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How you can integrate mindfulness into your everyday life

29th September 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

Surely by now, you have realised that mindfulness has been the ‘flavour of the month’ for the last few years. But what you may not know is how flexible and easy it is to integrate into our daily lives. It’s about being present in the moment – but that doesn’t mean you have to be sitting on a yoga mat, with your eyes closed.

The misconception of mindfulness practice

Although the benefits are far stretching and widely acknowledged, many people may be disinterested to pick up the practice due to false beliefs of what it actually entails. There still exists a preconception (for some) that mindfulness is time consuming, limited to a certain time or place or that you have to be in a complete state of silence. Or maybe you believe it’s all about the “ommm’s” with incense burning and your legs crossed. Although this may suit and help some people to reach a state of mindfulness, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

Mindfulness can – and should – be a part of our everyday lives. This may sound complicated, but in this way, with practise and patience, you will start to become more at ease and relaxed in how you carry out your daily routine. And as mentioned, this doesn’t mean that we have to put a dedicated 30 odd minutes aside, but rather, we can carry on with our day…in a more mindful manner!

How to be mindful in everyday tasks

Mindfulness doesn’t need to necessarily be a reactive way to deal with stress and a busy lifestyle, but rather it should be a proactive way to stay focused, calm and collected. Daily activities and tasks where your mind tends to wander are a great opportunity to try and focus your thoughts and be present.

It is an important life lesson to step back and appreciate the moment, clear your mind, centre your thoughts – not ignoring thoughts and feelings, but allowing them to come and go, freeing your mind from angst and noise.

Some important tips to consider:

  • Essentially, we want to build mindfulness into our routine activities. Great examples include while you are waking up, showering, commuting, waiting for the lift, drinking your coffee, to name a few. [Note, a more detailed example is provided below.]
  •  Keep it short and sweet: these daily mindfulness practices don’t need to be X-amount of minutes long every day. What is important to remember is that it is better to take 3 deep breaths every day rather than meditate for 10 minutes only every other week. It can be a simple moment, just taking notice of a particular sensation, e.g. ask yourself, “Is there tension in my shoulders?”
  • Notice 3 things around you. One great, easy way to try and become mindful, is to take conscious note of 3 colours around you, or 3 sounds around you. Savour this perception for a few moments before carrying on with the task in front of you.
  • Alternatively, notice 3 things about yourself. Instead of taking note of what’s around you, focus your thoughts for a moment on how you are feeling. Ask yourself, ‘What does my shirt feel like against my chest?” “Am I breathing softly…or deeply?”
  • Be gentle: it will take time and patience to effectively integrate mindfulness into your everyday life. Be nice to yourself, but supportive of your efforts and encourage your progress. Do not harshly judge or criticise yourself.

An example: Mindful cooking

For many, cooking can become a stressful task. Maybe you are exhausted by the time you have to cook. Or maybe you associate it as a chore. Although, not everyone will feel this way about cooking, adopting a mindful cooking approach will serve you many benefits regardless.

1. Decide what you are going to cook. If you are boiling, grilling or frying, then it is a great opportunity to remain involved, yet focused as you stir, flip, fry. Remember it is a good idea to remove any distractions – turn off your phone, don’t put the TV on.

2. As you cut up your ingredients, take notice of the different shapes and sizes. Are you cutting in a rhythmic pattern?

3. Begin cooking – place the water on the heat or pour the oil in the pan. Add you first ingredients. Take a moment to soak up the smells and sensations that rise. Can you notice the aromatics starting to develop their flavoursome essence?

4. As you start to add more ingredients, notice how each one adds something new to the overall fragrance, colour and appeal of the dish. If your mind wanders, bring it slowly back to the different sensations. What is the most prominent smell? Are your ingredients sizzling away in the pan? Or can you notice the water bubbling as you bring it to the boil?

5. Bring your attention to your mood. How do you feel? Do you feel calm? Is the heat on the stove too much? Are you a bit anxious, maybe trying to perfect every element to your dish? If you are a bit stressed – whether that is due to work, personal issues or the current cook – take a deep breath. Then bring your focus back to the dish you are creating.

6. Don’t fight any incoming thoughts. Just quickly acknowledge them, but then bring your attention back to the fragrances enhancing in your kitchen.

7. As you continue with your cook, take note of how your mind behaves. Is it comfortable being in the moment? Or does it tend to run off with reflective thoughts of the past or anxious thoughts for what’s ahead? Starting to become aware of how your mind works will assist you in mastering mindfulness techniques. With practise, turning an everyday activity such as cooking, into a mindfulness activity will become easier, allowing you to have a more serene experience.

The verdict?

Remember, you can apply these same principles and techniques to basically any activity. The main thing to remember is to centre your thoughts, try and remove any distractions and to focus calmly on the task at hand. By doing so, not only will you feel calmer and more at ease, but you will actually deepen your experience of that activity.

In the Spirit of R U OK? Day (at work)

14th September 2017

By Rachel Clements – Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health and expert member on the R U OK? Day Conversation Thinktank.

The experience of mental health concerns is much more prevalent than you may think. Did you know that in a given year, one in five Australians aged between 16 and 85 experience a mental health concern? In addition, almost half the Australian population will experience a mental health concern in their lifetime. However, only 46% of people living with a mental health issue access any treatment. These figures may come as a shock to you. But it’s pretty clear that the importance of R U OK? Day and the message it aims to spread across the nation is undeniable.

In 2016, R U OK? Day conducted a survey revealing that while Australians want to spend more quality time connecting with family and friends, the main barriers to connecting were:

  • Distance
  • Being too tired or lacking energy
  • Being busy with other activities
  • Catching up on housework
  • Long work hours

What we need to remember is that connection is vital in enhancing our wellbeing. As many as 75% of Australians feel that talking with friends is the best way to assist in feeling better.

Have you ever noticed a colleague at work ‘who is here, but not really here?’ The following are some warning signs to look out for which may indicate someone is not ok:

  • Constantly tired, run down or feeling unwell
  • Change in appetite or diet
  • The use of drugs and alcohol to cope
  • Absenteeism or excessive work hours
  • Increase in breaks
  • Sudden changes to work performance
  • Irrational, negative or rigid thoughts
  • Mood changes such as lacking confidence, angry, anxious or worried

So what can you do if you are concerned about someone you know? Below is a 4-step Conversation Model, which you can follow, if you feel as if you need to check in with someone who may not be travelling so well.

Step 1: Ask R U OK?

Be aware of the signs that concern you and explain succinctly why you want to catch up. Remember to adopt a relaxed and friendly approach, while being clear on your message and approach from a position of concern and care.

Step 2: Listen without Judgement

Manage your own emotional reactions by expressing empathy and not being judgemental. Try not to overact. Remember not to interrupt or rush the person and allow them time to respond. This will give you a better understanding as to why you have observed changes in their behaviour.

Step 3: Encourage Action

When initiating a conversation, remember it is not your role to fix the problem. However, it is important that you guide them towards a solution or further assistance. Try and agree on a clear action plan so both parties understand what the outcome of the meeting will be.

Step 4: Check in

The process does not end after the first conversation. Remember to stay in touch and be there for them. Try setting yourself a reminder to follow up regularly. If the proposed solutions aren’t working, you can assist again, considering other ways to support.

So, take today as an important reminder to check in with a co-worker, a friend, or a family member, on how they are travelling. Ask the question, R U OK? And remember – you’ve got what it takes. Not just today, but every day.

Building positive work relationships

28th August 2017

By Debra Brodowski 

It’s not to say that you need to be completely extroverted in all of your encounters at work. But, building positive work relationships is important for a variety of reasons including success in your career and creating a more pleasant work experience for you and for your colleagues.

As humans, we are innately social beings – we crave friendship and positive relationships. Given we typically spend about 30-40 hours a week working, it makes intuitive sense that we should want to promote positive social interactions in our work environment, and not just in our personal lives.

Why do we need good relationships?

Having and maintaining good work relationships means that you don’t need to spend that extra time and energy trying to overcome the problems associated with negative ones. If you struggle to ask a colleague a question or if there are awkward moments in the lift, it can interrupt your workflow or even cause angst. On the other hand, positive relationships enable you to focus on opportunities, ensuring you can work efficiently.

Good work relationships in your professional circle is also important. Ensuring you develop and maintain positive working relationships with customers, suppliers and key stakeholders will not only make conversations, transactions, projects etc. easier, but they are also essential to succeed in your career.

What characteristics define a good work relationship?

Although there are various traits and qualities that make up good relationships, let alone different personal preferences and perceptions, there are a few that are unquestionable. I’m sure you are familiar with some of the following:

  • Trust - the core of every relationship. If you can’t trust the other person, then the foundations of the relationship will crumble. Trust creates a strong bond between you and the other person, it helps you communicate with one another and it allows you to be open and honest in your thoughts and behaviours. It means you don’t need to need to waste time, worried about what they may be thinking or doing. Of course, you aren’t going to trust everyone right off the bat, but consciously trying to work towards a trusting relationship will only do you favours.
  • Communicate clearly - This may seem like an intuitive point, but many people fail to communicate effectively – whether that be they don’t express themselves clearly or they don’t listen effectively to their colleagues. Strong communication ensures everyone is on the same page, comfortable and satisfied.
  • Be mindful - Accepting responsibility for your own words, actions and work is important. No one wants secondary blame or annoyance shifted over to them. Additionally, if you don’t accept the outcomes of your actions, your colleagues may find it difficult to trust you or to value your contributions fairly.
  • Welcome other people’s perspectives - You are not always going to see eye-to-eye with everyone, including those who you may have a close relationship with. But it is important to be open to considering, compromising and accepting different points of view. On the one hand, you could open your eyes to a new (and even better) idea and/or perspective. But on the other hand, it will strengthen your relationship with your colleague, and exemplify your team spirit skills.
  • Be considerate - Keep all relevant colleagues in the loop about certain projects and updates, don’t leave anyone in the dark who shouldn’t be. Don’t ‘forget’ to CC someone in an email who should really be seeing the content.
  • Be true - Above all, you should always try to be professional. But also be friendly and patient. And stay true to your commitments and promises.

Not only is it good for our wellbeing to be a part of a positive relationship, but having good relationships in the workforce can also increase your productivity and performance. A workplace filled with positive work relationships creates a positive work culture overall, it makes it a place where people want to be working in. 

How to clear your mind of unhelpful thoughts

21st June 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

We as humans are emotional beings and every kind of emotion we feel is accompanied by a set of thoughts. We all have helpful and unhelpful thoughts which direct our behaviour, decisions and actions that occur throughout the day. Unhelpful thoughts tend to stem from negative emotions such as anxiety, stress, fear and so forth. And because they can direct your behaviour at an unconscious level, they can become problematic.

Why are unhelpful thoughts bad for us?

Due to the phrase, it should be no surprise that ‘unhelpful’ thoughts are well, unhelpful. But extending on that, they are detrimental to us as they can limit your potential, deny you opportunities, create additional problems to your circumstances, and can just generally make you feel terrible. 

When your mind if flooded with thoughts, it can prohibit you from living in the present, from being able to think clearly or to focus on any given task. It can become difficult to escape. Having constant unwanted thoughts can even cause a sense of feeling out of control. But it is important to remind yourself that this isn’t necessarily the case. Bring yourself back to the present moment, think about the cause of the unhelpful thoughts, whether it be because you are worried about something in particular.

It is so important for our mental health that we all take a moment to take a break. However, it is often difficult to completely escape from the persistent unhelpful thoughts that can circulate your mind for hours on end. In saying this, it is not all doom and gloom and there are techniques you can employ to help yourself clear your mind.

So how can you stop these unhelpful thoughts?

We endorse a multi-pronged approach in order to clear your mind of negative, anxious and troubling thoughts. And although there are numerous techniques that can be employed, a few of the most helpful strategies are summarised below.

  1. Distraction: Although it may be intuitive to think that distraction will help calm your mind, it can often be easier said than done. However the ‘power to ignore’ should not be underestimated. Distraction can be a highly effective way to shift your attention if you catch yourself ruminating on negative thoughts. Take a walk, watch an engaging TV show, call a friend. Whatever you do, try and completely absorb yourself in this activity to distract your mind.
     
  2. Focus on the present: Take a leaf out of the ‘mindfulness’ book and focus your thoughts on the present. By avoiding your thoughts becoming stuck on the past or the future, you can start to let go of what you cannot control. Constantly focusing on the past can be distressing and constantly focusing on the future can cause apprehension. By redirecting your thoughts to the present, you can start to learn to live in the moment, without getting too overwhelmed.
     
  3. Breathe: Take a moment to concentrate on your breathing and to slow down the process of breathing in and out. You should not only feel emotionally calmer, but physically your body should calm down as well. For instance, count to three as you breathe in, and to five as you breathe out for 5-10 minutes. This process shifts the fight-or-flight response of your aympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
     
  4. Challenge your thoughts: Many people find themselves convinced the ‘worst case scenario’ will be true in a given situation. But you should challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself how likely this will be the case? Think about whether there is any evidence to support these negative thoughts? Has this ever happened before? Most likely, the ‘worst case’ won’t be reality. Look for alternative explanations and try to put the situation into perspective.
     
  5. Use a mantra: A mantra is a simple word or phrase which you repeat in order to calm your mind. Research has found that repeating a mantra to yourself can reduce the activity in the brain that is related to self-judgement and reflection. This part of the brain is responsible for us spending too much time ruminating over past events and worrying about the future. The mantra you choose can be completely up to you, but can be something like, “Aum,” “life is good” or “I am what I am”. The important thing is that you repeat this word or phrase over and over again in your mind, focusing only on your mantra and distancing all other thoughts. It is normal for your mind to wander elsewhere, but just acknowledge this thought and then gently take you mind back to your mantra.
     
  6. Write things down: By recording thoughts down, it enables you to return to them later. This means that you don’t have to dismiss a thought or concern completely, making you comfortable knowing that you can revisit it whenever you may please. This method can reduce the chaos, can clear your mind and can be relieving to let ‘it’ go, in some form. It can also organise your thoughts and can help you rationalise the problem at hand. By detaching yourself from the unhelpful thoughts, you can view the situation from an objective perspective.

Final words

There are numerous techniques that can be employed in order to try and calm your mind. But the key point is that you should try and find what works specifically for you. Ask yourself, what helps to quieten your mind? Stay focused? To overcome distracting thoughts? Play with different techniques until you find the one that suits you, you may even find one of your own or you can tailor existing ones so that they accommodate you more easily. But remember, consistency and patience is often key. And if you train yourself to use your chosen technique, it will become second-hand nature and before you know it, your mind will become calmer.

 

Getting Help for an Eating Disorder

22nd May 2017

To bring our three-part blog series to an end, Sany Andrijic discusses where you can get help if you are concerned about yourself or someone you know who may be struggling with an Eating Disorder.

Have you ever found yourself in a difficult dilemma, and not knowing what to do next? Similarly, it can be extremely difficult for the sufferer of an eating disorder to seek treatment. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as noticing the presence of an eating disorder, and then seeking help for it. This is because opening up to a new person can be confronting, as we are talking about something that’s really difficult. It’s difficult because there can be a lot of secrecy and shame around the presence of eating disorder behaviours, and the isolation that this generates may unfortunately perpetuate this process1.

However, that is not to say that there is no accessible help or support. And despite the obstacles in seeking the support you may need, there are various things you can keep in mind. Some general tips to help you overcome this difficulty are summarised below2.

  1. Try to think objectively about what may happen when disclosing your eating disorder behaviours to a health professional. This may include challenging any negative automatic thoughts. When you have a thought  such as, “I will be misunderstood”, try thinking instead that the health professional’s role is to assist you to improve your quality of life, and that they have a duty of care to listen and assess you without negative judgment;
     
  2. Remind yourself that you will not have to hold the ‘secret’ of the eating disorder any longer, and you can start to reclaim a life without the eating disorder;
     
  3. Start thinking about who you’d like to tell first, whether this is a GP, friend or partner –  remember, this must be someone you know will be understanding, as it’s often used as a template for further disclosures;
     
  4. Remind yourself that you are moving toward improving your chances of recovering more quickly  and moving toward a fulfilling, valued life once you decide to seek help;
     
  5. Work toward accepting your own and others’ reactions to the knowledge of the eating disorder – everyone copes in different ways, and it’s important we permit space to do so for ourselves as well;
     
  6. You may want to disclose your eating disorder in an anonymous setting if you remain concerned about the implications of telling someone. Services to do this can be found in the previous blog in this series;
     
  7. You may also want to write down your experience with the eating disorder before you begin this step forward to aid processing and understanding of this for yourself first;
     
  8. Problem solve around any potential negative reactions you may encounter from others – whilst remembering, as per the point above, that everyone copes with difficult information differently – you are not responsible for their reactions, only your own; and,
     
  9. Remind yourself that you’ve taken a positive step in seeking help!

So you’ve decided to seek help? Great! The next step is choosing the right practitioner to provide treatment. Ideally, this person should have experience in working with eating disorders, and should be the right match for you in terms of their style. Other things you may wish to consider is how you feel in their presence:

  • Do you feel supported, heard and validated? Or do you feel misunderstood, ashamed and isolated?
     
  • Do you feel adequately challenged to change your behaviours in a positive way, and at the pace that suits you?
     
  • Do you feel that your recovery is a collaborative one, or one that is heavily dictated by the therapist?
     
  • Do you feel empowered to make positive changes in your life?
     
  • Do you feel safe and respected?
     
  • Do you feel as though feedback is provided regularly about your progress?
     
  • Do you feel hopeful about recovery?
     
  • Do you feel that your rights as a patient are being maintained, such as respect, dignity, autonomy, justice, confidentiality, beneficence and non-maleficence?

Be honest and keep searching until you find the right help or support for you. And most importantly, reward yourself for being brave in taking this step!

References

Getting Help for an Eating Disorder: Checklist Eating Disorders Victoria 2015 (accessed from https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/resources/edv-fact-sheets

Mums the “word”

12th May 2017

The “word” on becoming a new mum
By Amelia Flores-Kater, Psychologist

As Mother’s Day approaches it is a good time to be reflective on how wonderful it is to be a mum and parent.  How rewarding and exhilarating it is to see your children grow, learn, develop and reach all those important life milestones.  As we reflect on this happy time, it is also time to recognise that the job is also one that is challenging and emotional, especially when you have become a mum for the first time. 

So this is the perfect time to be reflective on the process of becoming a new mum, what it really feels like and some general tips to be mindful of …

Parenting starts from the moment you discover that you are pregnant, the emotional wave commences, from pure adrenaline, excitement, joy to instant fear, uncertainty and anxiety, possibly all occurring at once. Life suddenly changes, and you head into a new direction, realising that life as you know it will never be quite the same again.  In saying this, the learning and changes you experience will be enriching and developing to who you are as an individual and as a parent.

Further, becoming a parenting team is a new experience, seeing your partner differently, and redefining your relationship together and as parents.  All of these experiences make you reflect on your life through a different perspective, in particular the moments from pregnancy, birth to the moment of parenting are challenging ones if they do not go to plan.

There are times that we find ourselves managing these challenges well, coping effectively and feeling “on top of things”. Then there will be times that parenting moments feel overwhelming, tiresome and anxiety provoking, in particular when we are deprived in other areas of functioning such as experiencing a lack of sleep, or when of ill health.

Becoming a mother can have its own individual pressures aside from general parenthood.  These may include physical pressures on your body including the birthing process, post birth recovery, breast feeding and mother/baby physical bonding.  In addition, the emotional toll of a mother to connect with your baby on a constant basis can place significant pressure on your relationship with the baby.  Further, social and family pressure to fulfill a role expectation in the community and within the family unit can feel burdensome, guilt provoking and distressing.  All these responses for a mother, both from a physical and emotional perspective, can have a cumulative build up resulting in physical fatigue and psychological distress/illness.

So, what if motherhood is not what you expected?

Firstly, you are not alone and it is normal to feel an influx of emotions and physical concerns.  This is a new experience that is both challenging and life changing, therefore it can result in emotional anxiety, distress but also heightened elevation of joy and happiness, all in one moment.  Feeling some emotions of doubt and feeling that you wish to cry, being irritable, easily triggered and at times quite miserable are normal.  There are many things that can make you feel that way including lack of sleep, baby being unwell or unsettled and or self-judgment that you are not being a good “mum”.

General tips

  • It is important to remember that mothering/parenting can be a very intense and unrelenting experience, especially in the initial stages post birth, so normalise these emotions for yourself!
  • It is important to remind yourself that parenting is a skill that you learn and it is a combination of both good and bad days.
  • Learning to parent your child (breast feeding, settling, nurturing) are all new experiences, but can be learnt over time.
  • Some babies/children need more support than others – that is normal and not directly related to you as a parent.
  • Parenting takes time to “bed down” and takes time to adjust too, and there are some days that you will not get it right.
  • Expectations of previous things that you used to do before, such as cleaning/cooking and even socialising may need to change, to allow yourself the opportunity to develop new routines and patterns that suit you and your baby/child.
  • There will be times when you have negative feelings about your child, but that does not mean you are a bad parent or that you do not love your child.

How can you get help if you need it 

  • Speak with your General Practitioner, Midwife or Obstetrician to seek guidance on persistent negative feelings or symptoms, both physical and psychological.  Seek a referral to a Psychologist if needed or arrange a visit with a Paediatric nurse if you feel you need assistance with breast feeding or establishing sleep routines for the baby
  • Speak with you partner/family/friends about any concerns or assistance that you need.
  • Join a mothers group or community group to meet with regularly for support.
  • Arrange access to a crèche or babysitting facility so that when you are ready, you can allow yourself some time without the baby.

Further resources and  help lines/contacts include:

https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au

https://www.tresillian.org.au

http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/breastfeeding

http://www.panda.org.au

http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

http://www.beyondblue.org.au

Warnings Signs of an Eating Disorder

21st April 2017

Sany Andrijic, Registered Psychologist, continues our three part blog series on Eating Disorders.

Warning signs are not as easy to detect as you may think when it comes to pinpointing the presence of an eating disorder, but it is the first and essential step to receiving the treatment you may need1. It should be noted, however, that recognising the warning signs and acknowledging the presence of an eating disorder are very different things for the sufferer. It can take time for the person to seek the help they need. And so, if you are supporting someone as they recognise their warning signs, it is important to be sensitive and patient.

Although many people at some point in their life may develop an unhealthy relationship with food, there are certain warning signs that should call for caution. The major eating disorders – Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder – are explored below.

Some of the warning signs and symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa include:

  • Restriction of energy intake
  • Extreme or sudden weight loss
  • Being significantly underweight in relation to your age, sex and physical health
  • Fatigue, dizziness or fainting
  • Brittle nails, dry skin, hair thinning
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Sensitivity to the cold
  • Preoccupation with body image, food or food-related activities
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Not recognising the seriousness of current low body weight
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression or anxiety

The following summarises some of the warning signs and symptoms that may be present if you or someone you know is suffering from Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating – eating within a particular period of time an amount of food that is larger than what would typically be eaten in a similar context
  • Normal or overweight
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Misuse of laxatives
  • Excessive exercise
  • Weakness
  • Preoccupation with body image
  • Feelings of guilt or shame in regards to eating
  • Depression and irritability
  • Avoidance or withdrawal after meals

Some of the warning signs and symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder are summarised below:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating – eating large amounts of food:

o   Quickly

o   Until uncomfortably full

o   When not hungry

o   Alone if embarrassed about eating

  • There are no recurrent compensatory behaviours that follow the binge eating
  • Lack of control when eating
  • Depression, grief or shame
  • Disgust or self-loathing in regards to eating

Having read through the warning signs and symptoms, you may start to wonder whether they apply to you. We are cautioned with this process though! Not everyone with an eating disorder presents the same way – it’s a highly heterogenous presentation that requires a skilled mental health practitioner to arrive at a proper diagnosis2. To be diagnosed with an Eating Disorder, certain criteria needs to be met, consistent with the DSM-53

But in any case, if you or someone you know presents with any of the above warning signs and symptoms, and or you have concerns that you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder –  including anything that may not have been listed above – it is recommended you access the following support services for more information:

  • Butterfly Foundation
  • National Eating Disorders Collaboration
  • Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders
  • Body Matters Australasia
  • A good local GP

If this piece has raised any concerns for you or for others you know, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

References

[1, 2] Warning Signs and Symptoms Eating Disorders Victoria 2015 (accessed from https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/eating-disorders/what-is-an-eating-disorder/warning-signs-a-symptoms).

[3] Diagnostic Criteria from DSM 5 American Psychiatric Association 2013.

Why we should be spending more time to adopt a ‘growth mindset’

7th April 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

I’m sure most of you by now have heard of the concepts of a ‘growth’ and a ‘fixed’ mindset. And I’m sure many of you may think it is all just hype. But the ‘growth’ vs ‘fixed’ mindset theory is much more evidence-based than you may think and developing a ‘growth mindset’ is not merely as easy as telling yourself you are great and can do anything.

What does the research say?

Recent neuroscience research has demonstrated that the brain is far more malleable than we previously thought. Brain plasticity research has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses. This challenges the belief that skills, virtues and behaviours (e.g. intelligence, talents) are solely innate, or in other words ‘fixed’. Research indicates that through the actions we make, we can strengthen our neural growth. We can do this by using good strategies, asking questions, practicing and by maintaining a good wellbeing – such as following good nutrition and engaging in good sleep habits.

If I haven’t lost you already with summarising neuro findings, I’ll explain what I mean in more basic English. It refers to the fact that our mindsets are not ‘fixed’ and we can in fact change how our brains respond to certain situations. This is evidently backed up by research and what it means is that if we automatically respond to a certain stimulus, e.g. pressure of too much work, with a poor response, such as retreating and walking away from it, we can train ourselves, through time and practice, to respond in a different way, such as breaking the tasks into smaller steps, breathing slowly etc. This process falls under the premise of what a ‘growth’ mindset is. Your actions, responses and behaviours are not all set in stone. But by understanding, acknowledging and acting on processes of change, you can learn to enhance your performance. It is not about being “smart” or “dumb”. But it’s about how much effort you put in or how you approach a given task.

Why adopt a growth mindset?

Adopting a growth mindset has many benefits such as increased motivation and achievement. Research suggests that praising children for instance for their hard work and effort facilitates a growth mindset, rather than simply telling them that they are smart. Growth mindsets allow individuals to continually improve, to build new skills and enables you to maximise your potential. It equips you to be able to tackle a challenge, to learn from criticism and to find inspiration in situations.

We want to move away from having a ‘fixed’ mindset. The way of thinking that someone either has ‘it’ or doesn’t is very black and white and limiting. Thinking in that way prohibits growth, learning and development. So it’s no wonder that it is discouraged to think this way for our children. But what does it mean for adults in the workplace?

What does it mean in a workplace setting?

Mindsets have been linked to considerable differences in employee performance. In the workplace, leaders who embody a growth mindset have been linked to feedback seeking behaviour, improvements in leadership capability and more supportive and developmental approaches to leading others. They are more likely to coach employees and provide them with support and guidance than leaders with a fixed mindset. When entire organisations encourage a growth mindset, employees indicate feeling more empowered and committed and they experience more support for collaboration.

What is also of significance is the degree to which these mindsets seem to impact on performance. For instance, basic strategies like educating others about the concept neuroplasticity and growth mindsets, telling real life stories of the results that follow, by praising effort rather than ability, can all foster a growth mindset in itself and lead to performance enhancement.

