Issue #65
#65 - How high is your...wellbeing IQ?
May 05, 2023

Readers of this newsletter know we like to start each issue with a folksy, "What's up, everybody?". But given our theme today, we tweak things to: How's your energy level, everybody?

Back in issue #6, we explored mental health at work, and featured this Tweet from Adam Grant:

Alas, 60-odd issues later, wellbeing and burnout are still massive issues at work. And as we revisit the topic, we're reminded of the tensions from last time around:

📌 On the one hand, treating wellness after the fact -- treating its symptoms once the damage is done -- is better than nothing at all. Even if it seems like the "bandaid" approach Grant is bemoaning in his Tweet👆🏻.

📌 On the other, as we wrote at the time, "calling for 'less work' feels simplistic. How does a profit-maximizing organization just reduce the amount of work, or add more employees for the same amount of it?"

📌 And at base, don't we want to impact wellbeing at the source; by redesigning the way our organizations and our work are fundamentally structured? Does the true solve not lie in a more wholesale reimagining of our work that is more human? And if so, how much leverage does a manager or leader have to impact teams' mental health and burnout?

Lots of tensions, and lots of challenges, but that doesn't mean we simply throw our arms up in surrender. 🤷🏻 To the contrary, there are steps we can take to better understand the problem, and to ease the pain points. This week our 3 Stories are designed to do both:

Story #1 - In the 1970's there was a global energy crisis caused by a disruption of the oil supply in the Middle East. Microsoft's Chief Human Resources officer thinks we're in another global energy crisis -- this time, of human energy. She makes her case -- and offers concrete fixes -- in our first Story.

Story #2 - T
wo MIT scholars on the cutting edge of work made the case last month for a brand new skill they say is now required of a manager. It's got nothing to do with hiring or operations -- and everything to do with awareness and mental health. We dig into the skill, and poke at whether it's a fair expectation of a leader.
Story #3 - We've known for some time now that your manager has a huge impact on your happiness at work; on your mental health, too -- at levels that rival the effect your spouse or partner has on you, by the way. 🤯 From our final story, though, weget to learn exactly which type of leader has the most positive -- and most detrimental -- effect on their employees' mental health. 🙌🏻

Thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a great week!

Aki + Usman

P.S. Our podcast of issue #64, "What is going on at work", is right here.


#Wellness #HumanEnergy #TwoWayOneToOnes

Kathleen Hogan leads human resources for Microsoft, and she minces no words in describing the global, cross-industry scale of burnout and detachment at work:

Today, I believe we are facing a “human energy crisis” that is taking a toll on employees. From the warehouse, to the sales floor, to the office, workers are languishing, feeling burnt out, and exhibiting emotional detachment. These feelings demonstrate that people everywhere are struggling to maintain balance in their work and personal lives.

Hogan diagnoses the scope of our problem, but also offers several concrete steps we can take to improve it:

  • Run 1:1's with our teams intentionally, as two-way dialogues. Not just as downloads of work to be executed upon, but as chances to listen, understand - and build trust with - our employees.
  • Ensure priorities are clear -- because everyone, at every level, benefits from understanding what is and is not important.
  • Model taking time off -- and share the stories of you and others taking time off, and how it helped recharge you.

The first bullet 👆🏻, on running a more intentional 1:1's dovetails squarely with our next Story: a newly defined "essential leadership skill": well-being intelligence.


#Wellness #WQ #Awareness #Vocab

We loved this provocative new claim from professors Thomas Roulet and Kiran Bhati at MIT: that knowing how to assess, understand and support your employees' well-being is now a new required leadership skill. And we love that they frame self-awareness -- awareness of our own well-being -- as the starting point for understanding one's team; and from there, the overall organization. They explain:

Building self-awareness of one’s well-being is the first step. Self-awareness allows individuals to understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and adjust individual work practices accordingly for self-care.

This image then shows how self-awareness ladders up into team-level and org-level awareness:

We're all for the end-goal here: an organization full of managers, all self-aware, all modeling that awareness and better practices around wellbeing with their teams. And it's possible that at scale, this might lead to culture change. But we also find ourselves asking: do individual managers -- themselves among the most burned-out segments at work, btw -- have enough leverage to be able to impact material change, especially if there is no will or leadership at the very top of the organization to drive that level of culture shift?


#Wellness #LeadersAreTheLevers #Transformational

Which leadership style, pray tell, had the most positive impact on employees' mental health then? Daisy Grewal, writing in "Scientific American" explains:

Managers who adopted a transformational leadership style had the biggest positive impact on their employees’ mental health. First defined in the early 1970s, transformational leaders inspire others by painting a vision, encouraging team members to engage in creative thinking and tailoring their approach to the individual needs of each employee. This style had far and away the most positive results, as measured by employee reports of their own well-being.

Painting a vision for where you're headed; bringing people along and making them feel connected to and a part of that journey; allowing them feel like their individual needs are listened to and matter, along the way. Encouraging creativity.

It turns out, we don't, actually, check our human needs at the door when we get to work (where we spend the majority of our waking hours). Funny then that leaders who figure out how to provide for our basic human needs there, wind up being so good for us. 🙃

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏻

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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