how we can best help those with neurodiversity at work. There can be a delicate balance between respecting an individual’s right to privacy and giving the client the information they need to help them. This is why we at Kade have our own working group to ensure we deliver a quality service that respects the needs and the relationships of everyone. If you’re a manager, this means we will give you only the information you need, and we won’t baffle you with the science. For the individual being assessed, that means we will respect your personal information and give you – and only you – the additional information which may be required to support you in the future when given to a trained professional. Before the assessment, we will talk you through the process and give you the opportunity to ask any questions. We will talk you through what your results mean and after the assessment, we’ll call again to see how things are going. If you would like an assessment, call our team to discuss how we can help. Julie is an Occupational Psychologist with experience of working with organisations and individuals around the globe to effectively meet their unique challenges.

Mental Health and Wellbeing – an holistic approach

I’ve been a practising psychologist for almost 30 years and in and among a varied career I’ve spent a lot of time running workshops, training and therapy sessions to help organisations and individuals cope with the stresses and strains of our modern world. As time has gone on it’s become more and more apparent to me that it’s virtually impossible for us human beings to separate out completely what happens in our personal lives from what happens at work. We do not function in a discrete bubble – either personally or professionally. What goes on in one area of our life impacts on other areas. In the early days of my career working on managing stress was dealt with in slightly different ways, depending on whether I was working in a one to one therapeutic session with an individual, or working with a group/department in an organisation. I suspect it boiled down to analysing structures and systems for the corporate side of things, whilst looking at appropriate strategies for individuals. I can also see that the training/therapeutic work was very much based on a negative premise – i.e. there is something wrong and we need to fix it, relying heavily on biological and psychological models. More recently there has been a shift in the way we address and manage stress. We talk about mental health – and rather than ill health we focus on wellbeing. This means taking into consideration social and environmental factors as well as considering interpersonal relationships. All of these need to be considered, whether we are looking at a one to one situation or working with groups and teams. The World Health Organisation describes (good) mental health being a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, is able to make a contribution to his or her community (which may be the workplace, family or neighbourhood) and has the capacity to develop and maintain healthy relationships. It’s evident from this definition that if we are to sustain good mental health we need to adopt a much broader analysis of what we need to do to promote it than there has been in the past. Research suggests that the most powerful childhood predictor of adult life-satisfaction is a child’s emotional health. Staggeringly the majority of mental health problems emerge during childhood and 75% of them are present by the age of 24 years. So as an adult how we’ve been brought up by our families, the environment, community and society where we were born and raised has a tremendous impact on how we will cope with pressure and difficulties as an adult. Not only are positive external factors needed for our wellbeing, but our own internal resources are equally important. Our DNA and our genes (genome) determine aspects of our personality and temperament. For example, some of us will be more resilient than others and able to cope; not only that but life’s experiences can impact on how well we deal with pressure. So we’re looking at a combination of nurture, nature and life events that will determine our ability to handle what comes our way. In a sense it’s not rocket science… If we are going through a bad time at home our distress is going to impact in some way on our work. Similarly if works demands are outstripping our capacity to work to the best of our ability, that’s not only going to impact our work, but can also cause problems with our family. Thus a vicious cycle is born. If we are going to work towards having a workforce that is productive, settled and dependable we need to adopt an holistic model for dealing with any indicators of poor performance and productivity, high staff turnover and high levels of sickness and absence. We need to look at the systems, structures and culture of an organisation to identify whether we can improve the work climate and environment in its widest sense. We need to look into our training and development programmes to see where there may be gaps. Above all we need to look at our workforce. If they do not have the personal ‘tools’ to deal with the demands of the workplace then with the best will in the world the organisational ‘stuff’ will only partially hit the spot. Elaine Douglas CPsychol AFBPS CsI FCIPD