Of course it is not as simple as just saying ‘adopt a growth mindset’. But it is clear that there are numerous benefits for this type of thinking. So broaden your horizons, be open to change and remember nothing is ‘fixed’. 

The early warning signs of Domestic Violence

31st March 2017

Although it is a sensitive topic, it is one that should not be avoided. Family and Domestic Violence needs to be spoken about in hope of trying to reduce and eliminate the offence. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, seek help immediately.

Deborah Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services, reports on the Early Warning Signs of Domestic Violence.

Chances are that there is someone you know who has experienced or is currently experiencing family and domestic violence. With one in three women over the age of 15 years reporting to have experienced family and domestic violence in some form in their lives, it is important to know the signs to look out for which may suggest that they are experiencing family and domestic violence.

When thinking about the early warning signs and what they may look like, we can automatically jump to thinking, “I’ll know because I will see the bruises, injuries etc.” Whilst these are certainly some very important signs and symptoms to look out for, there are other less obvious, yet also important, signs and symptoms to consider. This is particularly important to consider given that people may mask or hide their physical injuries, or make excuses for them.

Other signs and symptoms can be seen via changes in physiology, mood, behavior, and thoughts. The person in question may:

·         Seem afraid or anxious to please

·         Be easily startled, jumpy, and/or on edge

·         Go along with everything their partner says and does

·         Check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they’re doing

·         Receive frequent, harassing phone calls from their partner

·         Talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy, or possessiveness

·         Feel extreme tiredness and fatigue

·         Frequently miss work, school, or social occasions, without explanation

·         Be restricted from seeing family and friends

·         Have limited access to money, credit cards, or the car

·         Have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident

·         Be anxious or depressed

The key to identifying these signs and symptoms early tends to start with a thought like “Gee, they haven’t been themselves lately. Something’s changed,” and then think about what has specifically changed according to the symptoms.

If you are concerned about someone who may be experiencing family and domestic violence, please link in with Human Resources for support in how to best address the matter with the employee.

For more information on our family violence services for workplaces, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

The relationship between Eating Disorders and Self-Esteem

20th March 2017

Expert advice by Sany Andrijic, Registered Psychologist, Centre for Corporate Health and Resilia.

Are Eating Disorders as simple as just choosing not to eat? The short answer is no. Eating Disorders involve disturbed eating habits or weight control behaviour that disrupts an individual’s physical and psychosocial functioning. There is no one underlying cause and they are more complex than you can probably imagine. One important thing to consider is how our self-esteem relates to the development and course of experiencing an eating disorder.

Self-esteem is how we measure our worth based on perceived achievements1. The relationship between one’s self-esteem and the presence of an eating disorder appears to be a negative one2. Research has suggested that disordered body image can only be corrected with the improvement of one’s self esteem3.

Undoubtedly, we need to be conscious of the possible negative impact our relationship with food, dieting and body image can have. It is so important that we don’t allow these features to become inherent to our self-identity. So what can you do? The good news is that there are things we can do to improve our self-esteem, and thus reduce the focus on these food, dieting and body image matters. A few suggestions are summarised below.

1. The first thing we can do is to apply Affirmations4. A good example of an affirmation is one that is believable, and immune to automatic refutes. This will vary from person to person, but an example could be “Recovery from an eating disorder is achievable for me”, or “I Have the right to be understood, believed and supported by others"

2. Focus on Achievable Self-Care Activities5, such as getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet containing lots of nutritious and balanced meals, and exercise for enjoyment and vitality.

3. Challenge Negative Automatic Thoughts that fuel the ‘eating disorder voice’6. Do the following statements sound familiar: “You’re a waste of space…Nothing you do will ever be good enough!” Bring awareness to your inner critic, and be willing to let go of the need for control by using these unhelpful Negative Self-Statements. Perhaps at one stage of your life, it served an important function in getting you motivated, or in managing a stressful life event, but dichotomous thoughts rarely produce successful results – rather it creates two extreme alternatives that are usually not realistic, thus disappointing us even further. Have the will to be brave and stand up to your inner bully.

4. Spend time with positive people who empower you to focus less on external traits, and rather on your inner qualities.

5. Be willing to solve problems without food or eating disorder behaviours by actively problem solving around stressors, and becoming empowered by developing competency in more helpful based coping7. An example could be taking a walk instead of bingeing, or writing down your feelings instead of purging.

6. Practice self-compassion by acknowledging your positive traits and treating yourself kindly8. A good way to do this is by asking yourself “How would I treat a friend or colleague here? What helpful encouragement might I say to them if they were faced with a similar situation?” – and remember, fake it until you make it!

7. Align goals and actions with your core values9. Think about what you stand for in life, and align your activities with this. It is unlikely your eating disorder behaviours are aligned with positive or helpful values, hence why they cause you so much distress – this is called ‘cognitive dissonance’. Start by bringing awareness to the things that matter to you, and write a list of ways that you may get closer to these values in your day to day life.

8. Focus less on perfection10.  Empower yourself by challenging your need to be perfect.

9. Adjust the goal posts11. The reality is that your eating disorder developed over many years, and the fact that you’re reading this article is only the start of your journey. We refer to this as being ‘contemplative’. It means you are starting to think about your unhelpful coping behaviours, i.e. the eating disorder, but you’re not entirely sure what to do next. This is normal, and will take time for you to figure out the next steps. Don’t be too hard on yourself for slip ups, as these are normal in the contemplative phase. Focus more on what you can do, and how far you’ve come thus far.

10. And finally, celebrate your successes12. A little positive reinforcement can really have such an impact on promoting helpful behaviours. Reward yourself by catching up with friends or taking up a painting course.

Hopefully, you can work on some of these tips provided to boost your self-esteem. And hopefully, in time they will help to combat your disordered eating patterns. It should be noted that this blog was not intended to try and solve every problem, and it should not be taken as a ‘best practice’ treatment option for any Eating Disorder. But rather, it offers insightful tips that can help one aspect that could be related to an Eating Disorder that you or someone you know has.

If you continue to feel anxious, distressed or concerned, or you feel as if things aren’t getting easier, reach out and ask for help. Speak to your GP about a referral to a Psychologist or counsellor.

References:

[1, 3, 5, 8] 10 Strategies for Building Self-Esteem (2017). Accessed from BodyMatters Australasia, http://bodymatters.com.au/resources/. Retrieved on 2 March 2017.

 [2, 4, 6, 7, 9-12] Self Esteem (2014). Accessed from Eating Disorders Victoria, https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/eating-disorders/what-is-an-eating-disorder/risk-factors/self-esteem. Retrieved on 2 March 2017.

How much do our lifestyle choices affect our sleep?

10th March 2017

To wrap up our three-part blog series, PENNY MYERSCOUGH explores how our lifestyle can impact on our sleep.

Are our sleep patterns fixed? What ensures that we get enough zzz’s each night? Is it all about just going to bed at a decent hour of the night? I’m sure most of you have had some trouble with sleep at a given point in your life. And I’m guessing many of you can’t pinpoint one cause to the struggle.

The internal mechanisms that regulate our sleep and wake patterns are a delicate and complex web. This blog explores a number of common lifestyle factors that can play a significant role in determining how healthy our sleep patterns are.

Jet Lag and Shift Work

Normally, light serves to set our internal clock to the appropriate time and reflects when we need to sleep according to the absence of light among other factors. However, problems can occur when our exposure to light changes due to a shift in work schedule or travel across time zones. Typically, those who work shifts or do long haul flights have one of two symptoms. One is insomnia when they are trying to sleep outside of their internal phase, and the other is excessive sleepiness during the time when their internal clock says that they should be asleep. Half of all night shift workers regularly report nodding off and falling asleep when they are at work. This is a concern both for individuals and society, given that airline pilots, air traffic controllers, physicians, nurses, police, and other public safety workers are all employed in professions in which peak functioning during a night shift may be critical.

If possible, don’t work too many late night shifts in a row, keep your workplace brightly lit to ensure alertness (and avoid sleepiness on the job) and try to avoid caffeine towards the end of your shift as it can disrupt your sleep when you get home.

Caffeine and Alcohol

Many common chemicals affect both quantity and quality of sleep. These include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and antihistamines, as well as prescription medications including beta blockers, alpha blockers, and antidepressants. The pressure to sleep builds with every hour that you are awake. During daylight hours, your internal clock generally counteracts this sleep drive by producing an alerting signal that keeps you awake. The longer you are awake, the stronger the sleep drive becomes. Eventually the alerting signal decreases and the drive to sleep wins out. When it does, you fall asleep.

Caffeine tends to block the chemical that enforces the sleep drive. However, its effects are temporary which is why we feel elevated for short periods and then tend to “crash”. At night, consuming caffeine generally decreases the quantity of slow-wave sleep and REM sleep and tends to increase the number of awakenings. The duration of its effect depends on the amount of caffeine ingested, the amount of time before sleep that the person ingests the caffeine, the individual’s tolerance level, the degree of ongoing sleep debt, and the phase of the individual’s internal clock.

While coffee is one of the world’s most popular drinks and is a social mechanism for people catching up, many health practitioners recommend not drinking caffeine after midday to minimize your chances of having disrupted sleep.

Alcohol is commonly identified as a substance that assists in getting to sleep. While alcohol can help a person fall asleep more quickly, the quality of that individual's sleep under the influence of alcohol will be compromised. Ingesting more than one or two drinks shortly before bedtime has been shown to cause increased awakenings—and in some cases insomnia—due to the arousal effect that alcohol has as it is metabolised later in the night. Alcohol also tends to worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea, which will further disrupt sleep in people with this breathing disorder and those who may be sharing a bedroom.

Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation in many social situations. However, stopping at three drinks is advised as is allowing a few hours between your last drink and when you go to bed.

Environment

These are the more basic and pragmatic factors that you might like to review in order to maximize your chances of a good night’s sleep. Such considerations include, light and noise. In most instances we have limited capacity to control how much we are exposed to these things. Other considerations are temperature which might relate to how heavy your bedclothes are and the fabric of your bed linen. Pure cotton breathes more easily than artificial fibers and brushed cotton or flannel sheets are warm in winter but no good in the summer months. Mattresses are generally designed to last for ten years yet many people go for much longer without examining the impact that the mattress might be having on them.

Of course there are numerous other external and internal factors involved in how well and long we sleep. Obviously many of these will be unavoidable. But consider this: try and manage these known lifestyle factors. Ensure your room is comfortable and dark enough to get some shut eye. Avoid blue-light right before bed and keep external noises (to the best within your control) to a minimum. Watch what you are eating and drinking in the later times of the day and work out a suitable sleep regime if you are a shift worker.

If you persistently have trouble falling or staying asleep, seek medical advice from your GP or speak to another healthcare professional.  

Is the ‘2pm slump’ a myth?

6th March 2017

By Rachel Clements 

Do you ever notice by around 2pm that your energy levels start to drop, you are scratching your head as to why that coffee hasn’t held out and you are constantly checking the clock? You are not alone.

The ‘2pm slump’ is a real thing. Well, it is definitely experienced by a lot of people. Research indicates that our internal body clock naturally tells us to ‘get sleepy’ at this time. But is it as simple as just blaming our biology? What is the truth behind the ‘2pm slump’?

What does the science say?

The American Dietetic Association proposed that we have a natural rhythm (aka ‘body clock’) in our bodies, which explains why we feel fatigued between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. In other words, we seem to have a natural lull.

Experts such as Michael J. Breus (PhD) from WebMD describes this exhaustion feeling that occurs in the afternoon as being just like how we feel right before bed. It is a result of a dip in our core body temperature. It drops right before you sleep at night, which signals the brain to release our natural sleep chemical, melatonin. The same process occurs, to a smaller extent, in the afternoon.

Our bodies work on a sleep-wake cycle, telling us that we are sleepy around 2am (which makes sense), but also to some extent around 2pm. In some cultures, such as Spain, this is actually celebrated. Their well-known siestas may be cleverer than you think, as some studies do indicate that an afternoon rest can boost energy and productivity for further work.

But of course there is more to it than that. Otherwise we would all be involuntarily napping on our desk after lunch!

What else is at play?

A lot of what determines if we feel this slump or not is our diet. What we eat during the day essentially determines how energised we stay. Dr Mercola explains that the most common trigger for afternoon fatigue is post-lunch hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is related to your inability to burn fat.

One dietary culprit for afternoon fatigue is a (simple) carb-heavy lunch. Simple carbs are made up of one or two sugar molecules and although they are the quickest source of energy as they are rapidly digested, this ‘high’ is often short-lived. In effect, we find our energy levels plummeting to the ground once more not long after consumption. This is definitely not to say to not eat carbs, in fact we should eat carbs as they are a great source of energy fuel. But it is all about selecting the appropriate types to consume. Complex carbs such as wholegrains, beans, legumes and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables are ideal as they sustain our blood sugar levels.

Eating at regular times can also help ensure that your blood sugar levels remain steady. Don’t skip meals! Snack throughout the day if you desire, opting for slow burning options that keep us fuller for longer (e.g. bananas, nuts, yoghurt, popcorn). Another critical tip is to choose water instead of sugary drinks and be mindful of how much caffeine you are consuming. Dehydration is one of the most common reasons for feeling fatigued and many of us are guilty of not drinking enough water. Green tea has also been found to combat energy slumps, boosting your productivity. Plus, it has numerous other health benefits!

Another big factor in our afternoon lulls, is how active you are. Remaining stationary for hours on end is no good for your health. And the scary thing is, it doesn’t even matter if you exercise before or after work! Sitting down all day not only adds to fatigue, but it has various detrimental effects on our health. Dr Joan Vernikos (former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division) explains how standing up from your seated position makes your body interact with gravity, which is what leads to beneficial health effects. Lipoprotein lipase (an enzyme) reduces greatly with inactivity but increases with activity. The enzyme connects with fat in our bloodstream, transporting it into your muscles to be used as fuel. If your body can’t use fat to make energy while you are sitting, your muscles will become sleepy.

So what can you do if you work a 9-5ish sitting job? Get up and walk around every hour or so to prevent these harsh effects. Speak to a colleague over by their desk rather than emailing them or speaking to them over the phone. Go make that tea in the kitchen, standing as the kettle boils. Go for a walk around the block, which not only means you are getting up from your desk, but the fresh air will clear your mind, leaving you revitalised. And if possible, set up a standing desk.

So although the ‘2pm slump’ may be ‘true’ for many, there are various ways to get your energy levels back on track.

Are your child’s special needs taking a toll on you?

22nd February 2017

By Grace Kouvelis

Feeling a bit overwhelmed or that you can’t keep up with everything? Nobody told you it would be this hard. Parenthood that is. Or maybe they did, but if you add having a child with special needs into the mix, you probably were at least a little bit unprepared.

Undeniably, being a parent is hard but being a parent to a special needs child may be extra hard. It’s not to say that a special needs child will cause more stress than a child of typical development, but rather that it is most likely to be of a different source or level of stress.

It is likely that your days are full of appointments, therapies or other responsibilities to help care for your child. If you add on top your own personal worries and concerns, plus pressing deadlines, there is no wonder that you aren’t sleeping or you aren’t being productive at work.

Something’s got to give, right? Well, in a way yes. But what is of extreme value to consider is balance. It is not about you sacrificing sleep or pushing away leisure activities for yourself. I’m sure you are thinking, ‘easier said than done’. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Below are some suggested tips for you to take on board.

The first and foremost thing to remember is that you are not alone. We live in a world where special needs among children seems to be continually increasing. There are so many support services available for you and your child. Consider getting involved in a support group. Discussing any of your worries, concerns or fears with someone who likewise is going through the same experience can be very beneficial.

A few tips to keep in mind to help manage your child’s special needs are summarised below.

  1. Learn about the type of special needs. One of the most critical steps in learning how to manage your child’s special needs is to understand what the condition is and where they require extra help. For instance, knowing that dyslexia is not characterized by low intelligence, but rather dyslexics have trouble interpreting symbols, letters or words is important. Educate yourself of the warning signs, typical behaviours/characteristics and management strategies for your child’s special needs. By doing so, not only will you serve the best interests of your child, helping them to learn effectively, but hopefully it will make things a bit easier on you too.
     
  2. Learn about your child’s personal experience. But knowing about the condition itself is not enough. You need to be in tune with your child’s personal experience. Just as every child is unique, every special needs case will be different. Understanding how your child responds to their special needs, where they require help and what management intervention works specifically for them is essential. For instance, ADHD affects children in different ways. Some children may have trouble sitting still and will be fidgety, whereas for others they may blurt out answers in class when it is inappropriate to do so.
     
  3. Be consistent and set up a structure. Generally speaking, being consistent in your routine and with your expectations is extremely important. Have set times for bed, waking up, for doing homework etc. to promote stability and to avoid disruptions. This is not to say you can’t be spontaneous with activities, but structure will create a sense of control and confidence in your child. Autistic children benefit greatly from a consistent routine, focusing on target behaviours and positively reinforcing desired outcomes. Reshaping a behaviour one day and then letting it slide the next will be confusing for your child and may result in unpredictable behaviour.
     
  4. Speak to your ‘team’. It is really important to ensure everyone who is practically involved in your child’s life is on the same page. For instance, be in close communication with your child’s teacher to see what they notice in class, but also discuss what management strategies work. You may have a pre-existing management plan in place which needs to be transcended across to the school setting, or maybe they have some tips for you to work on at home.
     
  5. Embrace the positives. Remember, every child has their own strengths and weaknesses. Of course it is important to spend time on where they may be struggling, but it is equally essential that you cherish their strengths!

Maybe you have been so consumed with trying to take care of your child’s needs, and your family’s, that you have neglected your own. You may be feeling overwhelmed or stressed, that is totally normal. But remember to be kind to yourself, you are doing the best you can. Below is a summary of some tips which can help you to cope with the additional stressors and to help you maintain your wellbeing. 

  1. Be organised. No doubt your schedule is overflowing with appointments, work, extra activities, but ensuring that you are not running yourself into the ground is so important for your child’s wellbeing, but also your own. Create a calendar, don’t leave things to the last minute and remember balance is key.
     
  2. Choose mindfulness. Stop ruminating over the past or worrying about the future and redirect your focus back to the present. Engage in a breathing technique – breath in slowly through your nose and then out through your mouth for a few seconds, and repeat. Research has demonstrated that mindfulness practices can decrease stress and anxiety and lead to increased relaxation, positive feelings and improved sleep.
     
  3. Set time aside for you. It is easy to get caught up in your chaotic life, ensuring everyone around you is safe and well. But stop, reflect and take time for yourself. Get a babysitter or ask your partner, friend or family member to take the kids for a few hours. Find something that YOU enjoy, whether that is reading a book, going for a drink with a friend or getting a massage.
     
  4. Seek help. You don’t have to be ‘super(wo)man’ all of the time. Seek help and set up a management plan that works for you and the family. And if you are particularly struggling yourself, speak to a trusted friend, family or healthcare professional (e.g. psychologist, counsellor).

Whether your child’s needs are physical, developmental or emotional, there are ways that you can try and keep your wellbeing in check. Don’t neglect you, it isn’t good for anyone. 

Impact that sleep deprivation has on performance

16th February 2017

PENNY MYERSCOUGH continues our three part blog series to help you get a better night sleep.

Since 1960, the western world has decreased its average sleep time per night from 8.5 to 6.5 hours. So how much do we really need? Major studies indicate that for healthy individuals with normal sleep, adults need 7-9 hours1. There are a small number of the population who have long sleep genes and short sleep genes. However, these make up about 3% of the population. These are genetic and so most likely to run in families. For most of us, though, 7-9 hours enables maximum performance.

If you are like most of the working population in Australia, you probably see this as being quite idealist. Working long hours, trying to incorporate family time, exercise, down time, etc. Before we know it, our sleep time gets squeezed. So, if you have one night of inadequate sleep, does it matter? What about those weeks when you have ridiculous work demands and a full social calendar?

For most of us, the biggest impact of sleep deprivation performance is not around a one-off night of 2-3 hours. Instead, it is the insidious effect of a series of nights of 4-5 hours. Our brains are particularly poor at self-reporting impairment due to fatigue. Let’s say that you had sleep deprivation for one night. Typically, you would report feeling as though you were not functioning at full capacity. Indeed, in many instances, we avoid making complex decisions, securing solutions to difficult situations, or try to resolve interpersonal conflicts when we know that we are in this state. If, on the other hand, you average four hours of sleep a night for four or five days, you demonstrate the same level of cognitive impairment as if you had been awake for 24 hours.2. However, you will not report any impairment in your cognitive function, recall, ability to focus, decision making capacity, cognitive speed and maths processing. So while the impairment is the same as though you had been denied a night’s sleep, you are less likely to have insight into your depleted functioning and thereby won’t seek the opportunity to defer or seek external advise on complex decision making, focussing on complex problems, be short tempered with others etc. Within ten days, the level of impairment is the same as you’d have going 48 hours without sleep. This greatly lengthens reaction time, impedes judgment, and interferes with problem solving.

Yet we often operate in workplaces that glorify fatigue and celebrate long working hours and hold up those who opt to put in “all-nighters”. There are some academics in this area who are calling on organisations to take responsibility for the impaired function of its employees who are required to work long hours and then make errors3. Extensive research has been done on doctors who work shifts and often work two shifts back to back. Where does the responsibility sit when that doctor makes an error of judgement due to fatigue that impacts a patient’s health? While corporations have all kinds of policies designed to prevent employee endangerment—rules against workplace smoking, drinking, drugs, sexual harassment, and so on—they sometimes push employees to the brink of self-destruction. Being “on” pretty much around the clock induces a level of impairment every bit as risky as intoxication. We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%. We would never say, “This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!” yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep.

Maybe in 2017, your resolution will be to re-think sleep and take some steps to ensure that you are performing at your best? Trust me, it will do you more good than you think.

References

  1. http://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218(15)00015-7/pdf
  2. https://hbr.org/2006/10/sleep-deficit-the-performance-killer
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17040040

The positive effects of optimism

10th February 2017

By Rachel Quick

We have all heard of the famous saying “Is the glass half full or half empty?” Life has many ups and downs and things don’t always go to plan. However, some people decide to make the best out of a situation and have a positive attitude to life. This group of people view the glass as “half full” and can be described as “optimists.” Studies suggest seeing the glass half-full is good for our overall wellbeing and leads to other health benefits such as reduced levels of mortality, better immune function and cardiovascular health.

What is optimism?

The concept of optimism is defined as a form of positive thinking where people aim to seek out the good in every situation. It involves the ability to control the direction of your life and bounce back from negative situations, while believing that good things will come your way. If an individual is optimistic they have the ability to transform a negative situation into a positive. Optimism emphasises that during tough times people should search for meaning and remember all that they are grateful for.

A few tips on how to be an ‘optimist’

An optimist is an individual who is cheerful, has a positive attitude and tends to anticipate the best possible outcome in any situation. Sounds good doesn’t it? So what can you do to become an optimist?

  • Remember happiness comes from within – Remind yourself that you are responsible for your own happiness, it doesn’t solely depend on your accomplishments in life.
  • Discover the good – Seek out the positive in every situation. In difficult situations, it may be more challenging, however, look closer!
  • Avoid the blame game – Optimists avoid blaming their own faults on others. They search for the cause of their failure and then seek to improve it.
  • Complaining leads you nowhere – Optimists don’t take things for granted and try to be grateful for the things they have. They focus on finding a solution to any problem.
  • Record it – Get into a habit of writing down a few good things at the end of the day to help you appreciate the positive parts of life. This could be achievements you’ve made during the day or things you are thankful for.
  • Find your balance – Sometimes life throws unexpected situations at us so the challenge is to stay positive and calm even when things don’t go to plan.
  • Be in control - Studies have shown when people are in control of situations they feel more optimistic. Set a goal for yourself and remember you are in control.
  • Ability to let things go – Optimistic people let go of hatred and jealousy because they understand things cannot be undone. It is far more worthwhile to forgive, forget and move on.
  • Get rid of the jealousy – Every day we compare ourselves to others and may become jealous of what we don’t have. Instead, remind yourself of your qualities and what you are thankful for. Remember that no one is perfect.
  • Life will never be a walk in the park – Life is never fair, nor easy. Having the ability to cope with the uncertainty of life enables optimistic people to better respond to situations. Their aim is to make the best of every situation.

 

What are the benefits of being optimistic?

  1. It can lead to a healthier heart – By focusing on the positive, optimists improve their health and overall wellbeing, thus encouraging individuals to take better care of their bodies. Studies have shown optimists exercise more and have significantly better blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
  2. The ability to appreciate the positive moments in life – Almost everyone can find something delightful and enjoyable in their life. No matter the situation, an optimist knows that tough times won’t last forever. Therefore, you should always try to seek out the positive in the situation.
  3. It promotes positive relationships – Thinking and acting optimistically can increase your chance of securing a stable, loving relationship.
  4. You can spread the optimism vibe – We can inspire and motivate the people around us by having a cheerful attitude, especially in the workplace. This can lead to accomplishing bigger goals and moving forward as a team.
  5. You are one step closer to achieving your goals – Positive thinking helps you to remain in a good mood and focus on the main aspects of life. By looking at the positive side of everything, you will notice all the possibilities around you, which will help you to succeed in everything.
  6. The ability to bounce back – Studies have shown during difficult times or times of change, people who are optimistic experience less stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. Just like the saying - “When life delivers lemons, optimists are more likely to make lemonade.”
  7. It is the best choice and the key to your success – Research clearly shows that optimism rewards us in all areas of life, such as seeking out new opportunities, being able to move forward from difficult times and having the ability to learn from our mistakes.  

In this unpredictable and often challenging world, to be a “glass half full” person is an incredible quality to have. But remember, it doesn’t mean you must always be happy. Life can throw unexpected situations at us. However, it is your approach, outlook and what you take away from a situation that affects your ability to be optimistic.  

Getting back into the swing of school

23rd January 2017

Are your children beginning to experience the back to school jitters…? AMELIA FLORES-KATER offers her top tips for getting your children emotionally ready for the upcoming school year.

Oh yes… it’s that time of year again! The start of the new school year is fast approaching us.  Its been a great holiday period, where hopefully you and your family have spent the last month basking in the summer days with no structure, the availability to switch off from deadlines, homework tasks and breaking normal routines. Potentially you have even enjoyed a holiday period away from home, where the family has lived in a new environment, sleeping and eating patterns have been broken, indulged and splurged.  Therefore it is not surprising that returning to normality might seem a little “Ho Hum”, and that your children might be feeling apprehensive about returning or starting school. 

Anxiety is normal whenever we feel change or uncertainty, this is particularly true for children or teenagers when they are returning or starting school. The transition back to school for a new year can be stressful on the individual and the whole family! This anxiety can start well before the first day of school and can result in tearfulness, clingy behavior, nightmares, tantrums, upset stomachs (or feelings of sickness), change of eating patterns, expressions of worry, sadness or asking lots of questions about school.  It’s normal for children to worry about new teachers, new classes, new and old friends, and curriculum changes and for these to be ongoing thoughts for them building up to the first day.

Whilst it’s normal for your children to feel anxiety or worry about returning to school, it’s crucial for you to assist them to understand, verbalize and manage these emotions.

