DEFINING OUR NORMALITY
I’m not great for remembering dates but I do recall that August 4, 2016 was a Thursday. At about 8pm that evening, I was starting to doubt myself. I had made the decision to have my left hip replaced and was due into hospital the following morning for surgery. Eighteen months earlier, a hip surgeon told me that my hip “was a complete mess”. The cartilage was worn away and it was bone on bone in the joint. The surgeon commented that I was very active (given the condition of the hip) and that I seemed to be managing the pain fairly well. He advised me to come back when the pain and discomfort was beyond what I was willing to tolerate.
Eighteen months later, that day had come. The night before surgery, I was taking measurements of certain range of motions with my hip so that I could compare these with post operation and rehab results. My girlfriend was helping to take the measurements. At one point I turned to her and said, maybe I should put this off. Perhaps I could get by for another year or two without having surgery. She told me I was an idiot (but in a much more supportive way), I couldn’t tie my shoe laces so cop on and get this done. She was of course 100% right and 9 months post surgery, my pain is gone and I’m running around tying shoelaces to beat the band!
Over the years, my hip pain and discomfort had become my “new normal”. For the better part of a decade, I had an element of pain and discomfort in every step I took but I reasoned to myself that it wasn’t that bad and I could get by. This might have been true but it’s not how one is meant to feel at ripe young age of 40.
When it comes to our physical, mental and emotional health, it sometimes shocks me at what people’s acceptance of “normal” is. I was running a workshop recently on a leadership development programme where the participants did a self-assessment on their overall energy and wellbeing. I think many were genuinely very surprised at their assessments. However, the positive from this enhanced awareness, was that they could take practical action steps to remedy this.
Mar 31 is Ireland’s National Workplace Wellbeing Day. This is a day when employers are invited to show some support for the health and wellbeing of their staff. While this is a great initiative, I think it also highlights a real missed opportunity for many organisations in Ireland. Some companies view wellness as a tick the box exercise and something “nice” that is done for staff once or twice a year. Indeed many companies will take the view that it is not their responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of their employees. The problem with this type of thinking (regardless of whether or not you agree with it), is that it ignores human behavioural research and is missing a fantastic opportunity to enhance on the job performance.
One example of this type of research was carried out by The Energy Project in conjunction with The Harvard Business Review. One simple finding suggested by their research was that taking a short break every 90 minutes enhances mental focus by 30% and increases our ability to think creatively by 50%. Another finding relates to a key driver of human behaviour, which is our emotions. In this instance, the research suggested that employees are over 60% more engaged when they feel valued by their immediate supervisor. So paying attention to the emotional needs of your team makes sense, not just from a human kindness point of view, but also from a business performance perspective.
Consider the game of jenga as an analogy for our overall health and wellbeing. Every day we have demands placed on us, which can involve expending energy on a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual level. These “energy outputs” are like the blocks we pull out of the jenga stack. If we keep pulling out blocks and pilling them on top, the jenga stack eventually falls over. Similarly, if we continually expend energy without proper renewal, we cannot sustain a high level of optimal engaged performance and we too will eventually burn out and fall over.
National Workplace Wellbeing Day is a great initiative. However, viewing “wellness initiatives” in isolation is out-dated and very one-dimensional thinking. Instead building a culture of real corporate health and linking it to professional performance enables organisations to attract, retrain and develop great people. If done correctly, it can also have a fairly profound impact on our personal lives.