Successful Leadership Behaviours when Change is a Constant

When working in a variety of organisations and spending time with friends and colleagues I often hear it said that change and uncertainty is the only constant in our lives.  This environment has been described through the acronym ‘VUCA’ which became commonly used as a term following the terrorist attacks of 11 September.  It represents volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  In business we experienced this environment with the financial crisis of 2008 when well used and established business models quickly became obsolete in the volatile environment that we found ourselves in.  Environmentally we have experienced this with global events for example the earthquake in Nepal and more locally floods in Cumbria and York.  Elland Bridge has been under repair since the Boxing Day floods and on a more positive note we saw Yorkshire unite when supporting the Tour de Yorkshire.  Technically we are seeing developments at an increasing pace and socially our population is ageing.  We are encouraged to take more responsibility for our environmental footprint for example by avoiding business trips and be more inclusive of others in our approaches by adjusting the workplace and our way of working for colleagues with diverse needs.  Most recently we have experienced the decision to leave the EU and the continuing uncertainty of what this will mean. So if we recognise that we live in the VUCA world, how then do we identify and develop leaders that will rise to the new challenges that are presented?  The first step is to identify through analysis what skills your organisation needs now and in the future, design a process that will effectively identify these in selection and use the most effective approaches to develop them fully in the individual.  These skills and approaches will be specific to each organisation and individual, however there are common trends identified across organisations.  For example research with executives whose careers stalled found that typically they don’t relate well to others, are self-centred, don’t inspire or build talent, are too narrow and don’t deliver results.  If you’ve worked with any leaders with these characteristics, you may know from experience how damaging this can be to morale and ultimately to productivity. In the future we need leaders that have the abilities to perform in these areas that have been found to be lacking. To understand the VUCA world more fully we can explore the meanings of the terms further.  Volatile means that change does not happen in a predictable pattern and is much more frequent.  Uncertain means that experiences from the past are not necessarily good predictors of the future which makes forecasting difficult and decision making a challenge.  Complexity of the issues makes it difficult to identify causes and problems.  Ambiguity makes it difficult to understand why things are happening.    Working in a psychology business we help adults to understand themselves and others who are often volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous so we can help them to respond to change more positively despite the environmental difficulties that aren’t in their control. We have effective local leaders with the ability to adapt but this is increasingly difficult with the increasing speed of the change.  Successful leaders in the future need to be agile and flexible with increased levels of self-awareness.  They need knowledge of the business beyond their functional area so that they have the information to make decisions and well developed critical thinking skills.  To make the best use of these skills our leaders need the ability to learn and to quickly apply their learnings to new situations.  One way organisations can recruit leaders with these skills is by using selection tools that are known to be good predictors of future performance, for example structured interviews combined with psychometrics and well-designed assessment centres. These new skills of leadership are adaptive skills which require a move away from the traditional development methods of on the job training, mentoring for leadership development and technical skills training courses. Development for successful leaders means moving toward an approach that provides an initial in depth psychological assessment to increase their levels of self-awareness.  This development work can then progress through work based scenarios in cross functional teams and application in real work situations.  These interventions can be measured through improvements in the business for example new products, improved processes which reduce costs and an increase in collaborative working.  Successful leaders provide solutions to existing problems within the business as they are seen as an opportunity. To develop successful leaders we need to accept that there is likely to be constant change and uncertainty for the global and local environments – including your organisation.  More importantly we then need to recognise that we need to help our leaders to develop new skills in different ways to provide them with the ability to deal with the speed and complexity of the change.  A great starting point for this is to consider whether your existing selection and development practices are recruiting and developing leaders who possess the skills needed to steer your organisation safely through times of increasing uncertainty and change. Gill Gowland CPsychol is Principal Psychologist at The Kade Consultancy.  She has experience of working with leaders in sectors such as finance, energy and education across the globe.  Gill has been instrumental in developing Kade’s up to date approaches including our new website and developing our team of experienced psychologists. Have a look at our free change tool at: http://www.kadeconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Change-Tool-Individual-reactions-to-change.pdf

Seven Ways to Spring Clean Your Professional Life

With spring here, I’m sure you – like me – are starting to feel more optimistic and hopeful about longer days and warming weather. We often associate this time of year with “spring cleaning”, where we clean our houses and dust out the winter. Perhaps this is also a good opportunity to do the same for our professional lives. Here at Kade, we’ve revitalised our website in line with our new focus for 2016. Take a look around and see what you think. Here are our tips for how you can clear out the clutter in your own professional life.