Some tips on how to do this include:

  1. Prepare – restart normal routines in the home including waking up times, meal times and bed times. Prepare uniforms and school bags and engage your child in the “getting ready” process, giving them ownership of this. If your child is starting school for the first time, drive past the school to show them where it is, maybe arrange a tour of the grounds and classroom to ensure familiarity is made. Further, timeline and count down the return date, let your child know how many weeks/days are left, this allows mental preparedness and adjustment periods to occur.
  2. Encourage your child to express their worries about returning to school – normalize the anxiety and fears, problem solving particular issues that they are worried about.
  3. Focus on the positives – talk with your child about all the positive experiences they will have at school including friendships, sport activities and learning achievements, using previous positive experiences as examples to guide this.
  4. Role Play – if your child has particular scenarios that are causing them worries, role play with them what to say and how to behave, this will assist in alleviating anxiety and establishing mental preparedness.
  5. Arrange play dates with school friends before the first day – this will result in established relationships and familiar faces on the first day back at school.
  6. Pay attention to your own behavior and messaging – we know that children mirror our behaviors, how we react to new experiences or even how we language disappointments about returning to work. Therefore be mindful of this and how your children see their own world and experiences through us and what we do and how we act in similar scenarios.

So, what about you as a parent – how do you manage the return to school process and uncertainties for your children and how do you ensure this does not impact on your productivity when you return to work. Basically, “keep calm and carry on” is the best way to approach it, normalize the process and keep a check on your own emotional response to this, ensuring that you are giving yourself and your child adequate time to adjust.

Some other tips might include:

  • If possible in the first few weeks of school, consider working shorter hours or from home in the event that you are available for your child if issues arise.
  • Advise your manager or Human Resources that your child is adjusting to a new school year, seeking some flexibility from work pressures if you were to need it during those first weeks at school.
  • If possible be available at drop off or pick up to chat with teachers or other parents.
  • Spend some time in your child’s classroom or school environment to familiarize yourself with his/her surroundings, perhaps arranging to volunteer in reading classes or canteen duties throughout the year.

If the anxieties resolve, as is in the majority of cases, praise and reward your child for getting through it and showing resilience, using this as an example to be remembered when they have similar anxieties in the future. 

If the anxieties continue, reach out and ask for help, speaking with your GP about a referral to a Child Psychologist or School Counsellor.

Finally, be kind to yourself as a parent as it’s a learning experience undertaken by the whole family!

Sleep… could it be the most important piece of the wellbeing puzzle?

19th January 2017

GRACE KOUVELIS kicks of our three part blog series to help you get a better nights sleep.

Sleep is something we all do, some of us better than others, but the significance of it is often misjudged. With as much as a third of the population struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep the issue of simply getting enough is one that organisations need to get serious about – a tired worker is definitely not a productive one. This blog series will explore why it is so important to re-prioritise our sleeping habits and why organisations should be paying attention and educating their employees on the importance of a restful night sleep.

So how much sleep do we really need? Research continues to tell us that we as human beings require approximately 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes as you read this at the prospect of fitting in 8 hours of sleep every day, especially those of you with children. But, it is probably doing you more of a disservice than you think if you aren’t getting sufficient amounts of quality sleep. If you’re use to not getting enough sleep, you’re missing out on the endless benefits that come along with a good sleep cycle.

What affects your sleeping patterns?

Due to the fast-paced nature of our lives, we often find ourselves pondering, ‘why can’t there be more hours in a day?’ Finding time to get the recommended 8-or-so hours of sleep can be stressful in itself, which of course makes it all the harder to get that required shuteye. Ironic, huh?

The modern day world that we live in is an extremely visually stimulating one. We are constantly bombarded with lights, colours and sounds, and so it is not surprising that a lot of us can’t sleep. You may or may not have heard about the ‘blue light’ effect. More specifically, research suggests that blue light, the “short-wavelength-enriched” type, which comes off our devices, affects the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, more than any other wavelength. Evidently, as the majority of us are guilty of our devices being attached to our hip (especially before bedtime), it is no wonder that our sleep is sacrificed. Leave your phone away from your bed. If you ‘need’ it as an alarm for the next morning, buy an alarm clock. It’s that easy.

Of course, our modern day best friend is not the only reason why we don’t sleep. When you add on top pressing deadlines, anxious circling thoughts and the effects of caffeine which we “NEED just to get through the day”, shouldn’t we just come to terms with the fact that restful sleep isn’t in our future..? Of course not!

Why should you really prioritise sleep as your goal?

As Arianna Huffington talks about in her TED talk, sleep is the key to succeeding. A small idea, with a big outcome, the value of sleep is unquestionable. Yet, it is often overlooked and misunderstood. And while a lot of you probably think you are being more productive by squeezing more into your day – your early mornings and late nights – you are in fact, doing the complete opposite.

Arianna Huffington tells us how she personally learnt the value of sleep the hard way. After fainting from exhaustion one day and a broken cheekbone and stitches to the eye later, she tells us that the benefits of sleep could not have been emphasised enough by her team of healthcare professionals. She promises us, “that the way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep.”

Can it be that simple?

Of course nothing is that black and white. But if you take anything away form this blog series it should be you making  sleep your goal. Making a resful night sleep your goal will allow all those other ‘wellbeing’ goals to fall into place. Think about those resolutions that you may have set yourself. You may want to exercise more, eat more healthily, be more productive. Improving your sleep cycle will help you achieve each and every one of these by topping up your willpower. It does this by:

  • Giving you more energy. Just like how we biologically need food and water, we also require sleep, it is an internal drive. At its core, sleep energises us, giving us the fuel to take part in our everyday lives.
  • Improving your memory. Research has found that the quantity and quality of sleep greatly impacts on our cognition, learning and memory. It does this by improving our attention and concentration. Sleep also has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is vital for learning new things.
  • Improving your mood. Firstly, this follows on from the first two points, as if you feel more energized and focused, you are bound to feel more positive. On the other hand, irritability is commonly associated with sleep deprivation.
  • Strengthening our immune system. Getting the right amount of sleep strengthens our immune system and increases our ability to fight off infections, lowering our risk to the common cold for instance.
  • Benefiting our skin. Beauty sleep is not so much a myth as you may think. Sleep deprivation is in line with skin deprivation as while you snooze, your body boosts blood flow to the skin, leading to a glowing complexion. Sufficient sleep cycles have also been found to reduce wrinkles and brighten your eyes.       

Of course there are many other factors at play, and it would be impossible to control all of them, but it’s pretty clear, no matter which health professional you speak to, that sleep is a pretty big piece to our wellbeing puzzle.So pay it the respect it deserves and stop bumping it down your priority list.

 

New Year... New Uncertainties

11th January 2017

It’s the New Year and while it is a time that most of us get to relax, you may also be swamped with mixed emotions. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill that needs to be developed and strengthened. GRACE KOUVELIS reports.

Maybe you feel relief for scrapping through 2016 alive, maybe you are stressed due to the financial pressure of the Christmas period or maybe you are excited for new things to come. But what is almost inevitable for many, is the uncertainty which comes with the New Year.

Uncertainty is a crucial thing to think about. Honestly speaking, no matter what we tell ourselves, we really have no clue what the New Year will behold for us. We may have good intentions, ideas, feelings, but in reality, it isn’t always that straight forward or predictable. It is often referred to as the ironic statement, “the certainty of uncertainty.”

Is uncertainty good for you?

Many individuals fear change and the unknown, and in effect they will try and fight uncertainty, or try to avoid it. But what is more useful is to actually embrace it! Moreover, uncertainty can be positive, fun, and exhilarating. It allows more doors to be opened and it can open up your eyes, providing you with new opportunities, and new perspectives. One of the most important things to remember is that taking uncertainty on board can bring many good things. It may lead you off your intended path but you could end up happier than you imagined.

What can you do to cope with uncertainty?

An important tip is to try and not let your mind run wild, focusing on the uncertainties of the future too much. But rather, to monitor your response to uncertainty and to deal with it in a constructive way. Our brains are wired to respond to uncertainty with fear – but we can rewire our brains to respond differently, and more positively. Some things that you can do to effectively cope with uncertainty include:

  • Stay positive – engaging in positive thoughts will push away fear and irrational thinking. You may have to consciously think of something positive in order to stop your mind wandering. This can become easier with time and it is easier to keep your attention on positivity if things are going well and if you are in a good mood. Of course if something negative happened, this can be challenging to redirect your focus, but with conscious effort and mindfulness techniques, you can train yourself to accomplish this. How do you do this? Think about your day and identify a positive thing that occurred, no matter how small. If you can’t, think about the previous day or the weekend.
  • Keep your certainty in check when faced with uncertainty. When uncertainty regarding something or someone arises, it is easy to feel like everything is uncertain. However, this is very rarely the case. It is important to redirect your attention to those things that you are certain about. This will help you cope with the aspects that aren’t so certain!
  • Embrace what isn’t within your control. It is rare to be in control of absolutely everything. Lack of control is rather unsettling, worrisome or scary for a lot of people. However, it is beneficial to embrace these uncertainties. Try and let go of this desire to control everything. Let things flow. Let things happen. What you do have control over is the process you go through to reach decisions. Own that. And embrace the rest, no matter how much – or little – control you have.
  • Target your focus on what really matters. It is easy to get caught up in many details, some distressing, some insignificant. However, most of these aren’t actually important. Filter this. And consciously make the effort to focus on those things that are really important.
  • Don’t seek or expect perfection. There is no such thing as perfection, so it is important to remember to not try to achieve it. Of course, it is great to strive high and try and achieve the best (that we can). But know your limits or feasible boundaries. Otherwise, you will be bombarded with pressure, expectations, fear and even failure. And then extending from that, you may be ruminating over what you would do differently and may be swimming in regret and distress. Be mindful, be reasonable and be positive.
  • Don’t dwell on the bad things. It is important to realise, that where you focus your attention will determine your emotional state. For instance, if you are stuck fixating on a problem, setback or obstacle, you are most likely going to be in a negative frame of mind. But if you target your focus on the positives, what you did achieve, or what was good, you will better your performance and create a sense of personal efficacy.
  • Avoid ‘what ifs’. These will only leave you feeling stressed and worried. Avoiding them allows you to move forward and to put a good contingency plan in place.
  • Remember to breathe. Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy, chaotic lives that we forget to breathe. Focus on your breath, slow yourself down, be mindful of the moment. By doing this in the face of uncertainty, you can approach it in a thought-out, calming way.

The take-home message essentially is to acknowledge that there will undoubtedly be some degree of uncertainty as we approach a new year. Although, you may be in denial about that, or fear certain changes, embracing that you can turn over a new leaf or that change can actually be a positive thing, will be liberating. You will be more able to tackle new challenges that you may face and ensure you live 2017 to the fullest.

The festive season - a time to be grateful

19th December 2016

Written by Grace Kouvelis

Most of the focus at this time of year is looking forward to the New Year or presenting survival tips for how to get through Christmas. How many ‘how do you survive the silly season’ or ‘how to create New Year’s resolutions – and how to stick to them’ articles have you read? But one of the things that is often mistakenly overlooked is gratitude – reflecting back on the year and acknowledging all that you are grateful for.

Gratitude is an emotion that expresses appreciation for what an individual possesses or has experienced (from someone or something). Having gratitude has been found to have numerous positive outcomes, stretching from health to emotional to career-boosting benefits. Although we should really be showing gratitude all year round, the end of the year marks a great – and appropriate – opportunity to take it on board.

Is there evidence for the benefits of gratitude? Yes – there is an abundance! Some of the benefits backed up by research findings include:

  • Increased happiness – gratitude is strongly associated with optimism, which in effect leads to us being happier;
  • Improved relationships – gratitude has been found to make us more compassionate, more trusting and more appreciative. Therefore, undoubtedly it can increase your social circle, deepen existing relationships and improve marriage and familial ties;
  • Health improvements – it has been demonstrated that gratitude can reduce stress, improve your sleep, increase your energy levels and even decrease your blood pressure;
  • Enhance your career – gratitude has been found to be associated with increased productivity and decision-making capabilities;
  • Facilitates your emotions – gratitude is associated with lower levels of jealousy, envy, anger, and upset, and can lead to happier memories.

There are also some interesting and important findings from neuroscience, which can inform our understanding about gratitude. The concept neuroplasticity refers to the fact that our brains are not ‘fixed’, our thinking patterns not set in stone. But rather, they are malleable and are like a sponge, being flexible for change and capable of soaking up new information and processes. Thanks to this malleability, we are able to rewire our brains.

Sound complicated? Well the good news is, it’s not. If you take (only) 5 minutes a day to practice being aware of the positive things in life, and to challenge your brains’ tendency to focus on the negatives, as times goes on, you will essentially train your brain to be more positive and in turn, happier. The overall aim is to make gratitude a daily habit. Practice it – so that it becomes second nature almost, an automatic process.   

So now that you know taking time to be grateful is good for you, it’s time to bridge the gap between knowing something is good for you and actually doing it!

Below are some tips for how you can practice gratitude:

  • Consciously try and take note of new things that you are grateful for, every day. Journaling our gratitude is effective as it gradually changes our perceptions and what we are focusing on. Try and shake things up and think long and hard – if needed – about what these are. It won’t be beneficial if you just reflect, “I am grateful for my family,” every time. Be more specific and be creative in your thoughts and reflections. For instance, “I’m so grateful that my sister only lives 5 10 minutes away from me.”
  • Acknowledge negative experiences as well and try and shift a setback or challenge into something positive.
  • Acknowledge and remind yourself of the benefits of gratitude: Doing this will give you the motivation to start making changes and to be reflective on what you are thankful for.
  • ‘Mental contrasting’: being optimistic about the benefits of a new habit while simultaneously being realistic about how developing a habit can be challenging.
  • Identify and take time to plan for the obstacles that may be in the way of your gratitude practice. E.g. think about when suits you to take this time to be reflective as well, if you get exhausted before bed, maybe choose a different time to do this activity.
  • It doesn’t have to be a gratitude journal, mix up your thankfulness. Think of new and creative ways to practice your gratitude. E.g. a gratitude jar – write an experience on a piece of paper and pop it in the jar every so often and then pick a time point (e.g. end of next year) and open the jar and read them all! This keeps these special moments more meaningful and the reflection back on them will help you cherish and appreciate it even more so. Plus it will make you feel warm and fuzzy reading back on these thoughts and memories.
  • Be thankful to people in your life – whether that is your loved ones, a colleague, a friend or a friendly stranger.

Not only does gratitude have great benefits for our wellbeing, but it can help to open our eyes, to change our perspective and help us to embrace new situations. Being reflective and grateful of the year will enhance your positive memories and alleviate any stress you may have. We aren’t born with gratitude per se, but as mentioned, we can learn it as a skill with practice. So, what better way is there to end 2016 than reflecting on the things that you are thankful for and soaking up all of the associated goodness. It will lead you into a happier and more appreciative 2017!

Feeling Overwhelmed?

8th June 2016

By Fiona Simson, Registered Psychologist

Do you ever get the sense of feeling overwhelmed?  You’re juggling multiple projects at work, working long hours, and your boss just pulled a deadline forward.  Perhaps you had an argument with a close friend, you are trying to sell your house, and your car has just broken down.  Sound familiar?  Juggling work, family, and personal needs can be tricky.  When multiple challenges occur in quick succession or when coping skills are insufficient, people may end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

When you are feeling this way, you may react by being either frantically busy, having multiple things on the go, or procrastinating.  Feeling disconnected from your determination and being unsure on where to start are common when you are overwhelmed.

Feeling overwhelmed has not only a physical and psychological impact on our wellbeing, it has an emotional impact as well.  You may feel tired, fatigued, have difficulty sleeping and your cortisol levels (stress hormone) can increase.  You could experience an increase in anxiety, distress, and a sense of helplessness about your situation, thinking “it’s too much, I don’t know what to do”.  These types of responses can have an impact on your relationships, your motivation and engagement in the activities you find enjoyment in.  In turn, you can become emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted.  Extended periods of feeling overwhelmed can lead to “burn out”.

We live in a world that has become increasingly busier.  Things are moving at a faster pace and we are forced to move right along with it.  How do we keep our head above water when there is so much going on?

  1. Take a deep breath.  Cortisol is released though our breath, assisting us to relax.  Engage in mindfulness meditation and relaxation strategies to reduce your stress.
  2. Identify what is most important.  Many times we get so caught up in the doing, that we forget why we are doing it. 
  3. Prioritise your tasks.  Write yourself a list, then order your tasks.
  4. Work out where you are spending your time during the week.  Take note, start a journal to track where you are spending your time.  You might find that there are some things you spend too long on, or not long enough. 
  5. Ask for help.  Often we think the problems are ours alone.  Ask others for help and assistance.
  6. Create boundaries, and learn to say no.  Time is our most precious resource, spend it wisely. Plan ahead and set time restrictions on the things you have to do.  Working long hours at work?  You will be more productive if you take regular rest breaks.  Get up from your desk and take a short break.  Say no if you feel you are unable to complete the task in the time required. 
  7. Plan time for hobbies and interests.  Go for a run, take the dog for a walk, paint or cook a family dinner.  Be creative.
  8. Get a good night sleep.  Rest is important for our body and mind.  Practice good sleep hygiene at night to be more productive the following day. 

Feeling overwhelmed can be a common symptom of anxiety.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you are facing in life, often it may be time to seek some professional psychological help.  By developing coping strategies, you can equip yourself with some useful tools to utilise when you are feeling as though you are becoming, or are, overwhelmed.

For more information on how The Resilience Box can assist employees in coping with high pressure times or to boost recovery from a set-back, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

 

What is normal?

23rd May 2016

Amelia Flores, Team Leader and Senior Consultant Psychologist, Centre for Corporate Health and Resilia

"Should I be feeling this way?” … “Why do I feel stressed about that?” … “Why does everyone else not feel this way?”

These are all commonly asked questions that run through our minds during stressful periods.

The most common answer is “Yes”…“Yes it is normal to feel sadness and grief when you have lost a loved one”…“Yes it is normal to feel anxious when completing a presentation/ starting a new job/ getting married or even when you are about to become a parent for the first time”…“Yes it is normal to feel tension when you are due to attend your annual performance review”.  Feeling uncomfortable emotions is normal, and further to this, feeling these emotions for more than a few days is expected when we are going through difficult situations in our lives, in particular when transitions or changes are occurring.

Understanding that your emotions are normal is helpful for everyone. Knowing that anyone would be upset in a specific situation is validating. 

Therefore, lets embrace the emotion!

Dr Russ Harris, the author of “The Happiness Trap”, offers the idea that creating a rich and meaningful life involves accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. Accepting what is out of our personal control, and committing to action, improves and enriches our lives.

Essentially, the theory follows that to sit in the uncomfortable emotion and to accept your situation, will not only build your resilience for future negative experiences, but over time you will find that what you thought was an uncomfortable emotion, does not feel as anxiety provoking as it previously was. For example, presenting to a large audience for the first time is overwhelming and stressful, that is normal! However… having done this a second or third time, you might find your stress is reduced and you feel more in control emotionally.

Easier said than done right? … Yes this is very true! This is not how we are taught to manage our emotions and it is not often that we hear it is “okay” or “normal” to feel “upset”, “sad” or “stressed” in a difficult situation.  We tend to find that it is often easier to avoid the emotion, as negative emotions don’t feel good do they? In addition, the relief to push the emotion aside can bring a quick reduction in stress levels, which only supports the behaviours of avoidance. Unfortunately avoidance in the short term can lead to a long term issue, leaving emotions unresolved and the development of underlying psychological issues (anxiety, hyper-vigilance etc).

Now how about if I told you that emotions, in particular negative ones, are not only normal but also good for us! Emotions tell us information about ourselves, our fears, our values and the thoughts we hold about “our life” or existence. These realizations and pockets of information can lead to positive changes, embarking on new life directions and goals which can set us up for future life successes.

So what to do from here… simply put…be mindful!

  • Learn how to consciously be aware of your emotional response (both negative and positive) in a situation.
  • Learn to embrace all that comes along with it (including all the negative “stuff” such as sadness, stress, anxiety etc.).
  • Learn to accept that life is a little bit “average” sometimes and that it is “okay” to feel like this.

Most of all, remind yourself, and give yourself permission to “sit” in the emotion, positive or negative, as all of it is part of the human experience, and inevitably healthy.

For more information on our resilience and wellbeing programs, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Communicating Organisational Change Effectively in Local Councils (Pt 1)

19th April 2016

By Tony Bradford, Managing Director & Change Management Consultant, Centre for Corporate Health

Over the past couple of years we have helped many local Councils deal with stress and cope with the impending changes that are facing them as part of the Fit for The Future reform agenda.

Just recently we were called in by a local Council to assist with a sensitive matter involving a dispute between two staff whose workplace relationship had spiralled downwards over the past several months.  The tension had grown so much in this relationship that it had reached breaking point and it was not only having a huge negative impact on the rest of the immediate team, the department had also received some customer complaints.  One worker was taking extended sick leave and the other worker refused to work with the other.  The situation had become a mess.

Unfortunately this situation is all too common, not only in Councils but in any organisation going through major change.  It is a typical example of what happens when people end up on the F.A.S. T. track.  As human beings we are very control orientated, we usually don’t like change all that much, especially as we get older.  That is because any sort of change disrupts our expectations and upsets the status quo and we lose our 4 C’s. We lose our sense of Control (especially when change is forced upon us), our feelings of Competence and Confidence are challenged (as we may need to do things differently or learn new skills or processes), and our Comfort Zone is disrupted (we are used to operating in a certain way).  And the end result of all this is we end up on the F.A.S. T. track.  We experience Fear, Anxiety, Stress and Tension.  The tension is usually felt in our interpersonal relationships both at work and at home. People stop cooperating with each other, they become irritable and isolated and often retreat into their own world and stop caring about others.  This has all sorts of negative consequences.

The trick to not getting on the F.A.S. T. track is to carefully manage expectations.  I am a firm believer that we only really get upset when our expectations are let down.  In other words, when you thought something might or should happen and it doesn’t, for whatever reason.  Therefore communication is key in managing change.

So how do you communicate with staff to ensure business as usual in such turbulent times?

There are so many change management models and theories out there.  But if I were to summarise them there are really only three simple communication strategies that leaders need to keep in mind for successfully managing change:

1.      Get in early and be transparent:  We have all probably heard the saying “no news is good news”. Well when it comes to organisational change this is not true, in fact it is usually the opposite.  Nobody likes to be kept in the dark.  When people don’t know what is going on, why it is happening, and how it will impact them personally, they make up the answers themselves. Unfortunately these answers are usually based on fear and anxiety as people think the worst and rumours spread.  It is very difficult to change someone’s belief about something therefore it is imperative that leaders communicate early and often and set the record straight. I often hear leaders say that they are not being told anything themselves they end up on their own F.A.S. T. track. They feel powerless and helpless so they usually end up hiding behind their desks or busying themselves in their own work, whilst they wait for information from above.  The waiting game is a killer so to overcome this we need to get our minds back on the job.

2.      Focus on the job at hand.  When I was serving on ships in the Navy we often did not know exactly what the mission was or where we were going.  It was highly confidential and a matter of national security.  The crew were told minimal information for obvious reasons.  Often the Captain couldn’t tell us everything, sometimes they didn’t even know themselves as they waited on orders from maritime headquarters. But this was always understood and everyone knew exactly what their job was and we all just got on with it.  As Stephen Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People proclaimed when we spend too much time and energy on the things we can’t control we end up in a dependant state of mind and feel “helpless”, and we become very “reactive” often causing more frustration and stress.  Therefore leaders at all levels need to keep people focussed on the job, work in their circle of influence, on the things they have control of and let go of the things they don’t.  This requires active supervision and leadership, and it needs to be done even more during periods of change.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk about the changes and how it is affecting people.  Not at all. It is important to acknowledge this.  But the very next step is to get people refocussed back on their jobs and what they need to do today to deliver great work in the service of their customers.  I see examples all the time where it is the supervisors themselves who are the most distracted, who are often the worst at spreading rumours, engaging in gossip, and have lost sight of the task at hand.  The management team needs to come together and be united, stand as one and keep people focussed on their jobs. It requires more active supervision in times of change but unfortunately many leaders do the opposite. We need to be more visible and more hands-on which leads us to the final point.

Continue Reading

Communicating Organisational Change Effectively in Local Councils (Pt 2)

19th April 2016

By Tony Bradford, Managing Director & Change Management Consultant, Centre for Corporate Health

We continue our 2 part blog series on Communicating Organisational Change Effectively in Local Councils - to view part 1 of this article click here

3.      Face-to-face is best.  There is nothing quite disheartening than hearing something on the grapevine, especially when it involves something about your job and your livelihood.  Or you simply get sent an email or worse, a notice is placed up on a notice board in the depot or common work area or kitchen.  Now I understand that leaders are busy people and it is hard to get everyone together to communicate face-to-face.  There are often geographical challenges getting people together, especially in regional areas where staff are spread across several towns.  Sometimes people have different working hours due to shift work or other operational constraints.  It is so convenient in this technology age to use email to send communications to staff.  For some managers this is the only way they communicate. After all, email is very efficient: it is quick, it can reach many people all at once and doesn’t cost much. But email is not so effective when it comes to communication, especially when it comes to change.  And, if we are being totally honest here, many leaders use email because they want to avoid any discomfort or anxiety that a face-to-face conversation might bring. Or perhaps they don’t want to hear what people really think or are afraid that they won’t know how to respond or have the right answers.  Whilst leaders may feel this, most staff can usually empathise with a leader…they get it.  And even more, they respect leaders who have the courage to speak to them directly.  Another problem that occurs when we don’t speak face-to-face is the old Chinese Whisper phenomenon.  Our perception is heavily influenced by our pre-conceived beliefs. People will read what they want to and easily discard information that doesn’t agree with their view.  When we communicate with people we need to tell them what we are not saying, just as much as what we are saying and the most effective way to do this is face-to-face.  This requires effort and sacrifice, sometimes we might need to have several meetings to communicate to all staff.  Or we make a personal telephone call to someone who was absent so they can hear the message from the horse’s mouth directly.  This is what effective leaders do in times of change.

Communicating in this way sends the message that while the leaders of the Council may not have ultimate say over what the changes are and when and how they will happen, they are doing what they can to seek clarity and they are here for the employees to support them through this time. Next time we will build on this and take a greater look at the role of supportive leadership and what the evidence is about leading in times of change.

For more information on how we can support your Council through the process of amalgamation contact Nichola Johnston on 02 8243 1512 or njohnston@cfch.com.au.

What Workplaces Need to Know - Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence

6th April 2016

 

By Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services, Centre for Corporate Health

Sitting down to read the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence Report which was released last week was an intense process. Not only is it 2082 pages long, but the content itself is confronting, powerful and distressing. Of the 227 recommendations the commission made in the report, 190 – 192 are recommendations specifically for how the workplace should go about addressing family violence.

So what are the recommendations for workplaces?

Recommendation 190 & 191 (Paraphrased from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence Report)

The inclusion of family violence leave in enterprise agreements along with suitable support services and referrals, as well as adequate planning, training and resources to equip managers and human resources staff to communicate and implement leave entitlements. In recommendation 191 it is stated more specifically that there should be changes to the National Employment Standards to include an entitlement to paid family violence leave for employees (excluding casual staff) and unpaid family violence leave for casual staff.

