I'm not fine, but I'm thriving

When I was around 5 or 6, I entered a talent competition whilst on a classic British caravan park holiday. I'd watched as the boy before me ran off stage crying and suddenly this feeling, one I'd never felt before, hit the pit of my stomach. A bit like butterflies, but tighter and I felt sick, really sick.

"Our next contestant..." it was my turn, I stepped up, said my name and where I was from, and then the music started to play, Kylies 'Locomotion'. "Everybody's doing a brand new dance now..." that's what I should have been singing, but my body had different ideas, every warning light internally was going off, telling me I wasn't safe, and just like the boy before me, I bolted.

Fast forward 30 years, and I can say that feeling, 'the tight butterflies', are a regular visitor. They're like an old friend now.

The difference? I work in a supportive environment, that allows me autonomy, communicates openly with me and leverages my strengths. I feel safe and as a result the internal warning lights are off and I'm able to relax and operate in my thriving zone.

But there are always things in life, at work, external factors, internal pressures that might start to flicker some of those warnings - and how our workplaces respond, can change the outcome significantly.

What does this mean in practical terms?

The landscape of wellbeing at work has evolved significantly over the years, moving from a narrow view, predominantly focusing on health and safety to a wider approach, looking holistically at mental, emotional, and social wellbeing.

Over time, the rise of stress-related issues has forced workplaces to be more considered in their approaches to wellbeing, applying initiatives intended to reduce burnout, promote work-life balance, and support mental health.

Key findings from the 2023 data (Office for National Statistics). highlight that several socio-economic factors, alongside workload and autonomy contribute to how well people feel and so it would be unacceptable to treat work as a purely transactional arrangement where we ask people to leave their problems at the door and not support them to be their best.

I'm not fine, but I'm thriving

A simple model

There are three things that when tampered with start to trigger our internal warning signals and get our amygdala (small almond shaped part of our brain that triggers our fight, flight or freeze responses) all fired up!

Psychological safety

What is it?

Psychological safety is all about people feeling secure and comfortable in expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear. By fostering an open, collaborative, and innovative environment at work, you can form the basis for safety.

How do you promote it?

Create a culture where you and your team regular offer each other feedback, ask questions and share ideas (receive all of these with respect and support). Demonstrate empathy and understanding, especially when mistakes are made. Help everyone to feel included, acknowledge and embrace the cognitive diversity in your team and make sure different opinions and viewpoints are heard.

Challenging work

What is it?

Challenging work is all about tasks and activities that push people out of their comfort zones, requiring them to enhance their skills, creativity, and problem-solving. It often involves complex challenges, new experiences, and new opportunities. Challenging work should sit towards the summit of the performance/pressure curve, with an acknowledgement that it must be balanced with recharge to be effective.

How do you promote it?

Ensure you and your teams have autonomy and ownership over the projects they preside, give trust to people to complete work but offer support and guidance when needed to ensure people have what they need to be able to thrive. Foster a culture of curiosity and continuous learning and provide access to training and upskilling so that individuals can take on more challenging work. Promote collaboration where teams can learn from each other and leverage diverse ideas and perspectives. Acknowledge success and reward hard work, keep developing growth mindsets in your teams, by encouraging them to keep going and celebrate the little wins as well as the big.

Physical environment

What is it?

A safe and motivating physical environment is one where people feel secure, comfortable, and inspired to do their best work. It involves ongoing attention to both the physical conditions and the emotional needs of employees. By fostering a space that prioritises safety, comfort, and inspiration, you can enhance employee satisfaction and productivity.

How do you promote it?

When it comes to physical environment, just think about the little things that alleviate stress and worry from your teams. Prioritise health and safety, provide equipment to prevent strain and keep on top of your compliance needs. Keep it clean, uncluttered and optimise lighting and aesthetics. Provide flexibility, quiet spaces, meeting rooms and ensure they have the right tools for people to do what they need (invest in modern tech that's reliable and enabling). Ask your teams, what they need in their environment to help them thrive and find ways to accommodate where you can.

All three interconnect and when working together well, promote overall wellness and belonging.

But each can also be threatened by external factors. For example, if someone at work experiences a bereavement...

Psychological safety may be compromised if that colleague perceives there is a lack of empathy or feels excluded as they have taken time away from the workplace.

Challenging work may be compromised if that colleague needs to reduce workload temporarily to recharge and focus on other priorities.

Physical environment may be compromised if that colleague doesn't prioritise their space for a period of time or if they have chosen to stay with friends and family and not be in their environment at all.

There's no silver bullet for this - every external disruptor will affect each individual differently, the more time you invest in creating the space of wellness and belonging the more your teams will be open with you and you'll know what the right thing is for them, when they need. Just check in each day...

It's not that simple...

Well, it is, however "How are you?" just isn't going to cut it, as that doesn't necessarily in itself show care and understanding, and it has a known enemy.

'I'm fine'

This paradox is a social norm, acting as a polite and expected answer in casual interactions. It serves as a protective measure to maintain privacy and prevent revealing emotional or mental struggles, often as a chosen response to 'avoid burdening others', or sometimes a habitual response activated by our almond shaped friend, the amygdala.

There's a 'fine' line...

I'm not fine, but I'm thriving

How do you know what fine really means, well you have to delve deeper. You can ask things like "if your fine was a number between 1-10, what number would it be?" or even better, because you've created the environment outlined above, there's a chance you instinctively know - that's not a good fine, something's not right today...

Let's bring it back.

These last few months have been a period of change for me, which has been unsettling (whilst also very exciting) leading to moments of anxiety and me not feeling quite myself.

I asked some of the people who are closest to me, what three words they would use to describe me.

Passionate, outgoing, creative, loyal and driven were amongst the responses...

Confidence is my ability to trust in my skills and judgment, and it can coexist with the tough moments in life, the anxiety and all the bad days in-between. I may not be fine, but I'm in a space where I can still be all of those things and be thriving. This is just one perspective of course, every person has moments in their life of low resilience, challenges and sadness. But a healthy, supportive and empowering environment can make all the difference to mean they can thrive, even when they aren't 'fine.'

I'm not fine, but I'm thriving

If you want to hear more from us, we are running a taster webinar at 10am on 25th July around creating psychologically safe workplaces. To express your interest please scan the QR code to the left, and enter your details. We can't wait to see you there!