1. lear out your virtual space

In our busy lives, sometimes files get saved in the quickest place we can. When work is emerging or being created, it might not have an obvious category to file away at the time. Sometimes this means you then get lists of files in the generic “Documents” folder, or “Downloads” folder, which might now have more logical place. Filing away these various documents can then make it easier to find the documents you need when you are in a rush, and ultimately save on stress. Inboxes are another place where our “stuff” can clutter. Filing or labelling can help us find information more easily. Personally, I find having a short list in my inbox is very satisfying, although it happens less often than I would like.

2. Update Social Media

Some people love social media, others hate it and think it takes us out of the present moment. For me, social media can connect me with people I would otherwise have lost contact with, and I’ve had many opportunities as a result. It’s a link to people you might not have seen for a while, but who you may still have a great connection with. So keeping our network up-to-date with what we are doing now can give us talking points or remind people are about where we are. Perhaps you’ve been in your job for a while, and your job has grown and changed. Does your LinkedIn profile reflect this? Perhaps you’ve changed your job or acquired new qualifications? Even if you’re not searching for something in particular – a new job or business contact – you never know what unexpected opportunities may arise!

3. Re-visit your network

This brings us on to the people in your network. When was the last time you got in touch? It’s easy to get caught up in our lives and forget to reply to that email, or get in touch with that old colleague. Taking the time to reconnect – either via social media or face-to-face can re-energise those relationships and our personal and professional lives. Relationships feature strongly in relation to well-being, so get in touch with an old contact! The weather is getting warmer, so perhaps you can venture out for a drink or a meal!

4. Review work practices

It’s good to take a step back from time to time and review what we are doing and how helpful we are finding this. Many of us are familiar with the 80-20 rule, where 20% of what we do contributes to 80% of our effectiveness. So what is it that you are doing that is the most effective? What is the least? Have we got into any bad habits – working late, working through lunch, not delegating? What effect is that having on us?

5. Refresh your work wardrobe

What we wear and how we present ourselves doesn’t just impact on how others see us, but can also change the way we act. In a suit, we may sit up straighter and this can impact on our attention and focus. After we’ve been comfortable in a job for a while, we can start to become more casual. Perhaps it’s time to freshen up your look?

6. Review your goals

When you make your goals, they are current, interesting, and occasionally a pie-in-the-sky dream. Looking back on these can help you feel a sense of achievement as you tick off the ones you have done. Achievement can be an important part of well-being. Positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, discusses how achievement is one of the ways to make you feel better in his book, Flourish. I found a list in my drawer recently, and ticked off “learn to scuba dive” and “speak another language”. I decided I was able to check off the latter as while I think I could do better in Spanish, I did have a two hour conversation with someone who didn’t speak English last year, and numerous shorter conversations. I thought that was enough to give it an achievement tick. If you haven’t met these goals, it can be good to take some time to re-focus and remind yourself of your purpose and motivation in putting these on your list of goals in the first place. Some goals might not be relevant any more, and it can be good to review these and take them off the list. Apparently, a few years ago, I wanted to swim every day, whereas now I like to mix it up with yoga and dancing. Don’t have a list to review? Maybe start one!

7. Revisit old ideas

If you are like me, you have lots of bits of paper, or short word documents with ideas in them which I jotted down before I forgot, but then filed them away for a rainy day. For me, that was sometimes out of an awareness that I wasn’t yet ready to implement those ideas. When I have looked back on these, sometimes I’m still not ready, but I can take another step towards it. We’d love you to have a look around our re-invigorated website, and give us some comments about how we’re doing. You can also follow us on Linked-InTwitter and Facebook.