Recommendation 192 (Paraphrased from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence Report)

Implement best-practice workplace programs in order to:

  • build respectful and gender equitable cultures
  • ensure that workplaces have suitable policies for family violence victims
  • provide adequate responses to, and not allow for collusion with, family violence perpetrators
  • build skills and support staff in taking bystander action
  • support the maintenance of web-based portals or databases of program models, tool kits, training resources and packages for application and use
  • review and report on options for using existing regulatory frameworks to support all employers in implementing best-practice family violence policies.

How can workplaces go about implementing these recommendations across responding to violence, preventing violence, and promoting gender equality?

Responding to Violence

Implementing targeted training to key members of staff including managers, HR and WHS personnel is key to ensuring that employees receive support and advice in line with best practice guidelines when responding to family violence. This training should cover at a minimum, how to:

  • Recognise the signs that may indicate someone may be experiencing domestic/family violence
  • Respond and have a supportive conversation with them
  • Conduct a basic risk assessment and determine what referral options there are based on this result
  • Work with the employee to ensure their safety at work
  • Understand what is and is not their role as a manager or HR/ WHS representative
  • Check back in with the employee and continue to ensure they are receiving the support they need.

Offering a Manager Assistance Program run by a specialist provider (this could be your EAP provider or another organisation of specialist psychologists) is also a great way to ensure managers feel confident with how they go about supporting an employee experiencing domestic or family violence.

Providing a tailored version of the Manager training to all staff is also recommended to ensure that all employees are confident in being able to identify and respond to a situation where a colleague may be experiencing domestic/ family violence. This could be delivered either face to face or on-line.

Ensuring family violence leave provisions are written in the workplaces policies is imperative in providing support to an employee who is experiencing or attempting to escape domestic violence. The employee may need time off work during work hours to attend various appointments and also may require reasonable adjustments to their work environment, arrangements or load during this time to stay safe and not have the added worry of losing their job or having financial concerns.

Preventing Violence

Preventing violence seems challenging for organisations with a common perception still being that family violence is something that can only be addressed in their employee’s home lives and not at work; however this is simply not true. Workplaces are in a unique position with a captive audience to raise awareness about the extent and nature of violence against women and the inextricable link between sexism, rigid gender roles, and gender stereotyping, in supporting violence against women.

Organisations should ensure that their Employee Code of Conduct states the organisations commitment to intolerance of sexism, discrimination and violence against women, as well as meeting legislative requirements.

Ensuring managers and key members of staff are trained in recognising and responding to sexism and discriminatory or exclusive gendered practices is a key activity recommended by the Commission, in addition to training staff “in taking prosocial action as bystanders when they witness sexism and discriminatory or exclusive gendered practices”. (Table 37.1 of the report)

Promoting Gender Equality and Respect

Promoting gender equality and respect works best when it comes from the top! Having leaders in the organisation active in speaking about valuing female and male employees equally makes a significant impact on how the rest of the organisation perceives the importance of gender equality.

Providing leaders with training and resources for proactively communicating gender equality in the organisation, as well as ensuring hiring and promotion policies and practices look to attract and retain quality women employees, is a great start for promoting gender equality and respect.

So how will your organisation address the issue of family violence?

I will leave you with this as a final thought, an excerpt from what one woman told the Commission:

“I lost one job because I went to work with a black eye and they said we don’t want your crazy husband here. So staff don’t understand, managers don’t understand. There’s no trust, you can’t confide in anyone because people gossip, people blow it out of proportion, people don’t understand.”

For more information on our family violence services for workplaces, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

More lessons from the Germanwings flight tragedy...

29th March 2016

By Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services

The Germanwings flight tragedy that keeps unfolding as we learn more details of the pilot is a reminder for workplaces to ensure that they have an understanding of their employees and mental health issues that may be presenting. New information that has come to light has shown that the workplace was concerned for the wellbeing of the pilot just two weeks prior to the tragedy and as such referred him to see a Psychiatrist. The Psychiatrist indicated possible psychotic features presenting with depression. Due to client-patient confidentiality, this information was unfortunately not able to be shared with the workplace.

It is important that as therapeutic professionals, client-patient confidentiality is maintained. However when there is a concern from a workplace perspective for the mental health and wellbeing of an employee, it is of enormous assistance when the treating professional is able to work collaboratively with the workplace and their employee to ensure safety and wellbeing is maintained. Such open communication between the workplace, the employee, and the treating team allows for ongoing communication to occur such that the opportunity for a safe and sustainable recovery and return to work can occur.

Indeed, in Australia,  the WHS Act (2012) now stipulates that irrespective of whether a risk is physical or psychological in nature, the workplace has a duty of care to identify, assess, and manage a risk. As such, working with employees with mental health issues in a collaborative manner with the employees treating professional can assist in the safe recovery of an employee. This can be observed in the form of:

  • Assessing and addressing any potential triggers in the workplace that may exacerbate a mental health issue for an employee. Considerations can be made to working hours, start and finish times, and tasks to be completed.
  • Encouraging the employee to access best practise treatment that is consistent with their diagnosis to ensure a sustainable recovery.
  • Regular communication between key stakeholders, workplace, employee, treating practitioners, to ensure engagement and commitment to a common goal.

In Australia, we are fortunate to be able to proactively address the mental health issues of an employee in an open and collaborative manner to ensure the recovery of an employee can occur in a safe and sustainable manner.

For more information on how we can support an employee you are concerned about or for information on our various psychological assessment services including Wellbeing Checks and Fitness for Work Assessments, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Top Tips for Boosting Wellbeing #1 - Getting a Restful Nights Sleep

9th March 2016

By Nichola Johnston, Expert advice provided by Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services CFCH

Over the next couple of months we will be posting blogs covering our top tips for boosting wellbeing, but first I have a confession. Nothing we are going to write will be new to you, you’re all smart, you know that doing these things are good for you, the problem is we are not great at actually doing them and integrating them into our daily lives. So the aim is simple, explain to you the science behind why the particular wellbeing strategy/activity is good for you and give you practical ways to build it into your busy life. It’s time to bridge the gap between knowing something is good for you and actually doing it! (I need to start and take my own advice!)

Sleep

We always whinge that we are never getting enough of it, sleep, that elusive slumber that always manages to escape our grasp. It seems we have created a culture in which how tired we are makes a statement as to how busy and needed we are by our workplaces, kids, friends and families. We wear our tiredness as a badge of honour! Yet gloating about something that in fact deprives us of what we need to rejuvenate and function seems silly right? Here is why getting enough restful sleep is so important to our wellbeing:

  1. While sleeping our body releases a protein molecule that strengthens our immune system and increases our ability to fight off pollutants and infectious bacteria, including things like the common cold.
  2. Getting enough restful sleep reduces your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. It does this by reducing the levels of stress and inflammation in your body offering your body respite from the stress we experience daily.
  3. Sleep improves our memory. When we enter Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep our brain processes events from the previous day. “Experiences are solidified into permanent memory and sequences of learned skills become ‘muscle memory’. Without sufficient REM sleep, all the ‘intake’ from the day doesn’t get processed. If it isn’t processed, we won’t remember information or access it when it would be useful. We limit our ability to have new, unlikely insights and make useful or important connections.” (Sleep Well, Lead Well)
  4. Restful sleep also helps control body weight issues, reduces your chance of diabetes and helps improve mood.

I sat down for a chat with our Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services here at CFCH, who recently facilitated some seminars for one of our clients on how to get a restful nights sleep. This was a particularly important topic for this organisation as they were seeing a lot of fatigue related injuries occurring in the workplace. Here are some of Debra’s top tips for getting a good night sleep:

  1. Get your body clock in to a natural rhythm by going to bed and waking up around the same time most working days.
  2. When you wake up, open up the blinds and let the sun in! Start being active. It is important to give your body clear signals that it is time to wake!
  3. If you are feeling groggy when you wake up you have not finished your proper sleep cycle so you need to go to bed earlier.
  4. Go to bed when sleepy. Instead of staying up to watch the end of a show or finish that book, go to sleep as the feeling of sleepiness arrives.
  5. Have a sleep ritual:
    • Prepare yourself to go to sleep
    • Do some breathing exercises, yoga or stretching to slow your body down
    • Do something relaxing such as reading or listening to calming music
    • Drink a calming tea or hot milk can generate sleep
    • Wear a sleep eye mask to block out the light
    • Try not to have any electronic devices where you sleep
    • Limit noise around you by using ear plugs or using ‘white noise’ to assist with sleep ie. a fan
  6. Managed disturbed sleep by:
    • If you do not fall asleep within the first 30 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Then return to your bedroom to sleep
    • If you awaken during the night, try not to get up. Try to enjoy your light sleep
    • Remember that relaxing deeply is equivalent to 2 hours sleep
    • Accept that you cannot sleep and don’t panic as tiredness will come
    • Write it down if you are worrying about things

So I challenge you all to go forth and sleep! Between 7 – 8 hours of good quality sleep is important for your overall health and wellbeing.

Bridge that gap and do what you know is good for you. Right, I’m off to take my own advice, wishing you all a restful night sleep… zzzzzzzzzzzzz

For more information on our wellbeing seminars or our resilience training programs contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

Awkward Workplace Situations #7 Small talk and awkward silences

9th February 2016

By Nichola Johnston

Expert advice by Tony Bradford, Managing Director, Centre for Corporate Health

Let me set the scene so you are sufficiently uncomfortable… you are at a networking event, awkwardly looking them in the eyes, willing the words to come out as the seconds begin to tick by. Your internal dialogue goes from “think of something interesting to say” to “just say something…anything, you weirdo, you are starting to look like a creep!”  Suffice to say the pressure of small talk is too much to deal with sometimes, and many of us end up floundering in a sea of awkward silences, yet it is a skill that can’t be ignored in your efforts to progress and continue to achieve success.

There have been studies that show people who partake in small talk in the workplace are viewed as being more trustworthy, collaborative and kind. There are also studies that show when people dedicate time to trivial dialogue, they are more likely to generate significant benefits.

But look, I get it, I am that person who would much rather send an email than pickup the phone. This is mostly in an effort to avoid small talk, and not because I don’t like chatting to people, I just struggle to initiate and participate in small talk with those I don’t know very well, if at all. Having self reflected, I recognise that I am not the expert to be dishing out advice on this topic. So in an effort to work on this myself and offer you all some helpful hits, I had a chat with our Managing Director, Tony Bradford, of whom I can attest to his small talking skills having attended many a conference with him.

Here are Tony’s big tips for small talk:

  • Prepare if you can

On the way to a conference, party or event, think of some conversation starters to keep in your back pocket, should the conversation enter the awkward silence phase.

  • Remember people love to talk about themselves

If you get stuck, tap into the person’s inner narcissist and prompt them to talk about themselves, this will keep the conversation flowing and will take the pressure off you.

  • Remember peoples names and use them

Nothing says you are listening at a conference or client party like remembering people’s names and using them sporadically throughout your conversation with them.

  • Don’t be a one word wonder

You can’t expect someone else to participate in a conversation with you if you are only offering one word answers to their questions, “yes” and “no” should not be the extent of your conversation repertoire.

  • “Me too”

Avoid this statement as much as possible. When someone is talking about their travels, their kids, their work project, don’t compete, no one likes a ‘one upper’. This is not to say you can’t contribute to the conversation, it just means, let them finish their story before you start yours and try not to make their story insignificant by telling a story for the pure purpose of trumping theirs.

So if you’re not big on small talk, try some of these tips next time you are confronted with a severe case of “cat got your tongue” and save yourself from drowning in a sea of awkward silences.

If you would like more information on our coaching services or have an awkward workplace situation you would like to be the subject of one of our blogs, contact us on admin@cfch.com.au or 02 8243 1500.

The Upside of Stress - why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it)

5th February 2016

By Penny Myerscough, Senior Consultant Psychologist, Centre for Corporate Health

Kelly McGonigal’s new book is a welcome addition to the current releases in the Psychology bookshelves. Among the inundation of mindfulness and coloring-in books, McGonigal’s new offering provides a fascinating review of the role of stress in our lives, challenges our mindset on stress and provides some practical ways to cope with, and thrive under, stress.

McGonigals’ book adopts the same affable tone as her much-viewed TED talk. She assumes a great balance between personal experience and intuitive, and science and empirical evidence. At a stripped back basis, her book deals with how our interpretation of stress and events in our lives impact our mindset and biological responses.

Mindsets are a key feature of her book – mindsets are beliefs that shape our reality such as “intelligence is fixed”. I found her review and ideas on mindsets to be particularly fascinating.

By way of example, McGonigal discusses is how beliefs affect health and weight. She discusses a study on housekeeping staff in hotels. These employees spent their days stripping beds, vacuuming, cleaning, etc. This group typically burn 300 calories per hour (as opposed to 100 calories per hour burnt by office workers). Yet, the housekeeping staff identified themselves as not getting regular exercise (60%) and 30% even reported that they got not exercise at all. As a sample, their blood pressure, weight and waist to hip ratios were typical of a population that were, indeed, sedentary. In the study, half of the group received information telling them how many calories were burned with each activity that they typically did in their role. This group was also told that they were meeting or exceeding medically recommended exercise, and that they should see health benefits of being so active. The other half of the population received no such information. Four weeks later, the group that were aware of their activity, had lost weight and body fat. Their blood pressure had dropped and they reported higher job satisfaction. They had made no other changes outside of work. All that had shifted was their mindset around their perception of themselves as exercisers. The control group showed no such changes. 

The key focus is about understanding how our mindsets impact us and how we can challenge our mindsets in the face of stress for more positive and adaptive solutions. McGonigal looks at this through examples focused on attitudes and engagement through to clinical impacts of anxiety and post traumatic stress. McGonigal examines that while we are aware of the flight-or-fight response to stress, there are also more adaptive challenge responses and tend-and-befriend responses. She looks carefully at how your mindset to stress can dictate which response you chose and the biochemical and social tendencies that differentiate each response.

For the reader, McGonigal sets up several practical exercises to complete to assist them in mindset shifts. I was fascinated by the power that some of the mindset shifts had in the book and so tried one out for myself. Someone I know well was suffering panic attacks when her workload was high. She was known to be almost paralyzed with anxiety before music exams. In discussing an upcoming period that she knew was going to be particularly busy, I said to her “You are someone who copes really well under pressure”. She then wrote about a few times that she had coped well when she had a lot to deal with and how she could think differently about this busy time ahead. As it turns out, she demonstrated reduced anxiety through that busy time, performed better than before and in a casual conversation about how well she had done, initiated her appraisal that “I really think that I am someone who performs well under pressure”.

McGonigal sets to debunking the myth that stress is universally bad and that we should seek to minimize our experience of stress. Her argument is that how we think about stress is really much more important than avoiding it. I enjoyed that I could use the practical exercises in a way that was as applicable to work situations as it was to a home or family scenario. In this way, I think that The Upside of Stress is applicable to managers, HR or anyone looking to reframe their experience of stress in personal situations. This book reinforces several of the ideas of Seligman’s positive psychology, emphasizing the importance of meaningful connection with others and having a “bigger than self purpose in life”. These are key components of Centre for Corporate Health’s Resilience Box training programs.

Having read this book, I am more aware of my mindsets and have better skills to reconsider my signs of stress as enhancing and helpful.

If you would like more information on how these key concepts are embedded in our workplace resilience program The Resilience BoxTM, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Awkward Workplace Situation #6 Can you smell something..? Odours in the Workplace

24th November 2015

By Nichola Johnston,

Hands down… this would have to be one of the most awkward topics to broach with a colleague, or anyone for that matter! “Excuse me… you smell” doesn’t roll off the tongue like your nose seems to want it to. Most of us will lay down our weapons, admit defeat and just put up with the assault these odours reek on our nasal passages, if it means we can avoid wince worthy conversations with the host of the smell in question.

Now, should you tell everyone who is a bit ‘on the nose’ that they smell... obviously not, although sometimes I secretly wish the conductor on the train would make an announcement that “body odour and morning breath are not permitted on the middle two carriages of this train”, I mean, they have silent carriages why not odour free ones too? Okay, I realise I have taken it too far, however this morning on my ride into work I realised just how distracting unwelcome smells can be, with no escaping the body odour wafting past my nose, concentrating on my book became near impossible with my thoughts being consumed by the smells stewing in the train carriage (or rather the steel cylinder with no windows). So while I am not going to walk the isles of the train dispensing deodorant to complete strangers… sitting in an office for 8 hours with someone who smells is likely going to push my limits of tolerance. In fact a survey from the Employment Office has found that 75% of workers find it difficult to work alongside someone with bad body odour, and 64% work poorly when a colleague has bad breath.

Odours such as stale cigarette smoke, body odour, bad breath and lack of personal hygiene in general can all occur in the workplace. So, who’s responsibility is it to say something to the person?How should you have this conversation? And should we be looking deeper than just the surface smell of this issue?

Who?

There is no straight answer as to who is best to broach this topic with the person in question. If it is your colleague and you feel like you have a good, supportive relationship with them, then it is probably best you mention to them in a private conversation what you have noticed. If however you are not particularly close with them or feel too uncomfortable then it is probably best that you mention it to their manager.

How?

Whether you are their colleague or their manager, no matter how much you prepare, it may still  be awkward. However the aim is to let them know what you have noticed in the kindest and most supportive way you can.

  1. Make sure you have this conversation in private (obviously speaking to them in an open plan office is inappropriate)
  2. Try to make the conversation casual and not too formal
  3. Start the conversation by saying something along the lines of “I just wanted to have a quick chat with you, I have noticed lately that you seem to have had a noticeable odour, I know this is a little awkward, however this is the kind of thing that people often don't realize about themselves, so I wanted to bring it to your attention.” It is important that you say “I have noticed” and not “people in the office have noticed”. Remember, the aim is to get your point across to them without humiliating them by saying it has been noticed by the entire office.               

Now, don’t do what some people do and hand them a can of deodorant, the situation is awkward enough and their ego has taken a big enough hit without you implying that they don’t’ possess the ability to solve the issue themselves. Once the issue has been brought to their attention, most will work at fixing it straight away.

Having had the conversation, make sure that you are available and in the midst of your team for the rest of the day. Sometimes after an uncomfortable encounter, we tend to want to “hide” in our offices. Try to maintain an upbeat and positive demeanour with the person in question and other team members for the rest of the day.

If odour is just one of the issues you have noticed, maybe they also look dishevelled, or have been absent from work more than usual, then you may need to consider it is a symptom of a bigger problem. If this is the case then it is time for you to check in with them and ask “R U OK?”. When you are asking them if they are okay you can slip into the conversation that lately you have noticed an odour and that this is not like them at all. This should be a conversation where you express your concern for their wellbeing in general and convey that you want to assist them and help them get the support they need during this time.

For more information on our training or HR advisory services, on how to have difficult conversations or a conversation with someone you are concerned about, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

“R U OK?” – Building Supportive Relationships at Work

20th August 2015

By Nichola Johnston

With R U OK? Day just around the corner, organisations begin their campaigns in their workplaces to encourage their employees to look out for each other and not be afraid to ask, R U OK? Whilst this is important and should be encouraged all year round, it’s important to take the R U OK? message a little deeper.

Often when people are struggling or experiencing situations in their lives that feel overwhelming, it is difficult enough opening up to someone they love and trust let alone a colleague who they really just exchange pleasantries with as they head to their work station in the morning. Building relationships with colleagues needs to start when people are well, otherwise it is unlikely they will reach out to each other when they need support.

What can organisations do to encourage colleagues to build and strengthen their relationships at work? What can they do to create an environment where people feel comfortable asking R U OK? as well as reaching out for support when needed?

I sat down with our Rachel Clements, our Director of Psychological Services here at CFCH as well as expert panellist for the R U OK? Day Conversation Think Tank, to get her answers to these questions.

Rachel suggests:

  • “Make sure leaders in the organisation are exhibiting supportive leadership behaviours”. It’s important that leaders are modelling positive and supportive leadership behaviours and by doing so it is more likely that the rest of their team will follow suit.
  • “Encourage employees to check in with each other daily.” This could be as simple as making it acceptable to have a 5-10min chat every morning with a colleague to see how their day went yesterday and if they are up to anything on the weekend. By getting to know each other, colleagues are much more likely to recognise when each other are not travelling well and will be able to assist in linking them in with the support they need.
  • “Run team building social events that encourage colleagues to get to know each other”. This may include running a training program on how to build and strengthen positive relationships in the workplace, or something as simple as everyone stopping to have lunch together on a Friday.

So as we inch closer to R U OK? Day on the 10th of September 2015, it is a great time to take stock of what your workplace culture is and what you can do to make it more conducive to colleagues building supportive relationships where employees feel comfortable reaching out to ask R U OK? and speaking up when they are in fact not ok.

Get involved with R U OK? Day this year and make it a year round campaign in your organisation. Start by watching this video.

For more information on our training programs and seminars in relation to the R U OK? message, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

If you or someone you know is struggling make an appointment with your organisations Employee Assistance Program, make a visit to your GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Mindfulness Meditation - You know it’s good for you, so why aren’t you doing it?

29th May 2015

By Rachel Clements

Like many other activities we know to be ‘good for us’, practicing mindfulness tends to end up on that list that we never get to  - just like exercise, eating well and taking some ‘me’ time. What is interesting is that by practising mindfulness you are more likely to get to the rest of the activities on that list. Mindfulness increases your self-regulation, self-knowledge and self-awareness, giving you the ability view situations clearer and without judgement.

In it’s early days ‘mindfulness’ was often passed off as just another fad, however with the growing number of studies being carried out, it is now almost impossible to cast mindfulness aside. More specifically, research on mindfulness has identified the following as just some of the benefits from practicing mindfulness meditation:

Improved Relationship with Stress

While our stress reaction activates our ‘fight or flight’ response, mindfulness meditation activates the ‘rest & digest’ part of our nervous system. In fact, as we continue to practice meditation our brain physically changes. Studies show that people who suffer from chronic anxiety have a more reactive amygdala (the part of the brain that triggers our fear response) however, in this particular study after an 8 week mindfulness course there was a reduction in the reactivity of the amygdala and increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that helps regulate emotions).[1] As many studies have shown, it is not the amount of stress we endure, it is our perception of stress that is harmful to our health. By practicing mindfulness meditation you are able to change your perception of stress and directly improve the negative impact it can have on your physical wellbeing.

Improved Creativity

We all have to utilise our creativity daily to solve problems and open opportunities, however for some of us this flows more freely. By practising a particular mindfulness exercise (‘open monitoring’ meditation) we are able to promote more divergent thinking which allows new ideas to be generated.[2] It reduces our tendency to put our “blinders” on and encourages us not to overlook novel and adaptive solutions. I don’t think there is any profession where this skill is not helpful..?

Increased Focus

One technique used during mindfulness meditation is to focus purely on our breathing, the rise and fall of our chest. Many studies have shown that this ability to sustain attention on our breathing for long periods of time is in fact transferable to other tasks. Even remaining focused whilst in an acute stress situation is improved dramatically by practicing mindfulness, as shown in a recent study on US marines. Soldiers who learned and practiced mindfulness techniques were not only able to maintain their working memory (which usually escapes us in stressful situations) but in fact improve upon it.[3]

More Authentic and Sustainable Relationships

We can often be hard on ourselves and those closest to us and it can become easy to fall into the unhelpful thinking pattern of being excessively critical of ourselves and others. One of the many proven benefits from practicing mindfulness meditation is that we are able to adjust the lens in which we view the world and those closest to us. One study out of the US which looked at married couples found that those who practiced meditation became more mindful of how they communicated their emotions, as well as how they were able to regulate their expression of anger. A predominant theme from the range of studies in this specific area  conclude that those who practice mindfulness meditation are more inclined to act with awareness and embrace non-judgemental acceptance.

Preventative Measure for Mental Illnesses

Disorders that include emotional states such as anxiety, depression, phobias etc, all represent a dysfunctional relationship between the ‘emotional brain’ (amygdala, thalamus and limbic system) and the ‘logical brain’ (neocortex). Someone who has a predisposition to experiencing bouts of anxiety or depression, often have thousands of thoughts and worries racing around their mind which increases stress, and triggers the body to release cortisol and adrenalin. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps people to relax and engages the logical brain more so than the emotional brain can allow the individual to calm and slow their thoughts and therefore gain a different, more logical, perspective of their worries and concerns.

So there you have it. Practicing mindfulness meditation makes sense for improving all areas of our lives. We often don’t realise that our minds are running 100 miles an hour as we feel this is just normal in the fast paced world we live in, it is simply habitual. Learning to stop and quieten the mind takes practice. For an easy introduction to mindfulness mediation, try the app Headspace and start on their free ‘Take 10 Program’, it takes just 10 minutes per day. I swear by it.

If you think your organisation should hop on the good foot and do the mindfulness thing, get in touch with us for more information on our ‘Mindfulness Lunch n Learn Seminar’. What organisation doesn’t want more focussed, creative and mindful employees?

Contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au



[1] Goldin, P. & Gross, J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion. 10, 1. 83-91.

[2] Colzato, L., Ozturk, A. & Hommel, B. (2012). Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Front. Psychology. 3, 116.

[3] Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion. 10, 1. 54-64.

 

#2 Research from Neuroscience and Psychology You Need to Know About

19th May 2015

Cognitive Appraisals to Shift Negative Stress States to More Positive Ones

By Nichola Johnston

So last month I wrote about the 2012 study that surmised it is not the amount of stress we are under that is harmful to our health, but rather it is our perception of stress that is resulting in a higher risk of premature death. This week we take a look at another study that delves deeper,  in to this topic and takes a good look at the state of our cardiovascular system when in an acute stress situation. Again the results are life changing!

This particular study was conducted by Harvard University and University of California San Francisco, with the objective of determining whether stress responses, more specifically cardiovascular stress responses, are affected not only by situational factors but also by our perception of stress.

Here’s how they did it.

Participants in this study were randomly assigned to one of the below groups and then put through a social stress test (giving a short presentation in front of a somewhat unreceptive audience!).

  1. A Reappraisal Condition

This group were taught to rethink their stress response as helpful. For example they were taught to think that their faster breathing rate and pounding heart were simply assisting them to rise to the challenge

  1. No Attention Reorientation/Instruction Condition

This group were given no instructions or strategies to cope with or rethink their stress during the social stress test.

What were the results?

Those in the first group that were taught to view their stress responses as helpful for their performance were less stressed or anxious and their cardiovascular stress response actually changed! Instead of their blood vessels constricting, which usually occurs during acute stress situations, they remained relaxed and opened. There hearts still pounded, but this was a much healthier cardiovascular profile. This was the completely opposite reaction experienced by those in the second group.

So there you have it, yet another study that proves if you perceive that stress is bad for you, it will be. However if you reappraise your perception of stress to one that is more positive, you have the ability to change your body’s response and improve not only your mental health but also your physical wellbeing.

So, my advice to you, don’t get bogged down in your perception of stress, change it and look forward to living a longer much healthier life!

For more information on how The Resilience BoxTM can assist your employees in changing their perception of stress for the better, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

#1 Research from Neuroscience and Psychology You Need to Know About

13th April 2015

Your Perception of Stress May be Shortening Your Life Expectancy

By Nichola Johnston

Your perception of stress may be killing you… not to stress you out or anything, but it’s true according to recent research.

A study out of the University of Wisconsin, sought to examine the relationship among the amount of stress, the perception that stress affects health, and health and mortality outcomes in a nationally representative sample of 30,000 U.S. adults (quite a substantial sample population).

Participants in this study were asked two questions:

  1. What was the amount of stress you experienced in the last year?
  2. Do you believe stress is harmful for your health?

Over the next eight years, researchers used public death records to find out which of the participants died and the results are sure to get you rethinking your perception of stress!

Those who reported they had experienced a lot of stress and perceived that stress was bad for their health, had a 43% increase in risk of premature death. HOWEVER those who reported they had experienced a lot of stress yet perceived that stress is not bad for their health, were no more likely to die and in fact had the lowest risk of dying out of anyone in the study including those who had reported experiencing very little stress.

So there you have it… if you perceive that stress is bad for you, it will be.

Now the question is, how to you train your brain to embrace stress and not see it as negative and detrimental to your health? In this way, we can use stress to our advantage.

I sat down with Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services, here at CFCH to get some tips on how to reframe my perception of stress.

“You need to practice cognitive reframing techniques that will actually change your physical responses to your body’s stress response” says Rachel.

When asked what these reframing techniques are, Rachel gave two example exercises:

1.  Educate yourself about some of the unhelpful thinking styles that can exacerbate your stress levels. These could include; catastrophising, black and white thinking, personalising, pessimistic thinking, negative expectations of the future, ‘what if?” thinking etc. Use these questions to recognise when a thought is unhelpful and contributing to your perceived stress levels:

  1. Does it help me be the person I want to be?
  2. Does it help me to build the sort of relationships that I would like?
  3. Does it help me to connect with what I truly value?
  4. Does it help me to take effective action to change my life for the better?

2.  If you have determined that your thoughts are undermining your perception of stress try practicing one of these re-framing exercises:

  1. Thought stopping
  2. Distraction techniques
  3. Perspective taking
  4. Identifying and challenging negative self-talk

So, my advice to you, don’t get bogged down in your perception of stress, change it and look forward to living a longer much healthier life!

For more information having Rachel Clements as a Keynote Speaker at your next conference or on our Lunch ‘n’ Learn sessions contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Next Weeks Blog:

Research from Neuroscience and Psychology You Need to Know About

2# Cognitive Appraisals to Shift Negative Stress States to More Positive Ones

(In lay terms, how to keep your arteries relaxed during a high stress or pressure situation)

Awkward Workplace Situation #5 – The Office Affair

28th January 2015

“Every time I looked at him, he was staring right back at me. As we sat across the boardroom table I felt completely consumed by his eyes, the feeling was hypnotising. I knew it was wrong for me to feel like this about someone at work. Especially someone who was my boss. Then suddenly I felt his foot brush past mine under the table and right then I knew I was in, all in, no matter the consequences”.

Safe to say ‘romance’ is not my genre of expertise when it comes to writing… in fact this first paragraph took me longer to write than the rest of this blog did altogether. However truth be told, these moments occur more than we think within workplaces, albeit without the Days of Our Lives commentary, and can have devastating effects on those involved and those caught in the crossfire. Many a claim for workers’ compensation has been submitted off of a workplace romance going awry.

So what do you do when you discover your work colleagues are having an affair, or even worse, your boss is having an affair with a colleague..?

Few things can disrupt a culturally healthy team like a salacious tryst between colleagues. People in the team find themselves sounding like Phoebe from Friends “They don't know that we know they know we know!” All jokes and quotes aside, knowing about such a situation puts you in a very awkward situation. There are many variables that determine how you should best progress, and unfortunately there is no simple solution. So to start you need to determine the facts as you know them:

  • Is the office romance between colleagues on the same team OR from different departments?
  • Is the affair between a co-worker and your boss?
  • Are office romances against company policy, are they simply ‘frowned upon’, or are they accepted?
  • Are the parties involved married or in a relationship with people other than those with whom they are fraternising..?
  • Do the individuals involved know that you know, that they are “getting busy” in the non-professional sense of the word?

I’m sure there are hundreds of different answer combinations to the questions listed, so in an effort to make this a blog and not a white paper I posed the question to our National Manager of Psychological Services, Debra Brodowski, “What are some general guidelines and tips you can share, on how to best manage these types of situations?”

Here are Debra’s suggested strategies:

THINK

  • Think about having a discussion with the parties involved if you are concerned about aspects of their behaviour at work. If you believe that it is important to have a discussion, seek assistance from your EAP in order to get some tips in getting the conversation on the right track.
  • Whilst they are adults and you are unable to tell them what to do, you need to be mindful of the message that you want to convey. For example, are you conveying one of concern where you are mindful of the possible impact that such a romance may have on the remainder of the team? Being mindful of the message is important to ensure that any additional negative repercussions are not introduced to the mix.
  • Think about the impact of this situation on other people. There is a big debate about whether ‘to tell or not to tell’ a third party about this. It seems from the evidence that telling the effected third party helps nobody and hurts many.

PLAN

  • Timing is important. Is this a conversation that needs to be had now or can it wait? One thing is important when finally having the conversation, it is essential that you allow enough time for an open and constructive discussion rather than something that is quick and dismissive.
  • Messaging is important. What do you want to say? This needs to be a balanced and objective discussion and not an emotionally charged encounter.
  • Location is important. It is important to remain private and confidential as much as possible. The balance is somewhere in the range of a private yet informal chat.

ACT

  • You are not there to moralise in the discussion. Discuss what you observed and the possible impact that it may have.
  • Do not give an ultimatum or what you would like to see happen. It is important to be aware that there are other sides to this story that you are not aware of. You may not need to be aware of them either.
  • Don’t gossip about the situation with others.
  • If needed, and only if needed, take notes afterwards. The situation has the potential to sour and as such it is important for you to document what you can. It is especially important to document what you are the manager or employer have done to address the situation.
  • Protect yourself by creating boundaries. If there is a negative impact on morale or productivity, you may require additional conversations in order to escalate the issue to HR.

Be mindful that a discussion such as this can result in many different outcomes. At the end of the day it is important to ensure that you look after yourself and your own emotional well-being in the first instance.  Perhaps seek counsel from your Employee Assistance Program both before and after having the discussion.

Whilst this by no means gives a definitive solution about how to deal with such a challenging workplace situation, it is important to pay consideration to these issues before launching into saying “I know that you know that I know”….

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of my next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at njohnston@cfch.com.au or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s services call us on 02 8243 1500.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Debra Brodowski is National Manager of Psychological Services at CFCH. Debra has a background in HR Management and Organisational Psychology, and is often called upon to assist organisations to manage ‘complicated’ workplace situations. She is committed to developing positive and constructive workplace relationships where people are able to thrive.

Bullying and Performance Management

19th January 2015

By Debra Brodowski

In the first six months of operation, the Fair Work Commission’s new workplace bullying legislation (January 2014 – June 2014)has seen more than 340 claims lodged, with 197 of those being finalised by being withdrawn. Only 21 cases reached a decision stage by the Fair Work Commission, with only one upholding a bullying stance. This is an extremely small percentage of cases when considering the concern that was raised when the legislation was brought in.

At the Centre for Corporate Health we have assessed over 8000 claims for psychological injury in the workplace. Of these claims, it is likely that half of the injured workers interviewed had initially cited ‘bullying’ as the cause of their distress. On further investigation, it seems more likely that performance management is occurring, or that two-way interpersonal conflict is at play. While some of bullying at work claims are real, this is by no means representative of the large majority of claims.

In the case of performance management, we often hear that the injured worker may feel uncomfortable or ‘picked on’, however it does not logically follow that they have been the victim of bullying. Probing further into the organisation’s performance management policies and procedures, what is generally found is a long history of informal ‘performance chats’ which have escalated over time to more formal performance management when an improvement hasn’t been observed.

When considering the performance management, ask the following questions for an employee who is not performing to a satisfactory level:

  • If not, have there been a series of informal discussions to try and correct the required behaviours?
  • Have these discussions been based on behavioural observation and evidence, and are not an attempt to blame the individual or be punitive in nature?
  • Have these discussions provided some solutions and time frame for correcting the behaviour?
  • Has an escalation to formal performance management occurred after a lack of observable improvement over time?
  • Has this plan unfolded over time upon consultation with HR and in line the relevant organisational policies and procedures?

If the answer to these questions are ‘yes’ then it is more likely that the matter being faced is one of performance management and not bullying and harassment. Every organisation has a right to performance manage an underperforming employee. The key is to ensure that it is done in a constructive and supportive manner so that perceptions of bullying can be mitigated as much as possible by the employee.

Whilst these situations are not nice to experience, with the person often experiencing feelings of embarrassment and shame, they are not actions of a bully.

If someone becomes distressed when going through a performance management process it is appropriate to encourage supportive action such as speaking to a Counsellor or Psychologist through their workplace Employee Assistance Program. These Counsellors/Psychologists can assist the individual in building practical resilience to assist them to manage their situation in a proactive, constructive way.

So while it is important to the difference between bullying and performance management, it is also important to know how to address both these course of action in a constructive manner. If you would like more information on preventing workplace bullying or our EAP services please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Awkward Workplace Situation #4 – Office Christmas Parties Gone Wrong

25th November 2014

By Nichola Johnston

The company funded open bar has a lot to answer for. Couple copious amounts of alcohol with a stressed out worker who just wants to let their hair down, and the likelihood of diminished inhibitions increases to "WARNING! Embarrassing moment imminent!" In fact I would motion that this warning should be printed on Company Christmas Party invitations as standard procedure. Is there a second to this motion..?

Over the years I have managed to attend work Christmas parties and escape relatively unscathed. I have, however, bore witness to some pretty cringe worthy moments that have tapped into that innate feeling of wanting to curl up in the foetal position and protect my eyes from the shenanigans unfolding before me.

I imagine you are all now reminiscing on that obligatory office party story, whether you were at the centre of it or not, that is spoken about years later and seems to get bigger and more cringe worthy as it makes the rounds. Whilst some of these embarrassing situations are relatively harmless and simply provide some material for office banter, other situations can be much more detrimental to your current position and your career as a whole.

Situations to avoid

Truth be told, whilst organisations put these parties on to thank you for your hard work and encourage you to relax and have fun, it is important to remember it is still a work function and not a party with friends.

Avoid the following:

  • Drinking too much: this is a no brainer; however is the first thing we forget, or rather, choose to ignore! Drinking too much is also the root of nearly all office party embarrassing moments.
  • Discarding your clothing: under no circumstances is it a good idea to de-robe in front of your colleagues. Dare or no dare, keep your clothes on!
  • Telling your boss just what you think of them: if you wouldn’t say it to their face in a normal work day, what makes you think they will be receptive to hearing it from a drunken employee?
  • Vomiting in general: it’s just not a good look PERIOD! It is even worse if you don’t manage to make it to the bathroom.
  • Taking drugs: this should be avoided at all times, however doing it at the office Christmas party is simply asking to be fired.
  • Flirting with or going home with a colleague/boss: having been the manager of a few hotels and being the person that usually worked the morning after the staff Christmas party, I have witnessed many walks of shame! I have also found that this type of behaviour is the most talked about after the party, with some of the most detrimental outcomes to a career.

What can you do to avoid these situations in the first place?

  • DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH! Set yourself a limit at the beginning of the party and stick to it. If you struggle at social events to not have a drink constantly in your hand, try alternating between an alcoholic beverage and soft drink or water.
  • If you are feeling particularly emotional or have interpersonal conflict in the workplace and feel you will not be able to hold your tongue, don’t attend the party. Politely remove yourself from the situation.
  • Don’t get caught up in drinking shots, or playing games of truth or dare, spin the bottle, or any drinking games. This is not schoolies, it is your place of work.

What to do if you find yourself red faced and dreading the next working day?

I know, I get it… your mind keeps replaying the embarrassing moments from the night before over and over as though you were the star in your own version of “The Hangover”. The time has come, however, to scrape yourself off the floor and still yourself from the constant rocking back and forth. It’s time to get dressed and do the walk of shame back into the office:

  • Don’t overthink things: we as humans tend to catastrophise in these situations and build things up in our minds to the point that we convince ourselves the worst possible outcome is inevitable. This is not the case (it may be if you have done something truly irreversible like stealing something from work or really laying into your boss), mostly you have probably just embarrassed yourself and need to apologise to the relevant people.
  • Don’t apologise over and over again: accept that you were the ‘class act’ at the party and apologise to the relevant people. Once is enough. Continuously saying how sorry you are will lead people to think what you did was much worse than what it actually was. A simple “I’m sorry, I drank too much and clearly embarrassed myself. I’m sorry if I offended or embarrassed any of you. It won’t happen again”.
  • Don’t make it a habit: redeem yourself by being known for your good work and not for your regular antics at the office Christmas parties. Learn your lesson and make sure you don’t make the same mistake next year.

Organisations can also help by not centring the Christmas party around drinking. If there have been a few disastrous Christmas parties over the years, it may be time to change it up. Why not go to the spa for a day or have a BBQ at lunch with some cool sports or activities, it doesn’t always have to be about drinking and eating!

The festive season can be a stressful time of year so keep an eye out for each other and reach out if you think someone is not coping. Someone’s antics at the office Christmas party may just be a sign that they are not coping. Read this article to make yourself aware of the early warning signs to look out for.

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of my next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at njohnston@cfch.com.au or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s services call us on 02 8243 1500.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

The Hyper-Sensitive Worker and Their Impact on the Workplace

5th November 2014

By Kristin Tinker,

Workplace bullying is a concern for many organisations with the impact on the business taking a toll on both organisational culture and the bottom-line. As many as 1 in 3 employees will experience workplace bullying at some point in their careers. Although this statistic does appear alarming, our research has revealed that while many bullying claims lodged for workers’ compensation psychological injury are genuine, nearly 50% are in fact the result of hypersensitive reactions to interpersonal interactions; a symptom of poor emotional resilience.

An emotionally resilient person has developed effective coping strategies to deal with setbacks and will likely perceive conflict or interpersonal tension in a less personal way. This perception usually results in a more rational response that is fuelled by fact, rather than feelings.

Overly emotional (or hypersensitive) reactions have increased to nearly 20% within the general population and individuals possibly escalating workplace issues by lodging bullying claims created by hypersensitivity, contribute to increased conflict and distress in the workplace, ultimately damaging workplace culture and team relationships.

So why such a dramatic increase in hypersensitive employees over the past 15 years?

The Hyper (or Highly) Sensitive personality trait was first research by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D in the 1990’s, with studies since then suggesting that the highly sensitive personality trait is in fact in our genetic make up and is therefore hereditary.

There are also many studies, articles and general conversation around the theory that we as parents, schools and communities over the past 20-25 years may have been feeding this personality trait. One article in particular, published in New York Magazine, seems to describe this concept nicely:

“Our generation is the product of two long-term social experiments conducted by our parents. The first sought to create little hyperachievers encouraged to explore our interests and talents, so long as that could be spun for maximum effect on a college application. (I would like to take this forum to at last admit that my co-secretaryship of the math club had nothing to do with any passion for numbers and much to do with the extra-credit points.) In the second experiment, which was a reaction to their own distant moms and dads, our parents tried to see how much self-confidence they could pack into us, like so many overstuffed microfiber love seats, and accordingly we were awarded clip-art Certificates of Participation just for showing up.” Read more here.

Have we, and are we continuing to, set our children up as filled to the brim with self confidence and self entitlement with a significant lack of reality and true self worth? It seems that way for many. The correlation between the time period of “certificates for simply turning up” with the increased prevalence of hypersensitivity in our 20-30 year olds within the workplace, may have something to answer for regarding these employees lack of emotional resilient skills, skills that are imperative to enable us to bounce back from situations that are not ideal or do not go our way.

What does hypersensitivity actually look like in the workplace?

A symptom of poor emotional resilience, Hypersensitivity, is defined as an overly emotional response to a situation in which others would not normally respond in an emotional way. A common example of a hypersensitive reaction is an employee perceiving the identification of an error in their work as a personal attack on their competence, causing them to revert to formal processes to resolve a relatively routine workplace occurrence.

  • Hypersensitivity and poor emotional resilience can lead to:
  • Increased bullying and harassment claims
  • Increased workplace conflict and tension between teams and management
  • Low morale and lack of team cohesion
  • Decreased productivity
  • Time and money unnecessarily spent on formal processes

To complicate matters further, managers dealing with hypersensitive staff are often unsure how to effectively navigate through the issues that may arise. This can lead to situations where managers allow unreasonable employee demands to be met to ‘keep the peace’.

Unfortunately, this approach can also lead to resentment amongst team members, creating conflict.

Managing the issues caused by Hypersensitivity in your Workplace and Within a Claim for Psychological Injury

Incorporating emotional resilience into a workplace’s early intervention strategy can significantly improve workplace culture and eventual outcomes. By including emotional resilience education in the rehabilitation of an injured worker recovering from a psychological injury, recovery and relapse prevention improves, as the injured worker becomes knowledgeable and empowered to not be consumed in the victim mentality and realise that they have the control to drive their own recovery.

From a business perspective, there is likely to be fewer claims for psychological injury, which in turn reduces workers’ compensation costs, reduces absenteeism and improves performance.

By identifying hypersensitive reactions and recognising the importance of improved practical emotional resilience, organisations can reduce hypersensitivity, workplace bullying claims and team conflict, ultimately supporting the development and ongoing operation of a high performing work culture.

For more information or discuss any of these strategies, please contact us on 02 8243 1400 or admin@resilia.com.au

PAUSE – The benefits of taking a moment before you speak

28th October 2014

By Nichola Johnston

Oh the embarrassing moments, the scathing quips, and over dramatic displays of emotion that could have been avoided if only a moment was taken to think before uttering a single word… We are all guilty at some point or another of not thinking before we speak. The consequences too can vary, especially in the workplace. “I’m sorry that came out wrong, I love you”, just doesn’t cut it with a colleague as it may do with your significant other (it’s also slightly inappropriate). Our colleagues may not know, like our friends and family do, that we are a good person at heart, our colleagues judge us on how we interact with them with little context as to whom we really are as a person.

Failing to pause before reacting to a situation at work can result in you becoming known as one of the following stereotypes:

The Snappy Tom:  the person that in the split second between you finishing one word and then forming the final word of your sentence, has already retorted having only digested 20% of what you have actually said.

The Drama Queen:  the person who thrives on, and perpetuates, all workplace gossip, acting out scenes as though they were in the running for an Oscar.

The Negative Nancy:  this is the person that no matter how much you try to get on side and try to work with as a team, always has something negative to say in response to most conversations.

The Aggressive Hot Head: DUCK FOR COVER! This person has such a short fuse that even a relatively calm conversation with them can turn into them giving you a dressing down that would render anyone emotionally naked.

So what can you do?

  1. Learn what the signs and symptoms are when you have these emotional outbursts or reactions. By knowing the signs you are able to better stop yourself before you lash out, create a scene or start a drama.
  2. Once you know and have practiced recognising what triggers your emotions, set up a emotional reaction template in your mind that you can follow methodically when you recognise your emotions are beginning to become out of control. This will allow you to respond to the situation intentionally instead of reacting.
  3. Reframe your thoughts. When we take the time to examine our thinking in detail, we usually find that we are making some type of error in thinking, which intensifies our distress, anger and emotions even more. Checkout this article on how to reframe your unhealthy thoughts into more helpful ones.
  4. PAUSE and take a step back from the situation. When you start to feel overwhelmed with emotions in the workplace, pause and reflect on your motives and assumptions about others in the situation you have found yourself. Have you made quick unfounded assumptions? Have you been too quick to judge? Have you heard them out? Have you thought about their feelings and what they have been going through? The answers to these questions may stop you in your tracks and encourage you to rethink how you are going to respond in this particular situation.

So before you completely explode, say something embarrassing, start a malicious trail of gossip or fashion a scathing retort, PAUSE and take a moment, it may just be one of the best tactics you have ever used in aid of your career.

For more information on our training around how to management emotional reactions within the workplace, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

FIXING THE LENSES - Tweaking our thought processes to help us cope

8th October 2014

By Katherine Wagner

Sometimes no matter how hard you try to play fair, things go wrong. Various factors outside of our control disrupt plans. Unexpected events like being fired, illness or a death in the family can send us reeling. Or you might be rejected. That always feels good. So how do you bounce back in the face of setbacks?

In the world of psychology, we know that reality is subjective. Two people can be faced with the same scenario and react totally differently.  A major distinction between those who bounce back and those who don’t is their cognitive style – the lens through which they view life. The difficult thing is, these lens or “schemas” are often not conscious – we have no idea that our view is skewed.

Here are two tricks to see if your hidden lens is doing you a disservice: how permanent do you see a negative situation to be, and how much is it about you? The goal is to see bad stuff as temporary and to be realistic about how personally you should take a situation. An example: Your work on a presentation at work is criticized. Adaptive response: “I’ve done good work in the past and been praised for it. This is a one-off situation and I will learn from it” (temporary view - good). And, “I know my boss likes me and trusts me, this is about my mind not being on the job recently. It’s not about my value as a person (not taking it personally – also good).

Speaking of your personal value, another tip is to try to attribute good events to yourself. Do take it personally when it counts! If you deliver a great report, praise yourself for your effort and skills. Don’t blame it on luck – appreciate how much you contributed. Reminding yourself of your power to create results will also help to support you when times are tough. We often blame ourselves unfairly when problems occur but don’t acknowledge our power to make things right. If you have a loyal group of friends, /you’re feeling fit/are relied upon at work etcetera, you did something to create this – so celebrate it.

While focussing on your personal strengths, when dealing with a loss, redundancy  or serious diagnosis for instance, now more than ever you will have to attune your lens to look for the good. Grab a notepad and list the supports and positive benefits available:  there’s always something. Maybe an illness is an opportunity to slow down and rely on others for a change. Or loss can bring you closer to other loves ones and make you live more bravely.

So when you’re going through something tough, ask yourself the above questions. And stay tuned for our next blog about step by step tips to delve deep and uncover the hidden beliefs and value that can also be sabotaging you.

For more information on how The Resilience Box can assist individuals and groups to cope during and after stressful situations, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

Katherine is a Senior Psychologist here at Centre for Corporate Health. With a love of travel and assisting others in strengthening their wellbeing, Katherine regularly writes travel blogs for various organisations as well as contributes to our CFCH blog.

Changing our Mindset about Change

17th September 2014

By Katherine Wagner

Change is the one certainty in our working lives, but managing it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we feel stuck in a situation that’s “alright”, but doesn’t meet our true needs. This in turn brings the niggling discomfort of knowing that things could be better. Other times a negative situation become so untenable we feel forced to shake things up.  Either way, positive change brings with it the need to ANALYZE our situation, MANAGE OUR EMOTIONS and take ACTION.

How to proactively manage the change process, and enjoy more life/work satisfaction, is something central to the field of Positive Psychology. One of Australia’s pioneers in the field, Dr Anthony Grant, often refers to Prochaska and DiClemente’s Transtheoretical Model of Change. This highly researched model suggests that for almost any change to occur there’s a predictable sequence of steps. Whether you’re a confident go-getter, a laid back plodder, or someone who just hates making decisions, quite reliably, you will go through these steps when trying to modify a situation:

  1. Pre-contemplation – the vague sense that things could be better (e.g. Why do I feel bored or irritated? Should I dread Mondays like this? Is this the role for me? Am I as happy as I could be?)
  2. Contemplation – your thoughts start to get more focussed on what need to be different (e.g. “I really need to change roles” or “I need to get more organised”…”I need to start taking on new projects”, “I need to take more holidays…” )
  3. Preparation – you start to actively make small changes (E.g. have a chat to your boss about your concerns, start walking at lunchtime to clear your head, do some relevant reading, clean out your desk…)
  4. Action – here you bring out the big guns and actually do something drastic. E.g. you might start applying for a new role or resign from your job. You may decide to take six months off and study. Maybe you’ll create a new filing system or enrol in further training. The possibilities are endless.
  5. Maintenance – When you’ve been effectively sticking with new behaviours/ situation for say, six months, you’re maintaining the positive changes. Well done!

Although this is a simplistic account of the change process, just knowing that we all go through these general stages can be a source of comfort (and motivation). If you’re an anxious change avoider, remember, even ambitious go-getters have grappled with feeling of discomfort, or else why else would they have tried new things?

Let ambivalence be your friend

Speaking of feelings, research shows that the one constancy of the change process is ambivalence, the feeling of being in two minds. Leaving something familiar will always involve a level of discomfort as we cannot always know exactly what the future will bring. But if we can accept this emotion, and take action regardless, we will likely be successful in reaching new goals.

Indeed supportive coaching can help you move through the stages of change by managing your emotions, and also clarifying your values and goals.   Earlier this year the Centre for Corporate Health provided resilience training and coaching to a large NSW Government Department undergoing significant change and reform. By undertaking this training participants were able to maintain and strengthen their personal resilience in the face of significant change and possible redundancy, a situation which often creates imbalance in our wellbeing equilibrium. 

For more information on how to manage an organisation or team through change by strengthening personal resilience, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Katherine is a Senior Psychologist here at Centre for Corporate Health. With a love of travel and assisting others in strengthening their wellbeing, Katherine regularly writes travel blogs for various organisations as well as contributes to our CFCH blog.

Awkward Situation # 3: “Got any spare undies?” – Asking R U OK? is far less awkward

27th June 2014

By Nichola JohnstonExpert advice provided by Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services CFCH, Conversation Expert for R U OK? Day Foundation

“Got any spare undies” – who would ask such a thing? Especially in the workplace? Well, hopefully everyone! Not in a serious way but rather to start up a conversation with a colleague that grabs their attention, before you ask them the question you should be asking them… those three simple words… R U OK?

This is the aim of R U OK? Days’ new workplace campaign with “Got any spare undies” as their campaign slogan.

When we look at the question on paper, asking someone “R U OK?” doesn’t seem awkward or a question that we would shy away from asking a colleague. The truth is however, that when many of us are actually faced with a colleague in our day to day lives that we suspect is not travelling well, a large proportion of us avoid asking this question at all costs. Curious as to why we shy away from asking “R U OK?”, especially in the workplace, I sat down with Rachel Clements, one of our Directors and Conversation Expert for R U OK? Day, to shed some light on this anomaly.

 “Scared is the simple answer. Many people are worried about ‘opening the flood gates’ or concerned they won’t know how to deal with the situation if someone answers, ‘no, I’m not okay’” says Rachel. “You don’t have to be a Psychologist to help someone who voices that they are struggling. A different way of looking at it is; if a colleague of yours  had slipped in the office kitchen and was crying out for help, how many of you would walk by, ignore the cries and think to yourself ‘well I’m not a Doctor; there is nothing I can do to help’? None! However we do when we are faced with the mental health equivalent”.

Other reasons people find asking R U OK? so awkward are:

  1. They don’t understand or can’t relate to the person’s current situation;
  2. They don’t want to be intrusive;
  3. They feel that by mentioning that the person appears to be struggling, it will make it worse;
  4. They feel as though it should be the person’s manager asking the questions not them.

So what can organisations do to make sure their employees feel comfortable asking this question and in turn begin to reduce the stigma attached to mental health?

Here are Rachel’s tips:

  1. Supportive Leadership. Being able to ask these awkward questions starts from the top. Having your leader foster an open and supportive culture where they do not shy away from asking the tough questions, and being accepting and understanding of the responses, demonstrates to the rest of the team that it is everyone’s responsibility to support each other in the workplace.
  2. Awareness of Support Services. Having an EAP and making everyone aware of the services available to them is a means of being able to work through a difficult conversation and link someone into appropriate support in a timely manner.
  3. Mental Health Intervention Frameworks. Developing standard conversation models about asking the question and responding in an appropriate manner can form part of a standard mental health intervention framework. Just as workplaces have First Aid for physical injuries, the development of a Mental Health Intervention Framework is akin to the development of a psychological First Aid model.