Resilience in a changing world

Life has changed a lot in the last few decades – far more than the pace of evolution helps us to adapt. Neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin suggests that we now have to cope with 5 times more information every day than we did in the 1980s. Ever look at Don from the TV series, Mad Men sleeping on the sofa after a large Scotch and wondered how he hadn’t been sacked? Other sources indicate that our efficiency has improved so drastically that now we could all take Friday off and be just as productive as the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, with increased efficiency comes increased pressure. Resilience has become a hot topic and psychologists are rising to the challenge to help businesses and their employees to cope with the rising levels of stress and absenteeism. So how do we do this? The recent conference hosted by the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology showcased a number of ways psychologists are targeting employees’ stress and designing interventions to help. From mindfulness practice to positive psychology techniques to make change happen while keeping stress down and maintaining resilience. There were tips to manage your email pressure to addressing harassment complaints aimed at stressed-out managers. It was encouraging to see positive approaches bringing effective results to business, allowing us to show our human side, whilst also keeping the productivity and profits in good health. Kade is giving organisations an opportunity to see how some positive psychology techniques can influence your own team’s well-being and resilience while also raising money for charity. Our “From the heart” campaign is designed to do just that this February – giving some positive words and encouragement to team members to develop team-relations and give people a happy glow! You can sign up here to take part. We’re also doing a short piece of research to look at how people feel before and after taking part. It’s anonymous and you can tell us if you’d like to take part through the link. Once you have given out your feedback and collected donations, you can donate on our Just-giving page. We’d love to hear from you on Twitter to find out about your experiences, and do tag us @KadeConsultancy. There is some more information on the sign-up and just-giving pages, or you can check out our previous blog here. Julie is an Occupational Psychologist with experience of working with organisations and individuals around the globe to effectively meet their unique challenges.

From the heart: Show your colleagues some love using positive psychology!

Are you interested in increasing the well-being of your staff using a proven positive psychology technique? How about in giving money to a worthwhile charity’s campaign which could save lives? We have just the thing for you! “From the Heart” is a campaign to raise money for charity in February 2016 which can also benefit staff well-being and team relationships. It is simple and fun to do – everyone who wants to join in puts their name in a hat. On the allotted day – we’re choosing 15th February – everyone picks out a name, and writes them a piece of positive feedback, “from the heart” to raise that person’s well-being and positive emotion. Make it sing if you can – say something that you would like to hear yourself and would make you feel good. It’s like a Secret Santa, only your present is free and you can have a wonderful impact on that person. Taking part involves a donation of at least £1 and the money goes to charity. Here at Kade we are recommending the money is sent to the Mending Broken Hearts Campaign – research which is carried out at universities such as the University of Leeds and University of York. This project has the potential to save many lives through helping the heart regenerate. You can find out more about this exciting project here. The “To the Heart” campaign is an exercise in positive psychology, which aims to help people flourish. Many of these techniques are used to enhance emotional resilience and have contributed to lowering sickness absence and improving engagement in learning and work. Participating as a team can improve relationships and help everyone work together more effectively. When I’ve described this to people, one of the questions I have had is, “What if I get someone I don’t like?” For me, this is an opportunity to change the way you see that person. If they are not performing at their best in their role, is confidence their issue? If so, searching for the good in them can help them to build on their strengths and who knows, perhaps you will see some improvement? So if they are always late and poor at organisation, perhaps think about their flexibility. Will they do things at the last minute? Do they get upset when you change the plans? If they are not very task-focussed, think about their people-skills. Can they put people at ease? Do they know how to keep a conversation going? Regardless of whether their skills are entirely appropriate to their role, this positive psychology technique can help to make that person feel better about themselves, promote their self-esteem and identify opportunities for  you to help them use those skills to improve areas where they need development. This kind of activity is not new, for example it has been used on occasion in schools before, and the children held on to their positive messages, and they thought about these long after. When I tried this before, I kept my messages and they gave me a feeling of warmth each time. So why don’t we share this more often with our colleagues? Happiness is contagious…so after showing your love for your partner on Valentine’s Day, show a little love for your colleagues this coming February. Julie is an Occupational Psychologist with experience of working with organisations and individuals around the globe to effectively meet their unique challenges.

Workplace bullying: believing the bullied?

The current context of workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is an issue which is becoming better known and understood, but it seems that every news report on this says it is on the rise. This suggests that while we are becoming increasingly aware of this as an issue, we have not yet embedded the techniques that will address this adequately. A report from ACAS this week suggests that many inexperienced managers do not know how to deal with workplace bullying and do so incorrectly. This is a major barrier in organisations addressing this issue among employees. Given the cost of litigation in this area, avoiding the issue could be expensive, but it seems to me that our duty to address this issue goes beyond the financial. The effects of workplace bullying can have long legs, stretching into that person’s personal life and beyond their employment in a particularly toxic environment.  Symptoms can include serious mental health issues such as stress or depression. If we have compassion for our colleagues and work friends, surely we wouldn’t want this to happen under our very noses.