So there you have it. Asking “R U OK?” doesn’t have to be as awkward as asking a colleague “Got any spare undies?” Why not start the process of making your workplace a mentally healthy one today? Print this poster, take a look at the R U OK? conversation model, forward this blog to your colleagues and ask your managers and HR team to get on board and look at what mental health strategies are missing in your workplace.

For more information on our comprehensive Mental Health Conversation Model for managers and HR, or our Mental Health Intervention Framework, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us at admin@cfch.com.au.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Awkward Situation #2: An email sent too soon, RECALL RECALL!

28th May 2014

By Nichola Johnston – Expert advice provided by Laurena Moore, National Project Manager at CFCH

This awkward situation makes me cringe just writing about it! Hands up if you have committed one of the following workplace sins:

  1. When sending an email to a friend venting about a certain co-worker who has yet again managed to be a significant thorn in your side, you instead send it to the poor sole you have succinctly demolished in the email.
  2. Sent a text message meant for your significant other, to your boss instead.
  3. Hit “reply all” instead of “forward” and inadvertently CC’d a client in on an email whereby you articulately complain to a co-worker just how annoying and needy the client has been.
  4. Sent a text message to a colleague and signed off with lines full of “xxxxxxxx’s” or “love”

My hand is up… not for all of them…mainly number 4!

When I sat down with Laurena Moore, National Project Manager at CFCH, seeking advice on these issues so as I could share with all of you, her first response was “Don’t do it in the first place”. Valid point. Before I get into how to handle these situations when they do occur, I first want to share Laurena’s tips for preventing these situations occurring in the first place:

  • Avoid the “Reply”, ”Reply All” and “Forward” buttons as much as possible and choose to create a “New Email”. This does one of two things, firstly it makes you consciously type in the person(s) email address and secondly, prevents the never ending email trails which get more dangerous the longer they get; “what was in that first email I wrote…?”  “Is there anything in this email trail that will offend this person if I CC them in?”
  • Don’t put an email address in the “To” or “CC” line until you have finished the email.
  • When annoyed or angry resist the urge to send any emails at all! Emotional outbursts could mean the demise of your career in your current place of work. If you can’t resist and your fingers begin to bash the key board in a furious flurry, at least save the email in your drafts and come back to it in 24hrs. It’s amazing how much a good sleep can help you gain perspective. In most cases taking time away from the situation and the email will result in the email being deleted rather than sent.
  • As a rule of thumb, save your rants and need for venting to out of office hours. More importantly do not under any circumstances use your work email for this purpose FULLSTOP.
  • Save work numbers with “STOP” or “WORK” in capital letters before the persons name. This may catch your eye just before you hit send on a message meant for your partner, to your boss, telling them how much you love them.

While the consequences for some of these faux pas may simply be an embarrassed face and the inspiration for a few jokes around the office, others can be much more detrimental to your career and extremely hurtful to others around you. Many jobs have been lost and the seed for bullying claims planted, off the back of one email.

Should you fail to heed our warnings and end up knee deep in email or text messaging drama, here are Laurena’s tips on how to best handle the situation (WARNING, you may still experience negative repercussions as a result of your behaviour, however you will have done your best to rectify the situation):

  1. If you have sent an email to someone by accident that attacks them or sarcastically expresses your dismay with their recent behaviour, don’t send another email trying to explain yourself. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how hurt their feelings are likely to be. Pick up the phone or walk over to their desk, own up, take responsibility and apologise. Start with something along the lines of “I’m so sorry, obviously I did not mean for you to receive that email, I wrote it in the heat of the moment and it was wrong”. Be authentic and genuine, don’t rattle off a list of excuses, eat some humble pie and be prepared to hear some home truths as they too may be frustrated with in your workplace relationship. Try and turn this mistake into an opportunity to sort out any issues you both may have with each other in an effort to move on.
  2. In a situation where you have by accident sent an email to a client that was instead meant for a colleague whereby attesting to how annoying said client has been, again, pick up the phone! It is going to be an awkward conversation, however it is better to address it and try to salvage the relationship than simply pretend it did not occur. Start with an apology and maybe say something along the lines of “I am so sorry! I have had one of those days where I have been pulled in every which way and your email requesting XXX of me was the straw that broke the camels back. I apologise for you having to bare the brunt of my venting, it was unlike me and it will never happen again.”
  3. If you find yourself red-faced after realising you have sent a text message to a colleague or your boss that was either meant for your partner or signed off with “xoxoxox”/“love you lots”, don’t worry too much. A simple text saying something along the lines of “Whoops sorry, that wasn’t meant for you” or “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sign off with that”, will suffice. You may, however, be the butt of a few jokes… just a warning.

So the moral of this story is if you find yourself in one of these awkward situations and if hitting the “Recall Email” button fails, fess up and be open, honest and extremely apologetic. Humble pie has to be eaten on occasions and this just may be your time to chow down.

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of our next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at njohnston@cfch.com.au or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s coaching services call us on 02 8243 1500.

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Laurena Moore is National Project Manager at CFCH. With a background in executive coaching, psychological assessment and career transition, she is dedicated to improving and maintaining resilience during all phases of the career cycle.

 

Awkward Workplace Situations - Blog Series

23rd May 2014

By Nichola Johnston – Expert advice provided by Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services CFCH

Everyone knows that point in time when you wish you could just curl up in the foetal position or pretend you didn’t hear or see the situation unfolding in front of you and simply disappear. AWKWARD SITUATIONS… no one likes them; they are however a part of our work life and we will have to deal with them at some point or another. Over the years I have been faced with many and have heard my friends describe in cringe worthy detail the awkward situations they too have faced.  

Now days I have a secret weapon to draw upon when dealing with these situations and in the spirit of sharing, I have decided to pay it forward. This blog series will pick one awkward situation each week, of which I will report back to you the invaluable advice elicited from one of our senior organisational psychologists here at CFCH. So buckle up, it’s going to be a cringe worthy, teeth grinding, toe curling ride!

Awkward Situation # 1: How to cope with a promotion that puts you in charge of your peers

You work so hard to get that promotion and when the day finally arrives, instead of relaxing into your new position, the effort you put into snapping up the fabulous role now needs to be redirected to smoothing out the relationships with your peers who weren’t successful in being promoted… and now report to YOU!

For this situation to run as smoothly as possible you first need to have gained your new position in an ethical way, without getting too deeply involved in office politics. Gaining a promotion by wheeling and dealing will only lead to more of the same, and I’m not talking about you. This time it will most probably come from a disgruntled former peer who also went for the promotion, who now reports to you and won’t be happy until they have witnessed your downfall!

So as you can see, the “HOW” you got the promotion plays a big part in “HOW” it is received by your colleagues. The more structured & transparent the succession path is, the more likely the best person for the job will be hired, and the less ripples it will create within the team.

Here are some practical tips on how to make this process as pain free as possible:

  1. With every gain there is a loss. Whilst you have gained your promotion, what may not be immediately recognisable is that with this change the nature of your relationship with your peers will have also changed. Some professional distance is now required. Whilst this does not mean ignoring your former peers, it does mean formalising your relationships to some extent.
  2. Management by legitimate means. Do not use your new-found “power” to play favourites with people, or abuse the status of your new role. To win the respect of your former peers, it is important to persist in behaving in a consistent, ethical and respectful way.
  3. Expect that the transition will take time. Again, this is where persistence in being consistent in your behaviour is important. Do not expect people to automatically be thrilled or come on side with your promotion. Allow them time, space and the opportunity to discuss the situation with you so that a new equilibrium in the relationship can be established.
  4. Be clear and constructive in your expectations with others. Be the manager that you would have liked to be managed by. Research has shown that open and constructive communication with clear expectations and a positive attitude all provide for a better leadership style thereby improving workplace morale.
  5. Address issues as they arise. This could mean an informal chat or (if warranted) a formal performance discussion. Don’t let issues get out of control just because of your previous relationship was as peers. Enlist the support of your manager or Human Resources if required.

So, the moral of this story is to use your new found power for good, not evil and remember the character strengths you respected in managers you looked up to before your promotion.

If you have experienced a particularly awkward situation at work and would like it to be the basis of our next Awkward Situations Blog, email me at njohnston@cfch.com.au or connect with me via Linkedin here. For more information on the Centre for Corporate Health’s coaching services call us on 02 8243 1500.

 

Nichola Johnston is Client Relationships & Communications Manager at CFCH. With a background in management and marketing, she is dedicated to sharing meaningful information on maintaining wellbeing in the workplace.

Debra Brodowski is National Manager of Psychological Services at CFCH. With a background in executive coaching, psychological assessment and management, she is dedicated to improving mental health within organisations Australia wide.

Suicide Prevention – Why workplaces should be investing in their Employees Mental Health

14th April 2014

By Rachel Clements - Follow Rachel on Twitter

Each and every day in Australia:

·         6 people die by suicide

·         180 people attempt suicide

·         249 people make a suicide plan

·         1014 people think about suicide

These figures are staggering, and while there is a lack of research into just how far work related issues contribute to these numbers, considering that suicide is most prevalent in working age males (24-44 years), it would be neglectful for us not to acknowledge that work some part in many of these suicides. We spend so much of our life at work therefore workplaces are in a unique position to reach out to working age adults by providing key information on Mental Health and intervention.

Why do some organisations shy away from addressing Mental Health in the workplace?

Let’s face it, not all of us are Psychologists, however using this as an excuse for neglecting mental health issues is only adding to the already chronic stigma that has glued itself to mental health. Imagine if a colleague of yours had slipped in the office kitchen and was crying out for help, how many of you would walk by, ignore the cries and think to yourself “well I’m not a Doctor; there is nothing I can do to help”. Furthermore, how many organisations would not acknowledge the incident and look in the opposite direction, not run a risk audit and simply cross their fingers that it didn’t happen again? NONE, is the simple answer.  So why would we do all these things when we notice someone hasn’t been themselves lately or has been showing signs of distress? We do it out of fear. Fear of what we don’t know.

What can you and your organisation do?

A good starting point for introducing and implementing a process to better address mental health issues in the workplace is the development of a Mental Health Intervention Framework. Just like your workplace CPR posters, it’s time to appoint a wellbeing officer and design a Mental Health Intervention Framework. The framework is the psychological equivalent of the CPR First Aid poster; it follows simple steps on:

·         How to recognise symptoms of psychological distress,

·         How to respond,

·         Who to refer the situation to based on the level of distress, and

·         What escalation points to be aware of.

Organisations that have successfully rolled out this type of framework, often opt to develop more than one framework; the first is in-depth and aimed at senior management and HR personnel, the second is broader and aimed at all staff. Having a framework to follow takes the fear out of reaching out to someone who you think is struggling or not travelling well, it is also gives HR and management training on how to handle high risk situations in accordance to best practice procedures.

Creating awareness on how to ask “R U OK?” in general is probably one of the most simple yet effective ways of reducing the mental health stigma and preventing suicides in Australia. We have been the Official Information Partner for R U OK? at Work for the past couple of years and through this alliance have discovered just how effective these three simple words are in helping to save a life. Why not urge your organisation to participate this year and hold an R U OK? Day event at work? For more information on how to do this click here.

But don’t just wait until R U OK? Day rolls around again on 11 September 2014, start a conversation today. Here’s how (it’s really easy):

 

By not being afraid to ask someone “R U OK?” we are heading in the right direction to reducing the stats on suicides in Australia.

If you or someone you know needs help call LifeLine on 13 11 14

For more information on our Mental Health Intervention Framework and how this can assist your organisation in not brushing mental health under the carpet, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us at admin@cfch.com.au

Regulating your emotions at work – How to NOT ruin your career as a result of an emotional outburst!

7th April 2014

By Rachel Clements

I was reading this blog just yesterday and it really hit home just how important it is that employees (and employers for that matter) have the skills to be able to regulate their emotions, especially in the workplace. As this particular blog showed, often when we are in the midst of a stressful situation, our emotions bubble closer to the surface than usual and our ability to control them can diminish drastically.

It may be the “corporate psychopath” that has once again taken credit for your work, or a manager that has added another project to your list of “things to do” that is already overflowing. Or, it could be (as in the case of the aforementioned blogger) that someone has questioned what you or your team contributes to the organisation. In any case you feel the rage begin to fill every part of your body and the chance someone is about to feel the full extent of your wrath sky rockets to “CAUTION: EXPLOSION IMINENT”.

In these situations, wouldn’t it be great if you had the ability to gain clarity and catch yourself before you wrote that angry email telling your colleague just what you think of them, or stormed across the office to their desk to deliver a serving that would make Miranda Priestly from the Devil Wears Prada look like a puppy? This is definitely a skill which can be learnt. Not only is it important to learn emotional regulation skills for your own sanity and career progression, but it is also equally important from an organisational culture perspective. Having employees who are reactive is the perfect recipe for breeding discontent and often leads to complaints and conflicts, and in some cases, the submission of psychological injury claims.

At a personal level here are some habits to be aware of to help you avoid emotional triggers and be more proficient at work at the same time:  

1. Be self-aware: Having the ability to reflect on who we are and how we behave can help combat self defeating tendencies such as being overly self-critical & taking things too personally.

2. Why so defensive? Having a highly defensive attitude in discussions where colleagues may disagree with your opinion only encourages others to be equally defensive. It increases the chances of teams becoming discontent and less creative as everyone is so busy defending their own opinions they are unconsciously becoming more and more close minded and even less creative. REMEMBER, just because someone disagrees with you, doesn’t necessarily mean they wish to offend or knock you down a peg.

3. Clear the air: If you find that you are constantly arguing with the same few colleagues, try to clear the air by asking “When we disagree, are you saying I’m wrong or simply trying to explain why you’re not wrong”. You may find that they are actually not trying to provoke you, simply expressing how they feel about the situation at hand.

4. Manage your time and don’t procrastinate: People often procrastinate as they are afraid to commit to a course of action. This can often lead to leaving things to the last minute, which in turn puts the procrastinator under increased emotional stress which can result in unnecessary outbursts. Learning to prioritise your time and bite the bullet decreases the chances of you snapping at someone when they ask you a question at the wrong time.

From an organisational perspective, it is extremely important that companies invest in developing these emotional self-regulation skills in their staff. Doing so decreases workplace conflict and increases productivity. Further, it inevitably has a positive effect on the bottom line as employees are better able to keep their emotions in check under stressful situations allowing them to remain on task and productive.

For more information on how The Resilience BoxTM can provide your employees with the skills to regulate their emotions under stressful circumstances, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

I think my Manager is a Corporate Psychopath: What are the signs, and what can you do?

31st March 2014

By Nichola Johnston

This blog is not about labelling hard-driving managers or bosses who occasional lose their cool as psychopaths. It’s also not popularising this term so we begin hurling it across the boardroom table when we disagree with someone’s opinion. It is, however, about the 1% of the population who are in fact psychopaths and how they manage to infiltrate and affect our workplaces!

Spotting witches, according to Roald Dahl, is easy if you know what to look for, psychopaths on the other hand can’t be identified by a “lack of toes”, “wigs”, or “purple eyes”, they are masters of disguise. Psychopaths often present as the ideal employee, saying and doing all the rights things, however this façade is simply used to hide their undesirable personality traits which lurk below the surface.

So let’s shine a light on what these personality traits often include. Regularly referred to as the Dark Triad in the world of psychology the most common personality traits of psychopaths are:

  1. Narcissism: described in the DSM-V as “a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy.”
  2. Machiavellianism: described in the Oxford Dictionary as “cunning, scheming and unscrupulous.”
  3. Psychopathy: most commonly described as “having poor impulse control”, “exploitive”, “bold” and “cold-hearted”.

Six signs your boss is a “Corporate Psychopath”

  1. They wield webs of deceit in an effort to make themselves look like the star employee or boss. Every aspect of their web is meticulously constructed so the lies and cover stories can’t be seen by the naked eye.
  2. They take credit for others work and have no qualms doing so.
  3. They feel no remorse for orchestrating the downfall of a colleague, in fact you can bet that while some of us lie awake at night concerned we may have hurt someone’s feelings… the “Corporate Psychopath” is sleeping like a baby!
  4. They never accept culpability and are skilled in manufacturing evidence that pushes the blame onto someone else.
  5. They have no fear and take uncalculated risks (probably because they know they can use their skills of fabrication and manipulation to place the blame on someone else should the outcome be less than favourable).
  6. They have the innate ability to render intelligent people dumb. You may find yourself walking away from a conversation with a psychopath, perplexed by their ability to turn your own words against you.

What can you do?

Being managed by, or being in a team with, a psychopath is obviously going to be a challenging situation and not one that is easily fixed. Trying to manipulate or change them is definitely something you should steer clear of! Remember they are well versed in manipulation and any plan to try and change their behaviours is likely going to backfire and hurt!  So what can you do?

  1. Accept the fact that they are unlikely to change. Whilst we cannot control the behaviours of others, we can control our own. Reacting by ranting and raving about their untruths is most likely going to provide them with more material to place blame, and make you look more culpable. Instead of letting it get to you, try to think before you react, and as cliché as it sounds, maintain who you are as a person and don’t be sucked into to playing their games. Start by not trusting them again and keeping your brilliant ideas to yourself, until you have the opportunity to voice them yourself in a group where others can hear that it came from you!
  2. Build your case. This is not going to happen overnight. Going to HR with one incident of “he said/she said” doesn’t give them much to work with. Make notes of the various encounters and ideas stolen, and where possible keep any emails that may support your case. Once you have this documented, going to HR all guns blazing is not going to work in your favour. It is important to note that having psychopathic tendencies is not illegal, your reason for making HR aware of the situation should come from a place of concern for you and your colleagues and show that you are simply wanting some changes to be made, and some assistance provided to the person in question.
  3. Build up your resilience to them or leave. If you are unable or unwilling to let their manipulation and deceit wash over you without affecting your mood and wellbeing, or the organisation is unable or unwilling to deal with the situation, it is time to leave. Do you really want to allow this person to make you feel angry, unhappy, and stressed out?! Start looking for a new opportunity. Job seeking can be stressful, however you are in the unique position of having a job while you look, so don’t rush, look for a job that really speaks to you and then make the move. In the meantime try your best to let any antics roll off the back of you.

For more information on how to manage employees with personality disorders or difficult personality traits, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

Riding the Redundancy Wave

24th March 2014

By Rachel Clements @Rachel_CFCH

Nearly every week we are hear of another Australian industry where job losses are on the cards. Qantas and Holden are the most recent companies being dragged through the media as they announce large numbers of potential job losses. These are the high profile cases, however let’s not forget the losses that don’t make the news. Redundancy, which really is  one of the most un-sexy words in the English language, is occurring each and everyday and many people are suffering in silence, not knowing how to cope in this time of change.

Whilst we could delve into the poor business management strategies that have lead to these redundancies, the fact of the matter is, they are occurring whether we like it or not.

Let’s set the scene

So, you’ve been called to a meeting with HR, you have a niggling feeling of what’s about to occur and all the rumours and murmurs of job losses that have been circulating around the water cooler, begin to surface. Then it happens, those words are actually spoken and you find yourself jobless and in a state of shock.

Impending sense of doom … it won’t last forever!

Losing your job can send you into a similar cycle of grief akin to that of losing a loved one. You are going to go through stages, some more pleasant than others, however the amount of time you spend in stages such as Anger, Depression and Denial, will be based on what state your emotional resilience is in; essentially how good you are at bouncing back.

At first you are probably going to say things to yourself such as “maybe I can tell them I am prepared to take a pay cut or be demoted”, “how could they do this to me” and “I am going to push it to the back of my mind and deal with it later… maybe they will change their mind”. This is natural, however once you have accepted what has occurred, it is time to get an action plan together.

How do I begin to tackle this situation?

Get a good understanding of the services being offered to you as part of your redundancy package, and utilise them! Many people disregard these services as they don’t think they need them, however you have nothing to lose so why not investigate how they could support you. Many things have probably changed since your last stint as a job seeker, so it is important to get up to date.

Unfortunately, many of the outplacement providers don’t include resilience training in their program so you need to be building and working on this yourself. Sure, you may be able to follow their instructions and templates and get a few interviews; however turning up to these interviews with a ‘down and out’ demeanour doesn’t exactly screaming “PICK ME”!  

Here are some tips for building and maintaining your personal resilience through this time of uncertainty:

  • Spring clean your wellbeing: put this time to good use, take stock of your bad habits and work on kicking them to the curb.
  • Take note of your feelings and thoughts; look at them objectively like you are sitting in a movie theatre watching them play out on the big screen. Practicing this when you are in both a negative and then positive frame of mind begins to train your mind to recognise these thoughts objectively and allows you the opportunity to choose a more positive path.
  • Plan your day and stick to the plan. It can be difficult when your usual routine of getting up and going to work is pulled out from under you, so try to get into a new routine. This could include; walk the dog, work on resume, go to gym, learn something new, meet with a friend for lunch, devise a networking plan. By making a schedule and sticking to it, your mind has less time to wonder and fixate on unhealthy thoughts.

Click here for some more tips on building and maintaining your resilience.

The truth is redundancy is a likely to be a period of time that you are going to be out of your comfort zone and have some ups and downs. If you find yourself staying too long in the ‘downs’ then reach out and speak up, there are many services out there to help as well as friends and family who want to help you succeed, USE THEM!

If you would like more information on our career transition services and how we incorporate resilience training to ensure wellbeing through this time of change, please call us on 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

If you are struggling and feel like you need to speak to someone LifeLine is just a call away 13 11 14

“Clap along if you know what happiness is to you” – Do you know how to be happy at work?

19th March 2014

By Nichola Johnston & Rachel Clements @Rachel_CFCH

#internationalhappinessday

For the 50% of you out there spending countless hours unfulfilled and disengaged in a job that fills you with the same dread as that of having to clean your bathroom drains… I apologise in advance for ruining your preconceived notion that the idea of being happy at work is impossible and a mythical theory!

If you are one of the many people who have a slightly cynical personality trait, reading about, or watching someone talk on the topic of positivity and happiness as the answer to getting through the daily grind, can evoke feelings of schadenfreude and propel images of their happy faces colliding with cream pies! You may have thoughts such as “what would they know? They don’t look like they have had to work a hard day in their life” and “it’s fine for them to say that but they haven’t met my boss!”. This hum of discontent then begins to grow louder as we gather with friends for Friday drinks and complain about the week that was. A little venting after a stressful week is not what I’m talking about, it’s when we engage (whether consciously or not) in the most popular Friday drinks game of one-upping our friends with stories of why our work week was more horrible than theirs, that it begins to create a problem.

But hang on a second… cynical or not, everyone has a choice! Instead of adding to the deafening drone of discontented staff around the world, make a change. This doesn’t mean you have to pack up and walk out of your job, it may mean that, but try to start small, an attitude change may be all that is necessary to become more engaged at work and in essence increase your wellbeing.

Our tips:

1.   Take responsibility: When everything is going well it is easy to be happy, however when obstacles and challenges rear their ugly head, being happy is something you have to consciously choose to do. Granted this can be difficult, especially if there has been a stint of challenging situations one after the other, it’s easy to fall into the mental state of learned helplessness. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we are the architects of our own happiness, the choice to be happy is ours and ours alone.

2.   Reduce your pining for what was or could be:  many of us compare our lives that we are living now to our lives we were living years ago, “life was so much simpler in my uni years”. We pine for the return of the good old days when we were footloose and fancy free. The past is the past and pining for it only creates sufferance. On the other end of the scale, some of us are prolific worriers, worried about what could happen in the future, playing out possible scenarios in our heads over and over. If this sounds like you, it is time to have a word with yourself. Try to catch yourself when those thoughts begin to germinate and tell yourself “I am starting to catastrophise, put this thought in a file and send it to archiving.” Well that is what I tell myself, some people put their thoughts down on paper and shred it, others picture themselves putting it on a leaf and sending it down the river (maybe this last one is too airy fairy for the cynics, they may need to write it on paper and burn it!). Find out what works for you and start living in the now.

3.   Stop arguing with reality: Often when faced with a less than desirable situation it can send us into a tailspin. When stuck in traffic on the way to work, do you find yourself screaming at the windscreen, “Why does this always happen to me?!?!” “Stupid incompetent drivers, if only they had…”, sound familiar? FACT: Getting upset about it serves absolutely no purpose, your ranting and raving is not going to miraculously part the congested traffic like Moses did with the Red Sea, in fact all this ranting is going to do is put you in a bad mood, increase your cortisol levels (the stress hormone that can cause heart attacks) and make the person in the car next to you laugh at the crazy person yelling at the windscreen. Catch yourself as you begin one of these complaining rants and STOP! Accept the situation and consciously replace it with a more productive and positive thought.

These tips and strategies are great ways to begin building your resilience and in turn, not allow situations and circumstances to bring you down for too long.

If an attitude change is just not cutting it, a more drastic solution may need to be considered. Are you really doing what you love to do..? I’m not suggesting that there is a perfect job out there where you are going to be constantly fulfilled and engaged, however I would be aspiring to feel like this at least 70% of the time! There are a couple of different paths you can take:

1.   My values are not echoed by the company I work for. You may love the job you do, it is the place in which you are doing it that is bringing you down. Start researching, there is a company out there that has values that align with your own.

2.   I’m bored and need a change. Being in a career that plays to your signature strengths is likely going to be one that is more fulfilling and one that you are going to find meaning in. It may be time to do some self-reflecting and work out what it is you really want to do, instead of falling into the habit of turning up to a job that you hate simply because it is easier than making a change.

So there you have it, whether you want to call it positivity, happiness, wellness or something else, it is your choice and it IS possible to achieve it in your personal and work life.

If you would like more information on how to increase employee happiness, resilience, engagement and productivity, contact us on 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

2 Discoveries About the Brain that make you Work Better

11th March 2014

By Rachel Clements @Rachel_CFCH

This week is Brain Awareness Week, so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to shine a light on the numerous neuroscientific and psychological discoveries that can help us be more productive and perform better in the workplace.

1.    Towards or Away… What State of Mind are you in?

Scientists believe the brain has two basic mental states, ‘towards’ or ‘away’. If you are in the ‘towards’ state you are open, engaged, happy etc. If you are in an ‘away’ state of mind you are likely to be feeling stressed, negative, defensive and withdrawn. So what does this have to do with being productive at work..? EVERYTHING!

When you are in an ‘away’ state of mind, you are less productive, creative and innovative. Your capacity to problem solve reduces as your negative and defensive thoughts begin to block out potential solutions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, when you are in a ‘towards’ state of mind, you are able to think outside the box, as your negative thoughts are not there to block them from forming. Being in a ‘towards’ state of mind will also allow you to enter a state of ‘flow’, this is the state of being fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus and is usual where you will create your best work.

How do you change from an ‘away’ to a ‘towards’ mental state? Take note of your feelings and thoughts, look at them objectively like you are sitting in a movie theatre watching them play out on the big screen. Practicing this when you are in each different frame of mind begins to train your mind to recognising these thoughts objectively and choose to take a more positive path. This is possible because of something called neuroplasticity.

Interested in knowing more about how neuroplasticity can improve your productivity? Check out this article we published recently.

2.    Food for Thought…Literally

Fact – Your brain is one hungry organ! While it only accounts for about 2 percent of your body weight it devours more than 20 percent of your daily energy intake. Everything you chow down on has an effect on every aspect of your brain including your mood, emotions, concentration, memory and learning.

Some organisations have taken note of this fact and in an effort to increase productivity and wellbeing in their employees, they use something call behavioural economics to promote the foods that increase brain functioning. Google is at the forefront of this kind of movement. Check-out how they do it here.

Not all organisations have their own cafeterias, however there are other ways to promote healthy foods that increase productivity, such as:

·         Stock healthy snacks in the office kitchen

·         Offer free fruit and healthy cereals for breakfast

·         Ensure catering for meetings and training programs are foods that increase concentration

For a list of the foods that increase brain functionality take a look at this article.

From neuroplasticity to studies on which foods are best for brain development, the one thing we can all agree on is the brain is amazing and there is still so much we don’t know about it!

For more information on training to increase employee productivity contact us on 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

Bullying in the Workplace – What it IS and ISN’T

11th February 2014

By Rachel Clements

The hype surrounding the new Fair Work Commission’s new workplace bullying legislation reached fever pitch towards the end of last year, with fears spreading through management teams across the country that the changes would spark a tsunami of claims. Whilst it is too early to calm their fears (initial figures show that 44 claims were submitted in January 2014) it is not too late to prepare their organisations, by educating staff and ensuring preventative policies and procedures are in place. It seems as though many organisations have been focusing on what classifies workplace bullying, however in an effort to prevent illegitimate claims being submitted, we in fact need to also spend some time educating people on what workplace bullying IS NOT.

After assessing over 8000 claims for psychological injury in the workplace, it would be safe to say that over half of the claims are caused by interpersonal conflicts where ‘bullying’ is often cited by the injured worker as being the main factor for their distress. While some claims are certainly legitimate, there are also a large number that are not necessarily a result of ‘bullying’. Whilst the injured worker may feel uncomfortable or ‘picked on’ it does not automatically mean they have been the victim of bullying.

So in an effort to educate people on what does not constitute bullying, here is a succinct list of situations that fall into the “uncomfortable but of reasonable management action” category and not the “bullying” category:

·         Deciding to ‘performance manage’ an employee who is not performing at a satisfactory level.

·         Fairly rostering and allocating work hours.

·         Deciding not to promote a worker.

·         Informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance in a constructive way.

·         Objectively and confidentially informing a worker that their behaviour is inappropriate

·         Transferring a worker for legitimate reasons or implementing organisational restructuring.

The above reasons are the most common when it comes to people submitting claims for workplace bullying where bullying is not substantiated. Whilst these situations are not nice to experience, with the person often experiencing feelings of embarrassment and shame, they are not actions of a bully.

If someone becomes distressed when going through these situations the best action to take is to encourage them to speak to someone such as a counsellor or psychologist through their workplace Employee Assistance Program. These counsellors/psychologists can assist the person in building practical resilience to assist them to manage their situation is a proactive, constructive way. This service is offered by most companies and is a confidential service that can assist workers through difficult situations.

So while it is important to know what workplace bullying is, it is just as important to know what it is not. If you would like more information on preventing workplace bullying or our EAP services please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

 

Building a Relationship Bid by Bid

3rd February 2014

By Katherine Wagner

We all know that success at work, home or just about anywhere is based on how strong our relationships are. And there’s plenty of advice out there about making friends and influencing people. But what techniques really work?

To answer this question we can look at the findings of leading US based relationship expert and Psychologist Dr John Gottman. Following over 35 years of research involving hours of observation of couples interacting in his “love lab”, Dr. Gottman has discovered that all types of relationships are built (or destroyed) by an accumulation of sliding door moments. These everyday moments may seem inconsequential but they make or break the most important relationships in our lives. 

According to Gottman, in relationships we continuously make “bids” for attention, understanding and support. And it’s how these bids are received (or ignored/rejected) that determines the course of a relationship. Gottman has observed that any time we make a bid, (such as asking a question, sharing a thought or feeling, reaching out to physically touch someone, making a request or even just smiling at someone) we can be met with one of three response styles:

1.       A “turning toward” response -where the other person listens and expresses interest  (This is the good one)

2.       “Turning away” - where the other person ignores you or expresses disinterest. (Bad).

3.       “Turning against” – where the other person express defensiveness or rejects your bid. (Bad too).

For example:

Jane: “Hey Sam, do you want to grab a coffee after work”?

Sam could say:

A.      “Sure! That sounds awesome. Where will we go”?  (This is good – he’s showing interest and enthusiasm)

B.      “Coffee... maybe. I dunno...” (he’s acting mindless and “turning away”)

C.      “You’re obsessed with coffee! Are you an addict”? (this is sarcastically aggressive and goes “against” her bid)

Even if Sam doesn’t want to go for coffee, he could still make a positive relationship contribution by saying something like “Hey thanks Jane that would’ve been good but I can’t today. How about we chat at lunch tomorrow- it would be great to catch up”.

Amazingly, Gottman’s research shows that for a couple’s relationship to remain stable, over time there needs to be a ratio of 5 positive interactions (A responses) to negative ones (B and C). Otherwise it will likely be Splitsville down the track. Similarly at work, we should try to scatter lots of positive moments around with our work buddies.

It all sounds so simple but the reality is that we can become a bit mindless, especially with those closest to us, like family and co workers. The good news is, we can choose to be more aware and listen out for bids, however subtle, and become mindful responders.

In a nutshell, some specific ways to be a good responder are:

·         Use your voice and eye contact to show interest and enthusiasm

·         Actively ask questions to show interest

·         Make specific suggestions to support the person’s bid (like suggest a date or time to do something)

·         Try to accept invitations where you can

·         Be generous with compliments

·         Reply to emails and texts promptly if you can, don’t leave people hangin’

·         Where feasible, even “Like” or comment on posts on FB (posting stuff is a major bid for attention!)

·         Pay attention to a person’s demeanour and ask “R U OK?” if you’re concerned

The other reassuring thing is, the more we strengthen relationships with lots of positive responding, the bidder will be less sensitive on those occasions where we may be a bit offhand. There’ll be enough money in the bank so to speak.

If you would like more information on our training program “Building Better Relationships at Work” please call us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

Lessons to be Learned about Personal Resilience from a 17 Year Old

28th January 2014

By Nichola Johnston

If you haven’t watched this Ted Talk by Sam Berns, it’s time you joined the almost 2million people who have. Sam’s views on life & happiness, which he succinctly outlines in this talk, sum up much research and age-old wisdoms. They work best when we incorporate them into our everyday to-do-list:

1.       “Be OK with what you ultimately can’t do, because there is so much you CAN do.”

2.       “Surround yourself with people you want to be around.”

3.       Focus on moving forward. “Around here… we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors & doing new things.” (Walt Disney (Meet the Robinsons)

These tips sound easy right? However in times of challenge or distress, the clouds roll in and often focusing on these things becomes more difficult. In these times of darkness try to think of Sam Berns, and the challenges he has faced and will continue to face and remember his philosophy for a happy life.

At the CFCH we are often called on as organisational psychologists to facilitate sessions for employees who are overwhelmed, over anxious or depressed. We’ve found that people feel empowered when they realise that it can be as simple as three quick steps a day to change their focus and their overall feelings about their life. Committing to a daily exercise like this and a gratitude journal can be supportive catalysts for change.

To watch Sam’s Ted Talk click here. For other inspiring talks about personal resilience and mental health in the workplace, subscribe to our youtube channel

For more information on how to best support employees who may be dealing with a mental health issue please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

Psychological Injury Claims: Changing the Trajectory for 2014

20th January 2014

By Rachel Clements

We have all heard figures of the huge costs Australian businesses experience as a result of workers claiming psychological injury. The trends are now deeply engrained, they are more costly and lengthy than other types of workers’ compensation claims, more challenging to assess, and they are more likely to have poorer return to work & recovery outcomes than that of their physical injury counterparts.

One thing we do know for sure, with countless studies supporting this, is that early intervention and prevention are the most effective measures for reducing the number of psychological injury claims submitted along with reducing the cost and length of a claim once lodged.

Preventing the Submission of Psychological Injury Claims

With over 15 years experience in assessing and rehabilitating individuals who have suffered a psychological injury, we have learnt that the common elements in claims of a psychological injury are due to one or a combination of three elements:

1. Management Factors

2. Team Factors

3. Individual Factors

We delve into more detail of these three elements in our article “Prevention is the Cure”, and while we are major advocates for prevention we also understand that sometimes individuals are more susceptible to suffering mental health issues and on occasions the submission of a claim just can’t be prevented.

Reducing the Length and Costs of a Claim

Once a worker has submitted a claim for psychological injury, it is then put in the hands of the insurance company (or the claims management team for organisation’s who are self insured) to determine who is liable. This is the beginning of the claim cycle and really the most critical part as it has the most impact on how quickly and successfully an injured worker manages to return to work (RTW). For those who are unfamiliar with this process, let me provide a bit of background.  Each insurance company or self-insurer has their own way of determining whether or not to accept liability of a claim for psychological injury, this can be done by the claims manager simply looking at the evidence and making a decision, or by them referring the injured worker to attend and Independent Medical Examination (IME), or for what we recommend, a Pre-Liability Assessment (PLA).

Now here is the sticking point, many insurers fail to engage the worker in rehabilitation services straight away, even if liability is still being determined. The fact is that the sooner an injured worker is engaged in rehabilitation, the less costly and lengthy the claim will be. Early engagement in rehabilitation also increases the success rate of the RTW outcome for the injured worker. Thus our goal for 2014 is to encourage insurers and self-insures alike to begin simultaneously referring for an assessment to determine liability as well as for engaging the injured worker in rehabilitation services. All of our statistics from our rehabilitation company Resilia show that those injured workers who are referred for rehabilitation almost immediately, are more successful in returning to work sooner and are also less likely to relapse and require a more extensive time off work.

Many of the insurers and self-insurers we work with that use our Compensable Mental Health Intervention Framework are experiencing greater success in returning injured workers back to work. If you would like information on this framework, please do not hesitate to contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

The Spitting Image of Stress (excuse the pun) – Workplace Saliva Tests to Assess Stress Levels

16th January 2014

By Debra Brodowski

According to Safe Work Australia mental stress costs Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year, so it is no wonder we want to know how to detect it and then reduce its effects.  Knowing this fact, when I read this article on ABC news last week, “Workplace saliva testing used in UK to detect staff stress”, suffice to say my interest was sparked!

To summarise, the article stems from a study done by, Dr. Sonia Lupien and Robert-Paul Juster of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress. The study found that levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, plummet when someone is on the brink of burn-out. The study used a simple saliva test to determine the levels of cortisol, thus this form of testing has recently been pinpointed as a potential way to detect whether or not a worker is suffering from stress.

While I don’t deny that using saliva testing as a means of assessing workplace stress, is an effective tool in terms of screening, it is important to consider what impact such a harsh measure may have in the typical workplace. If a worker is in fact stressed and on the brink of burn-out, asking them for a sample of their saliva has the potential to add to their stress and make them feel they are being scrutinised.  The other query I have is; would an organisation use the results for good or evil?

The Good: being able to provide a worker with support and coaching when they test ‘high for stress’.

The Evil: tracking whether an employee is prone to stress and using this as a reason for blocking promotions.

The fact is, due to this being such a recent development in detecting stress levels, implications for both businesses who enlist this screening method and its’ employees, is yet to be studied itself.

Training and awareness for leaders, on noticing the signs of workplaces stress, is still a very effective way of managing the effects of stress on the workers and the workplace. Resilience training for workers is also a great preventative measure to reduce the impact that stress has on their wellbeing. It is important to remember that stress is not necessarily bad for us, if it is having a bad effect on an individual, it is time for them to redesign their relationship with stress and build on their resilience skills.

As managers it is important to remain engaged with your employees. Taking the time to speak with them so they feel they are able to speak out when they are feeling stressed at work, is surely a more productive way of monitoring and assisting workers in the management of their stress rather than asking them to “say ‘Ahhhhh’ and prepare to be swabbed.”

If you would like more information on managing workplace stress, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or email us at admin@cfch.com.au.

Reinterpreting Feelings – Life Changing

10th January 2014

By Rachel Clements

When we are feeling anxious we try to tell ourselves to calm down, when we are stressed we tell ourselves it is not good for our health, but what if what we have been telling ourselves is doing more harm than good…? Well recent studies have been showing that this might just be the case!

A very recent study by Alison Wood Brooks, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in December 2013, looks at reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitement. Basically people in the study were told to prepare a public speech and before delivering it half the people were told to tell themselves “I am calm”, the other half, “I am excited”. The speeches were then recorded and independently assessed and rated. Those who told themselves “I am excited” were rated as being more competent, persuasive and confident than their counterparts.

This study was relatively small, however it echoes key findings of some much larger studies all based around reinterpreting feelings. One of these studies was on our feelings towards stress, which I wrote a blog on last year. In a nutshell the study found that people who experienced a high amount of stress and told themselves it was bad for their health, in fact experienced signs of poor health from their blood vessels constricting, however those people who had a high level of stress and told themselves that it was just their body helping them rise to an occasion and didn’t think stress was bad for their health, their blood vessels remained relaxed.

The direct link between what we tell ourselves about our feelings and its impact on our lives is significant. We have the innate power to verbalise and think about our feelings to directly change an outcome, now that’s powerful! So as Brooks says in the conclusion of her study, “Instead of trying to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ perhaps the path to success begins by simply saying ‘I am excited’”.

A Look Back at Some Great Articles and Blogs from 2013

7th January 2014

By Nichola Johnston

Happy New Year! I hope you all managed to take some time off to relax and rejuvenate!

2013 was a great year of sharing content on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace and we would like to share links to some of our favourite articles. Some were written by our team here at CFCH and some were articles we loved from external sources and thought them to be of value to our readers. So here they are:

It’s High Time we all Re-Thought our Perception of Stress!

Great little blog we published during Mental Health Awareness Month by Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services here at CFCH. It looks at recent studies showing stress is only bad for our health if we believe it is bad for our health!

We Need a Chief Resilience Officer

This blog is by one of our favourite Positive Psychologists in the U.S, Dr. Larry Richard. It looks at the role, ‘learned helplessness’ is playing in the lives of lawyers and why the combination of their personality traits and the push for partners to take on more responsibility than what the roles traditionally encompassed, is causing an increase in symptoms of poor mental health.

Mental Health in the Workplace: Is your “head in the sand” or are you forging new pathways?

This article is by Debra Brodowski, Manager of Psychological Services here at CFCH. Debra draws on her extensive experience of editing our psychological reports (over 8000 of them) and looks at current trends in dealing with issues of Mental Health at work, what is being done and what should be happening to change the trajectory to one of employee wellness, productivity and profitability.

Protecting Your Organisation Against Workplace Bullying and Harassment: How prepared are you?

With Fair Work Australia’s new bullying legislation now in effect as of the 1st of Jan 2014, it may pay to take a look at this article which breaks the legislation down and offers tips on how to prevent a flurry of complaints.

Favourite TED Talks

Towards the end of last year our CFCH team counted down to our favourite TED Talk. The link above is a playlist of our top 5. From a look at schizophrenia from the inside looking out, to an international beat boxer, these talks will leave you astounded, motivated and ready to tackle 2014!

We hope you enjoy these articles and blogs and look forward to sharing more thought provoking and relevant material with you in 2014!

To discuss any of the topics/issues mentioned in these articles please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au.

The Count Down to our Teams Favourite TED Talk

17th December 2013

#1

Drum roll please Tom Thum... Our team’s favourite TED Talk is…

Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress your Friend

Stress = Friend, this may be hard to believe considering for years now it has been drummed into us that stress is bad for our health. Kelly (twin sister to Jane who was our #4 fav TED Talk), in this humorous yet life changing talk, refers to studies that prove if you believe stress is bad for your health, it will be. On the flip side, if you believe stress is not bad for your health, it won’t be!

It may not be a shock that this talk was picked as our favourite talk as it has been the centre of one of our previous blogs.

With the holidays knocking on our door, why not take some time to relax, chill out and open your mind, by watching our playlist of inspiring TED Talks. Click here.

The Count Down to our Teams Favourite TED Talk

11th December 2013

#2

This talk is not so much a talk… and not so much ‘on topic’ for us here at the Centre for Corporate Health. HOWEVER there are 4 reasons why you should take the time to watch this:

1.    It will amaze you.

2.    It will make you smile.

3.    It will uplift your mood

4.    It has had over 9million views on YouTube

Tom Thum is a Beatboxer and all round Aussie larrikin. In his 11 minute talk at the TEDx event held in Sydney earlier this year, he took the audience on a musical journey through different cultures, genres and classic songs from decades passed. We have all heard Beatboxing before, however Thum’s mouthful of instrumental impersonations will be unlike any you have heard before.

So sit back, switch off and enjoy the journey. Click here to watch

The Count Down to our Teams Favourite TED Talk

5th December 2013

#3

“the humanity we all share is more important than the mental illness we may not. What those of us who suffer with mental illness want is what everybody wants: in the words of Sigmund Freud, to work and to love.”

This blog begins with the ending statement of our teams 3rd favourite TED Talk, A Tale of Mental Illness from the Inside. This talk by Elyn Saks, professor, lawyer and psychologist, should be the talk we show HR and management teams to convey the importance of a supportive workplace, and by supporting someone suffering from a mental illness it is possible for them to be a valuable and productive member of the team.

As psychologists our role is not only to prevent and treat mental illness, it is to change the poor perception society has of those suffering from a mental illness. Elyn’s talk takes you behind the scenes of living with schizophrenia, breaks down barriers and makes good headway in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. As Elyn reads from her writings depicting moments of psychosis you really begin to get a sense of the erratic thought process being experienced. Best practice treatment is also broached and is a main part of Elyn’s life as she forges new paths in regaining the rights of mentally ill people. Perfectly punctuated with humour and spoken without inhibition, this talk is a must watch! Click here to view this talk.

The Count Down to our Teams Favourite TED Talk

4th December 2013

#4

Yesterday we kicked off the count down to our team’s number ONE Favourite TED Talk. At number five we placed Martin Seligman’s talk on “The New era of Positive Psychology”. Today we would like to introduce you to Jane McGonigal, who’s TED Talk “The Game that can Give you 10 Extra Years of Life” hits our list at number four.

Jane is a gamer… that’s right, a game designer and avid game player. When Jane found herself bedridden for three months after a severe concussion, suicidal thoughts began to consume her. As her suicidal thoughts gained momentum on day 34, she told herself she would either follow through with her suicidal ideation, OR battle it the only way she knew how, by turning it into a game.

The game she created was simple; “adopt a secret identity, recruit your allies, battle the bad guys, activate the power-ups”. Within days of playing this game, Janes fog of depression began to dissipate.

As Jane recovered she posted a couple of blogs explaining how to play her new game and to her surprise the response was overwhelming. People experiencing chronic pain, depression and battling cancer began posting comments on how they too were “adopting their own secret identity and battling the bad guys”.

The game is called “SuperBetter” and can now be downloaded to your smart phone. It’s success has sparked much interest in the world of positive psychology with a recent study out of Penn State University finding it’s users experienced a reduction in their symptoms of depression & anxiety.

But hey, don’t take our word for it, click here to watch this TED Talk for yourself; it may just be your first “power-up” in your battle against the “bad guys”. 

The Count Down to our Teams Favourite TED Talk

2nd December 2013

#5

Hours disappeared… it was a Sunday not loo long ago that I sat down and watched a Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal that our Office Manager had been urging me to watch for weeks. It didn’t disappoint. As it finished I clicked on another talk that was suggested on a similar topic…once that one finished I clicked on another… then another and before I knew it two hours had passed in what felt like minutes.

For those of you who haven’t discovered the craze that is TED let me give you a brief explanation. TED is a non-profit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from all walks of life and industries to share ideas. Since then the sentiment hasn’t really changed, it has simply grown in size and credibility. TED Conferences bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less. For those of us who don’t have a spare $4000-$6000 to spend on attending one of these conferences (although it would definitely be money well spent) TED generously provides free viewing on their website for some of the best talks.

So to get you started we have put together our teams favourite top 5 Ted Talks. Get ready to open your mind and experience many “aha moments” with the talk taking out our number 5 position:

Martin Seligman: The new era of positive psychology

One of the founding fathers of Positive Psychology gives a succinct talk on how the field of psychology is changing and needs to change.

“Martin Seligman talks about psychology -- as a field of study and as it works one-on-one with each patient and each practitioner. As it moves beyond a focus on disease, what can modern psychology help us to become?”

Watch Talk Here

Mental Health Month Blog Series #3

10th October 2013

It’s High Time we all Re-Thought our Perception of Stress!

By Rachel Clements

For the past 14 years we have been working with Australian organisations on how to reduce their employees’ stress levels and how to be more resilient to the effects stress places on our wellbeing. We have come to learn, however, that while concentrating on reducing stress levels is important, organisations and individuals should be placing equal focus on training people to rethink their perception that stress negatively impacts our health. This blog is going to show you why!

We have all heard it before, high levels of stress can increase your risk of heart attack, and whilst a recent study out of the U.S does not dispute this fact, its interesting findings do force you to rethink your perception of stress and shows that you can actually choose whether or not your levels of stress will have an impact on your  health. This study sought to examine the “relationship among the amount of stress, the perception that stress affects health, and health and mortality outcomes in a nationally-representative sample of U.S. adults.” What they found was that participants who experienced a lot of stress in the past year had a 43% increase in their mortality risk, HOWEVER this was only true for those who also believed that stress was harmful to their  health. Shockingly, it was discovered that those people who experienced a lot of stress but did not perceive  it as being harmful had the lowest risk of dying, even lower than those who had very little stress.

Following this study, a different study was conducted at Harvard University that scientifically validates this concept that we can rethink our perception of stress and as a result, can eliminate its negative impact on our health. Participants in this study were taught to rethink their stress responses as helpful (such as, ‘I am breathing faster to increase oxygen to my brain to give me a better chance of solving this problem’) and were then placed under stressful situations. The results were significant.

Usually when you are stressed your heart rate increases and your blood vessels constrict, which can increase chances of heart attacks etc. However in this study where participants were taught to rethink their responses to stress as helpful and not harmful, their blood vessels did not constrict but rather remained relaxed and in fact resembled what happens in moments of joy and courage!

These studies showed many more significant findings which Dr Kelly McGonigal, Psychologist, mentions in her talk she gave at the TED conference in June of this year, definitely a must watch!

So now that we are armed with this information, we are all on our way to rethinking stress and in turn, reducing it’s negative side effects on our health. Here are some tips on how to continue this journey on rethinking stress:

  1. Watch your internal self-talk – learn to catch yourself when thinking of challenging situations in negative or stressful ways and turn them in to less emotive, more realistic thoughts.
  2. Be good at reframing – there are always two ways to look at a situation, which will you choose? The more pessimistic and worrying view or a more optimistic and helpful view?
  3. Try viewing some of your thoughts (the ones you repeat like an old record) as old habits, rather than being an accurate interpretation of reality. This allows us to be inquisitive about our thinking habits,  to be detached from them, open to new perspectives and seeing things differently.
  4. Learn techniques in mindfulness and try to keep your thoughts grounded in the present moment rather than in the past (which leads to negative rumination) or the future (worry about the ‘what if’s?)

If your organisation is interested in training on how to assist employees in rethinking the effects of stress, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or admin@cfch.com.au.

Mental Health Month Blog Series #2

8th October 2013

Spring Clean for your Well-Being

By Simon Matthews

Most of us live our lives, to a greater or lesser extent, on autopilot. We have to really, to some extent, because the degree of concentration required to focus on every small task that we did every day would be so enormous that we’d be completely exhausted. I'd probably even be prepared to bet that when you get home each day the first 4 to 5 things that you do are the same first 4 to 5 things that you do everyday when you walk in your front door. While they’re different for individuals, they’re likely the same for you and will involve, perhaps looking for the blinking light on your answering machine, saying hello to the dog, throwing a window open, dropping your keys in the same location… things like that. In the same way when you drive your car, you don't consciously think about key in ignition, turn key, depress accelerator, clutch in, engage gear, clutch out while depressing accelerator and so on. Your brain has managed to automate a number of those tasks and you can do them without significant levels of conscious thought.

But there’s the problem… many times we automate things that we probably shouldn’t automate and it would be useful for us to regain some conscious control of. Since we’re heading into some nice weather, now is a great time to spring clean your mind and to refocus on some particular things that you may be doing automatically or unconsciously, perhaps to your own detriment.

The first one involves feelings of anger. Anger is entirely normal and in many circumstances a completely expected response to particular situations; however we often let the anger then dominate rather than responding in a useful and conscious way to the feelings of anger that we have. Once you recognise that you're feeling angry about something, don't simply continue in that feeling but use it as a cue to consciously generate a plan to address those feelings. This plan may involve speaking directly to someone about something or making a decision to change something in your own life or any number of other things. The point is though, don't sit around feeling anger and hostility. Recognise its onset then use it to DO something different.

I'm sure you know the glass half full, glass half empty summary of optimism and pessimism. While most of us at different times will feel more, or less, hopeful about various situations, the automatic tendency to see the glass as “half empty" will eventually become a lens through which we view most things in the world. Anyone who has worn glasses to read and glasses to see in the distance will tell you that the same lens can't do both things and sometimes we need to change lenses to see properly. Same story here. If you recognise that you're someone who is tending to see the glass as “half empty", do this simple exercise: at the end of every day, write down 10 things for which you are thankful that day. It doesn't matter how insignificant they are. Maybe you got extra egg in your sandwich or maybe you managed to catch an earlier train than you usually do. The content is immaterial. The important aspect of this is the practice of finding joy and satisfaction in ordinary things.

Get a life! No really, get a life! Over time many of us fall into that same automated pattern of droning through life doing the same things day after day and week after week to which we give little or no thought. What really blows you hair back? Are you currently doing it? If not, why not? Make a plan to do things that nourish and feed you and help to broaden the number of ways in which you engage in everyday life. Better still, do these things with someone that you know and like and whose company you enjoy.

Lastly, cut out the bad stuff. We all know what the bad stuff is–too much food; too much alcohol too frequently, any number of cigarettes greater than zero; lack of regular exercise; avoiding situations which we find challenging or slightly outside the “zone of comfort". Many times I hear people say that they “intend" to change these habits or that they would like to but don't have enough time or something similar. We all have time, money and other pressures. We’re well and truly on the back end of 2013. Is it too late to make some changes? Not at all. In fact this time of year when the weather is warm, your mood is lifting and you're starting to think about the coming year is the best time to do a psychological “spring clean".

At the end of the day, what we do is a great indicator of what we value. Value your life? Make sure it shows.

 

Mental Health Month Blog Series #1

2nd October 2013

Learnable Skills of Resilience – Bouncing Back from Adverse Experiences

By Debra Brodowski

We’ve all been there… It’s been a hectic week of completing endless tasks, you’ve had meeting after meeting where you feel like you are constantly switched on, you finally get to Friday afternoon, it starts to rain and just as you  breath a sigh of relief that the working week is over, you slip and fall in front of a line of commuters waiting to cram onto the bus… But, here is where we split into two groups: if you fall into the first group you collapse in a heap,  begin to swear profusely, profess “why does this always happen to me!?” and surrender to the fact that you are now in a foul mood for the rest of the weekend; if however you fall into the second group you jump up, brush yourself off and join the line of commuters, and while slightly embarrassed, your thoughts quickly change to your plans for the weekend.