Victims of bullying aren’t always believed

Part of the problem can be believability. I remember a news article a few years ago in which a Personal Assistant claimed to have been bullied by colleagues who ignored and alienated her. After winning a large settlement, I recall friends and colleagues sneering, unwilling to believe that what she had been through could be worth such an amount, and insinuating that she simply “didn’t have what it takes” to work at such a high level. Those who stand up against the bullying of others can also find themselves in the firing line, and the Equality Act (2010) includes direct discrimination by association. This includes friends, family and colleagues, and hence anyone who might defend and support the bullied.

Keep an open mind

A former colleague in an advisory role once commented to me about the diverse range of disclosure from clients. She explained that on occasion she had felt they could not possibly be telling the truth; that surely that individual must have simply misunderstood or be exaggerating. Later, it so happened that in one of these cases, she was presented with firm evidence that the workplace bullying the person had described had in fact been true. This was a lesson in firstly keeping an open mind, but also a reminder that unless we have been through every moment with someone else, they will always know more about what happened than we ever could. If we act as advisers, coaches or managers, we may have the tools and skills to help a person deal with a situation in their lives, but they will always be an expert in their own life, and no-one has more information about that than they do. In relation to bullying, it is the perception of the person who has been bullied that is most important. If a person’s self-esteem seems to be reducing and they appear stressed, perhaps there is a reason for this. Unless we have hard evidence to contradict their account, who are we to judge? Julie Freeborn is an Occupational Psychologist with experience of working with organisations and individuals around the globe to effectively meet their unique challenges. If you’re experiencing issues with bullying within your organisation and would like to find out more about how we can help, please visit our managing bullying at work.  We’d be happy to have an informal, no obligation chat to discuss your particular circumstances. Want more content like this delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletter for our latest updates, articles and resources.

How mindfulness made me legless

Today is National Stress Awareness Day and this year the focus is on employee well-being as a worthwhile investment in your business. The effects of stress on the workforce are becoming more and more well-known. Statistics from the Labour Force Survey indicate that stress was responsible for 35% of all work-related ill health cases in 2014-15 and 43% of all working days lost. The difference in these figures is interesting and suggests that it takes longer for employees to return to work when they are stressed. The same Labour Force Survey found that there was an average of 23 working days lost per case. So what can we do to keep ourselves healthy? Mindfulness has become increasingly popular as a method of enhancing personal well-being, and also has advantages in developing self-control and quietening a busy mind. I first learnt this at a Buddhist Centre in London around ten years ago, where we were asked to sit in Lotus position and meditate on our breathing for 10 minutes periods. I remember my reverence as I entered the room with a golden image of the Buddha on the far wall, and my awe in meeting Lama Zangmo, the Buddhist nun who was to be my first teacher in meditation. While I was unable to sit in Lotus position, I was able to sit cross-legged. This wasn’t something I had done since I was in primary school and, rather embarrassingly, after the ten minutes were up, I found I had lost all feeling in the lower half of my body and I was unable to stand. I remember wondering whether I should pretend I was so moved by the meditation that I just wanted to sit there a while longer; or whether I should cry out for help. In the end I was able to recover unnoticed, before quietly slipping out and returning to complete the next week’s session on a chair. In fact, learning my practice in a chair, and through my classes with Lama Zangmo, I learned to incorporate my practice into wherever I happen to be. It was rather useful when I became stuck in a lift before I was due to run some focus groups. I was able to start as soon as I was released from my tiny prison, and without any of my delegates noticing the effects of the hour or so I had been trapped. I also find it immensely useful when the doctor is running late and I have somewhere else to be. If I have been having difficulty concentrating on my reading, a short session will help me back on track. While less easy to measure, prevention of stress is far more effective than curing it – and some have noted that stress can have a long tail; a reduced immune system can mean extra coughs and colds can more easily take hold, and people can find they are less emotionally resilient after a period of stress. That’s why it’s important to work out what works for you, and make a commitment to invest in your own well-being. Julie is an Occupational Psychologist with experience of working with organisations and individuals around the globe to effectively meet their unique challenges.