If you relate to the first group, you may need to build some personal skills to better deal with life’s little ups and downs.

So how do those of us who fall into the first group change our ways and become more like the second group when faced with challenging or demoralising situations? The answer, you need to work on building your emotional resilience.

The brain is an amazing organ; its innate neuro-plasticity enables us to change our thinking patterns in order to have a more positive effect on our bodies. So don’t be disheartened, building your resilience is definitely a learnable skill. Here are the skills you will need to focus on to bolster your resilience:

1.Emotional Awareness/Regulation

Having emotional awareness allows you to view each of the emotions you are feeling from a more objective view point, like sitting in a movie theatre and watching scene’s play out in front of you.

2.Impulse Control

Being able to control your initial response to a situation allows your mind the opportunity to better problem solve instead of simply reacting.

3.Optimism

In an adverse situation, automatically adopting a pessimistic thinking style, limits your ability to take in the whole picture. By training your mind to have an optimistic thinking style you steer yourself away from developing tunnel vision.

4.Casual Analysis

This is the ability to clearly identify the causes of adversity without embellishment which allows you to make more informed decisions.

5.Empathy

Being able to recognise and understand the emotions others are feeling gives you the ability to tailor your responses and actions so as to not exacerbate anyone else’s distress.

6.Self-Efficacy

By being aware of your own signature strengths you are able to use them more effectively to cope with adversity.

7.Reaching Out

This is the ability to not let adverse situations prevent you from trying new things in the future. It is about taking appropriate risks and accepting failure if this is the outcome.

By being aware of these skills, you are on your way to being a more resilient you, however this is only the tip of the iceberg. Being able to hone each of these skills by practicing techniques that work for you will strengthen your level of resilience. To do this, you could seek assistance through your EAP (Employee Assistance Program), which many organisations offer to its employees. EAP is not a service that you can only access when you are distressed; if you feel your resilience is low work with the EAP counsellor/psychologist on techniques to boost it. Smart employers would rather have resilient employees, than employees who crumble under pressure, so do some research and check out what services your organisation offers, maybe there is a Building Emotional Resilience training program coming up that you are not aware of!

 

If you or your organisation would like more information on how to build personal resilience, contact us on 02 8243 1500 or at admin@cfch.com.au

Introduction to our Mental Health Month Blog Series: The not so Gloomy Side of Mental Health

27th September 2013

By Rachel Clements

October is Mental Health Month, and this year we have decided to take you on a different journey, one of WELLNESS! Last year we blogged on the signs and symptoms of the most common mental health disorders such as PTSD, Personality Disorders and Anxiety Disorders, just to name a few (these blogs are still listed so you can scroll down to October 2012 and take a look) and while this is important information to be aware of, it’s equally important to create awareness on how to live a happier, more engaged and thriving life, enter… Positive Psychology!

As Shaun Achor writes in his book, The Happiness Advantage, if you were to take a look at a scatter-plot diagram (like this one) where each dot represents a person, and each axis represents a variable, you would conclude that there is a steady average with one outlier. Conventional Psychology has focused on techniques to help those who fall below the average, once again meet the average, techniques which are obviously necessary to assist those people who are more prone to mental health issues again lead a ‘normal’ life. But what if they could do more than that, not just lead a “normal life” but live a “thriving, happy and more meaningful life”? Positive Psychology is a relatively new strand of psychology which focuses on what the outlier sitting above the average does, to live an “above average” and flourishing life. “If all you strive for is diminishing the bad, you’ll only attain the average and you’ll miss out entirely on the opportunity to exceed the average.”(Shaun Achor)

Below are the blogs our senior psychologists will be publishing this month, all of which focus on how organisations can build employees’ emotional and mental resilience to prevent employees from suffering a more severe set back if  faced with challenging and stressful situations. These are all practical and scientifically proven techniques from the field of Positive Psychology:

1.       Learnable Skills of Resilience – Bouncing back from Adverse Experiences!

2.       Unhealthy Habits – A spring clean for your Mental Wellbeing!

3.       How to Identify Signature Strengths – Putting them to Work at WORK

4.       Positive Psychology – All unicorns and fairies / hocus pocus? OR Based on Scientific Findings?

5.       Stress – Rethinking our relationship with stress

6.       The Ultimate Checklist for Creating and Maintaining a Happy and Healthy Workplace

So for Mental Health Month 2013 we encourage you to broaden your mind and take stock of how you view mental health. By no means are we saying conventional psychology is out-dated (we practice both here at CFCH and Resilia), we are simply asking you to place equal emphasis on learning how to incorporate positive psychology (prevention) and conventional psychology (management) in your organisation’s fight against poor mental in the workplace.

If you would like more information on how we assist organisations in creating and maintaining a happy and healthy workplace, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or admin@cfch.com.au.

Quotes from the Founders of Positive Psychology

26th September 2013

Today we tweeted quotes from the founders of Positive Psychology, so just in case you missed some of them, here they are! I have also include a few extra ones that did not conveniently fit in with the restraints Twitter places on us; 140 characters.

  1. "Psychology should be just as concerned with building strength as with repairing damage" Martin Seligman
  2. "A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe"  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  3. "Self-esteem cannot be directly injected. It needs to result from doing well, from being warranted" Martin Seligman
  4. "Use your signature strengths & virtues in the service of something much larger than you are" Martin Seligman
  5. "It is not the skills we actually have that determine how we feel but the ones we think we have" Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  6. "Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20yrs is that individuals can choose the way they think" Martin Seligman
  7. "Strengths & virtues function against misfortune & against the psychological disorders, & may be the key to building resilience" Martin Seligman
  8. "To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

If you are interested in learning more about Positive Psychology and how it came about, check out these educational talks by the two psychologist we have been quoting today by clicking the links below.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Martin Seligman

R U OK? Day Blog Series: 4# Don’t dismiss your calendar reminder!!

19th September 2013

By Tony Bradford

It’s been a week now since R U OK? Day and the tweets, facebook posts and blogs, reminding us to ask these three little words, have slowed to a trickle. So here is your reminder, to check in with all those people you started a conversation with whose response was anything less than “Yep, I am A OK!”

So how do you go about checking in and following up?

Your calendar alert sounds and prompts you to pick up the phone or meet for lunch with the friend, family member or work colleague that told you they are struggling with a situation at the moment, or just not feeling themselves. Here are some suggestions on how to start this follow up conversation:

  • ‘How are things going? Did you speak with your doctor?’
  • ‘What did they suggest? What did you think of their advice?’
  • ‘You’ve had a busy time. Would you like me to make the appointment?’

If they did in fact follow your advice and speak to their GP or another practitioner and didn’t find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them.

Continue to check in on them and support them in getting the help they need! Remember R U OK? Day doesn’t have to be a one day affair, continue to remain present and interested in the wellbeing of those you care about!

If you are struggling or need help now, call LifeLine on 13 11 14 and speak to someone who can help.

For more information on how to hold meaningful conversations or our Mental Health Intervention Framework please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or email us at admin@cfch.com.au

R U OK? Day Blog Series: #3 Don’t make RUOK? a one day affair!

13th September 2013

By Tony Bradford

Yesterday we all checked in with friends, family and colleagues in the spirit of R U OK? Day, and for the next week or so we will continue to ask those three little words and follow up on conversations that were started. However weeks from now the tweets, facebook posts and blogs will tapper off and the message of R U OK will begin to take a back seat until this day comes around again next year.

The truth is, the message of R U OK? Day should be with you each and every day, not only reminding you to ask others if they are ok, but also reminding you to check in with yourself, as we learnt in the 1st Edition of this blog series.

So let’s take stock of HOW, WHEN and WHY you should continue to take a moment out of your day to ask yourself and others… R U OK?

HOW?

The message behind R U OK? Day is that you don’t have to be a counselor or a psychologist to help support someone going through a tough time. Here are some conversation starters you can use when you have noticed that someone may not be travelling well:

  • ‘What’s been happening? How are you going?’
  • ‘I’ve noticed that... What’s going on for you at the moment?’
  • ‘You don’t seem like yourself and I’m wondering are you ok? Is there anything that’s contributing?’

Make sure that once you have started the conversation that you listen without judgment and encourage them to take action to help solve the problem causing them to feel this way.

Here are some slides to give you more information on HOW to have this conversation. R U OK? Slides

WHEN?

Identifying when someone is not doing too well is not always as easy as you think, and even if we do notice something not quite right, in this fast paced world we often tell ourselves “they’ll be ok, their just in a bit of a rut” or “they’ll let me know if they need me”. However as you will find out below in WHY you should continue to ask “R U OK?”, we have become very good at masking our symptoms of distress, anxiety & depression.

Here, Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services at Centre for Corporate Health, speaks to Cosmopolitan about the early warning signs, which should trigger you to ask someone those three little words.

Of course, there doesn’t have to be something wrong, for you to ask someone if they’re ok. By checking in with people and showing a genuine interest in their wellbeing, they are more likely to speak up and come to you when they aren’t travelling so well.

WHY?

Last year, in partnership with R U OK? Day, we conducted the Australian Workplace Relationships Survey, which looked at the quality of our relationships at work. Its findings were very interesting and show exactly why these three little words are so important:

  • Many Australian managers are lacking the ‘micro’ skills to hold meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations with staff about their work and performance;
  • Only half of employees surveyed feel they can talk to their colleagues or managers about personal issues at work;
  • For a large majority of our workplace population, an individual’s ability to be emotionally resilient, to handle pressures and demands, and to bounce back from adversity, is low;
  • People, when dealing with a workplace relationship issue, are twice as likely to seek outside support (i.e from a health professional like a GP or psychologist) rather than raise the issue with Human Resources; and
  •  Employees have developed an “avoidance culture” , whereby they avoid dealing with, and talking about, relationship issues in the workplace, for example it found that:
    • 46% of people will start looking for a new job when they perceive they have a workplace relationship issue;
    • 48% of people take days off work when they perceive they have a workplace

Rachel, who is also a member of the Conversation Think Tank reiterated these findings yesterday when she spoke to Cosmopolitan:

So with all this information front of mind, let’s check in with each other in a week’s time (it’s a date ;-) and see if you’re ok, plus go over how to check in on those friends, family and colleagues that flagged they weren’t going too well.

If you need help now call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or if you would like more information, head over to the R U OK? Website.

R U OK? Day Blog Series: #2 How to ask R U OK and what to do when someone says “Actually no I’m not OK”

12th September 2013

By Rachel Clements

 

Today is R U OK? Day, and as most of us are at work why not ask a colleague those three little words… “aRe yoU OKay?”. Who knows, maybe your colleague has been hiding the fact that they are struggling with something in their personal life, or maybe they are feeling the pressure at work and don’t have the confidence to speak up. Whatever it may be, make sure you are prepared to respond to the answer. Here are some suggests on how to ask R U OK?

Today is also a great day for organisations to look internally and assess what their procedures are when someone flags that they (or a colleague) are not ok. It’s important that organisations have procedures in place and key people trained on how to handle the situation when an employee is at risk, just like a First Aide Officer is trained in CPR for when a person stops breathing. Here at the Centre for Corporate Health we provide a customisable CPR equivalent for mental wellbeing called the Mental Health Intervention Framework which can be molded to work in with an organisations internal communication channels.

If you would like more information on how to ask R U OK? Please head to www.ruokday.com.au or if you would like more information on the Mental Health Intervention Framework, please email us at admin@cfch.com.au or call us on 02 8243 1500.

 

R U OK? Day Blog Series: #1 Stop little problems becoming bigger

10th September 2013

By Rachel Clements

Tomorrow will be R U OK? Day, and as you reach out to friends, family and colleagues to check in on how they are travelling, spare a moment to do the same for yourself. If you are having trouble coping, it is important to talk to someone about it and stop little problems becoming bigger

Here’s how to have this conversation with yourself and how to reach out to a colleague or manager for assistance:

1.     Am I OK?

Assess and reflect on your behaviour then ask yourself “What helps the situation? What makes the situation worse?” Once you have reflected on the situation, identify a support person. This should be someone who is a good listener, you feel comfortable with, has the capacity to assist you make positive changes, and someone you respect.

2.     Initiate

Choose the right environment and pick a good time. You should allow enough time in both your schedule and your support person’s schedule and try to make the meeting around a normal break time, such as before lunch or before leaving for home.

It is likely your support person will be unaware of your need for assistance, so it is important that you initiate the meeting. You could say “Do you have time for a catch up meeting later this morning? How are you placed to meet up today?”

3.     Start a conversation

Tell the support person about your need for assistance by being open and honest about how you are feeling. Explore the situation and with their assistance, agree on issues, problems and causes, and then identify solutions. You could say “In recent weeks I have noticed that I don’t seem to be travelling too well.” OR “I think I need some assistance but I don’t know how to go about getting back on track.”

Make sure you are specific and give examples of the behaviour changes you have noticed in yourself by using ‘I statements’ such as, “I have noticed that I am more irritable than usual and this is starting to impact on my colleagues and family”. Don’t worry if you get emotional, this can be part of the healing process.

4.     Take action

With the assistance of your support person, develop solutions and take ownership of them. To facilitate this, think about things such as, what needs to happen for this to be resolved, what do you need from your support person, and what will assist you to continue to perform at work. It may be that you need to be referred to an internal or external contact such as an Employee Assistance Program or a Psychologist.

Plan the next action steps by agreeing on the solution to move forward, you could say “If you could make an EAP appointment for me as agreed for later today, that would be greatly appreciated.”

5.     Follow-up

Implement the agreed solutions in a timely manner and continue to meet with your support person to let them know how you are travelling. Make sure you continue to monitor yourself and your progress and if you feel like you are not getting adequate support and assistance, let your support person know. Remember that the people who are assisting you like to keep in touch and know how you are going.

 

Before you know it, you have prevented those little niggling unhelpful thoughts that kept bubbling to the surface, from becoming much bigger issues!

 

If you need help now call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or if you would like more information, head over to the R U OK? Website.

Resilience & the Sceptical Lawyer

9th September 2013

By Rachel Clements

I was reading a blog recently by Dr. Larry Richard, who is both a Lawyer and a Psychologist in the US, titled “We need a Chief Resilience Officer”. As I read through the long list of troubling symptoms being observed in lawyers, it really solidified why we, at the Centre for Corporate Health, are working so closely with the top and mid tier law firms of Australia to reduce these symptoms and create a mentally healthy work environment. Some of the symptoms Dr Richard highlights are:

  • Malaise, complacency, burnout, an attitude of hopelessness, weariness, a “giving up" mindset;
  • Increased conflict;
  • Disengagement;
  • A "glass-half empty" mindset,
  • Increased evidence of low resilience – irritability, defensiveness, oversensitive;
  • Perfectionsim;
  • And diminished creativity.

As pointed out in the blog, these are often symptoms experienced by those with a "glass half empty" mindset and certain personality traits, such as scepticism, which is a trait that lawyers score much higher on than that of the general population. The fact is though, that no one would want to be represented by a lawyer who wasn’t sceptical and have the drive to ask the hard questions… that’s what makes a good lawyer right?

So what is a law firm to do..? They need to hire people with the personality traits conducive with being a lawyer; however they also need to maintain an engaged, healthy and productive workforce…

To overcome this challenging dilemma we suggest a two pronged approach:

  1. Prevent – Provide training and coaching on Emotional Resilience; and before you discard this as a hippy, new age, positivity self help, concept; you should know that it has been scientifically studied and proven to be effective, along with numerous survey results to show this actually works! Having a lawyer be emotionally resilient, puts them in better stead to handle change or the knowing that they are not always in control, which for the usual autonomous lawyer, can be the preface for a spiral into depression.
  2. Manage – Put in place a customised best practice “Mental Health Intervention Framework” to make sure that if a lawyer does start to experience the above mentioned symptoms, managers, Partners and HR know what the signs are and are able to follow a procedure to prevent the situation escalating to from low to  high risk. Think of the “Mental Health Intervention Framework” as CPR for someone’s wellbeing.

Our approach is now being rolled out across numerous law firms, media companies, major retail brands and government agencies all over Australia. For more information on these services please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or admin@cfch.com.au

Catastrophising: What role does it play in your work life..?

20th August 2013

By Rachel Clements

I was recently interviewed for an article about a study, out of the UK, that has found “when workers were reading & sending emails their blood pressure, heart rate & cortisol levels all increased”. As I said in that interview, we give our body messages that we have to respond quickly, just like an emergency. This is one example of how we have become very quick at generating the stress response, and why we seem to be becoming prolific CATASTROPHISERS. It can be such a detrimental way of thinking, which is why, in The Resilience Box, we make sure we provide cognitive behavioural strategies to help combat this, specifically in the myMIND module.

So what is catastrophising?

In its simplest form, catastrophising involves imagining & dwelling on the worst, most dire, possible outcome of something. We tend to indulge in catastrophising when we are dealt with situations that we find less than desirable, fall outside our comfort zone, hit a raw nerve or add to our workload.

If I was to sketch what catastrophising looks like to me (and by “I” I mean ask someone with the illustrating talent to do it for me), it would look something like this:

The point is, when your boss books in a time for your next performance review, or offers some healthy criticism on your work, you may begin to link together worsening possibilities:

“…they mustn’t be happy with me…”

“…they are going to fire me…”

“…I’m going to end up jobless & living on the streets…!”

As you get sucked into the cyclone of despair, you begin to lose your ability to concentrate, become unable to problem solve and develop severe tunnel vision. This kind of thinking can often also be a preface to an anxiety linked depression.

So what can you do to prevent the “what if’s…” taking you on a rollercoaster ride from “this isn’t the greatest situation” to “this is the WORST SITUATION EVER!!!!”? Here are some tips:

  • Remember Dale Carnegie’s “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”, one of the first self-help books? It plainly explains that 80-90% of the things we worry about never happen – tell yourself this every time you make an imaginative ‘what if’ leap to a disaster.
  • Remember human beings are resilient, even when a real disaster does strike, humans are remarkably adept at surviving and getting through difficult times – remember how resilient you are.
  • Try to keep your thoughts focused on the present situation instead of catastrophising future traumatic situation that will probably never eventuate.
  • Try using ‘coaching statements’ to talk your distress down instead of up, such as ‘I will just take it one step at a time’, or ‘I might not like this situation but I know I can handle it’.

If you feel like you are a chronic “catastrophiser” you should know that it is definitely something you can overcome.

What can YOU do?

  • Take advantage of your workplace EAP (Employee Assistance Programs). Many organisations offer these free confidential services where you can speak to someone and they can provide some cognitive behavioural therapy to reduce these unhelpful thinking patterns.
  • There is always Lifeline 13 11 14 (www.lifeline.org.au)

What can ORGANISATIONS do?

  • As a manager, if you feel as though there is a lack of emotional resilience within the workplace, and employees are prone to catastrophising or other unhelpful thinking styles why not provide them with some training. Emotionally Resilient workplaces experience more cohesion, less stress and tension as well as greater productivity.

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au.

The Benefits of Psychometric Testing

14th August 2013

by Rachel Clements

I watched an interesting video recently and it reminded me of the benefit clients experience when they engage us to work with them to secure the right people for roles within their organisations. At the Centre for Corporate Health, we are well known for not only providing quality psychometric services – but for also providing robust, in depth interpretation of results to ensure that HR professionals, executives and boards are in the best position to make important decisions regarding the selection of potential employees.

Psychometric testing can and does have a real contribution to make in ensuring that new recruits are of the appropriate calibre for the role, that they have capacity to get up to speed quickly and that they have the right profile for the organisation. The cost of psychometric evaluation is small compared to the significant ROI benefit of choosing the right candidate the first time. 

At the Centre for Corporate Health we work closely with clients to determine exactly what on the job success factors, characteristics and experience clients are looking for in the role to achieve the organisational outcomes associated with the role and also to ensure that the candidate fits the culture of the organisation. Through carefully analysing their responses and sometimes through working with scenarios and real-world issues, the 'fit' or otherwise becomes apparent.

The risk profile of candidates is one of the areas that often needs attention; most organisations want growth and to achieve this a certain level of risk is required – yet, it needs to be calculated risk, not reckless and we work with clients to ensure that the individual's appetite for risk matches the organisation's culture and goals.

Another area that we are frequently asked to assess for if relevant to the job, is Emotional Resilience, which is closely linked to dealing effectively with challenging situations.

In the larger context, to appoint a person who does not fit the organisation's culture, or who is incapable of leading well in difficult times represents a huge risk to an organisation; it is important to be clear about all facets and expectations of the role prior to the recruitment process. The relatively small cost of a quality psychometric testing process, compared to the huge cost of getting a senior appointment wrong does have significant ROI merit.

5 tips for using psychometric testing to get the best candidate for the role:

  1. Clarity of the role – desired characteristics, experience, on the job success factors
  2. Use a quality psychometric testing process, including the interpretation of results 
  3. Assess the candidates responses against on the job success factors to derive a career profile
  4. Ensure 'cultural & behavioural fit' in how they will behave to achieve goals
  5. Assess their capacity to get up to speed quickly and start making a contribution

If you would like to discuss how CFCH can support your recruitment processes to ensure the best candidate please call, 02 8243 1500 or email us at admin@cfch.com.au.

The “Mental Health Day” Stigma

25th July 2013

By Rachel Clements

These days it seems everyone’s daily “to do” list is no longer a few scribbled notes we tick off as we go, but rather, span a ream of paper as we cram in the endless tasks. The fact is, while our lists grow, the hours in a day remain a constant. SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE!

Before you spontaneously combust, how many of you have asked your boss “is it okay if I take a Mental Health day this week?”… Is that deafening  silence I hear? Why is it we feel little guilt taking a sick day for our physical wellbeing but baulk at the thought of a day off to recharge our minds?

According to the most recent ComPsych survey, “Almost one-third (29 percent) of employees comes to work five or more days per year when too stressed to be effective”

People who go to work mentally drained delay their recovery, spread the feeling to others and often end up suffering a more severe set back to their mental health that could have been prevented. The cost to business is also significant. When we fully asses the consequences of people turning up to work when distressed, it's hard to argue that this benefits anyone. It's likely that most organisations would prefer an employee to take one day of leave, recharge, and come back refreshed, than to work half heartedly for the week as a result of severe ‘brain drain’, stress or mental overload.

The only way to erase the stigma is for the culture to change at the highest level in an organization and trickle down; a culture where it is acceptable and encouraged for people to take holidays regularly, to be resilient, to un-plug from work, and when required have the ability to take the odd day of leave off, or time in lieu, to recharge.

At the Centre for Corporate Health we have been working with organisations for over 13 years to build the emotional resilience of employees so that they feel less stressed, are less prone to mental health issues and are able to bounce back from challenges and setbacks more easily. Like physical health, the more we exercise, the stronger our physical body becomes and the more resilience training we undertake, the stronger we are in the face of stress and difficulties in the workplace. The combination of building emotional resilience and being able to take time out when required, ensures a healthy, thriving organisational culture.

 If your organisation encourages staff to take Mental Health Days, let us know the benefits!   

Combat / Overcome Workplace Bullying by Improving Emotional Resilience

19th June 2013

By Rachel Clements

 

With Safe Work Australia releasing a revised draft Model Code on Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying, this is a signal to businesses everywhere that it’s time to get clarity on their policies and procedures for intervention and prevention of workplace bullying.

At the Centre for Corporate Health and Resilia, we have long been aware of the detrimental impact of workplace bullying on the culture and performance of organisations and the associated costs, including higher Workers’ Compensation Premiums. While we support the intervention and appropriate consequences of workplace bullying, we are aware that in many workplaces people are insufficiently equipped to handle general workplace tension and conflict and that at times they may see an issue as bullying when in fact a lack of emotional resilience is creating a perception that over inflates the situation.

Emotional resilience is essentially our ability to ‘’bounce back’’ from stressful, traumatic and challenging events. Emotional Resilience is a skill anyone can develop and shapes an individual’s perceptions and responses to adverse events. An emotionally resilient person has developed effective coping strategies and will likely perceive conflict in a less personal way. This perception usually results in a more ‘’adaptive’’ and less emotional response that is fuelled by fact, not feelings. Overly emotional (or hypersensitive) reactions have increased nearly 20% within the general population and often lead to increased conflict and distress in the workplace.

When people within a workplace have strong emotional resilience there are far less psychological injury and workplace bullying claims as emotionally resilient people are less likely to engage in bullying behaviours and, at the same time each individual has better internal resources to deal with setbacks.

Incorporating Emotional Resilience into a workplace’s early intervention, bullying prevention strategy can significantly improve workplace culture and organisaitonal outcomes. With this in mind, The Centre for Corporate Health has recently launched The Resilience BoxTM a revolutionary new education program which has been specifically designed to strengthen personal emotional resilience through enhancing psychological wellbeing.

If you are wondering what this new legislation means for you and your business, take a look at this article published by Clayton Utz, Safe Work Australia releases revised draft Model Code of Practice on workplace bullying.

Want to know more about reducing workplace bullying and improving emotional resilience in your workplace? Email us at info@cfch.com.au or call us on 02 8243 1500 

FIFO Workers and Communities - Change of Thinking?

26th April 2013

By Rachel Clements, Director of Psychological Services at the Centre for Corporate Health

After 18 months investigating the impacts of FIFO on Australian life, a Federal parliamentary committee has highlighted major areas for changes aimed to benefit regional areas that host non-permanent workforces and the families and wider communities where the workers live.

The report Cancer of the Bush or Salvation for our Cities looked at evidence from residents across Australia. It found an "us versus them" mentality that troubled communities and created divisions between locals and FIFO workers.

It found communities believed the workers contributed to violence, predatory behaviour and alcohol and drug use in their towns. Now, ‘social contracts’ are being recommended in an attempt to curtail some of the antisocial behaviour.

There is no doubt the FIFO lifestyle has significant impact on relationships and communities and with over 90,000 FIFO workers in North West communities, that is a lot of affected relationships!

While the pros and cons of ‘social contracts’ are debated, it did get me thinking that maybe an approach to this problem from a different angle is worth considering….

A different approach

Our research tells us that the quality of our relationships is directly impacted by the quality of our thinking. The way we react or respond in our interactions with others, be it personal or at work, is a result of our current thinking and our perceptions.

With a focus on an assertive, rather than an aggressive thinking style, individuals perceive people as well intentioned and wanting to work out their differences in reasonable and fair ways. This perception creates a much more stable platform for future interactions between FIFO and community members and could potentially reduce the instances of conflict between the two groups.

So where do we start?

Training seminars exploring how we think and how it affects our perceptions would be a great starting point. This may go some way into breaking down the barriers and identifying goals common to both the FIFO and regional communities.

Understanding how to deal with conflict is also a valuable skill to have. When you find yourself in a situation that is emotionally charged, there are specific techniques that can assist in diffusing a situation before it escalates. Learning how to deal with someone who is angry or stressed, combined with learning how to control our own emotional reactions, provides us with a better opportunity to communicate effectively and improve the quality of our relationships.

Clearly there is no hard and fast solution for the problems faced in these communities, but with a few targeted and relevant interventions, FIFO workers and members of regional communities may be able to enjoy a more harmonious existence. 

 

 

Culture Audits - Getting the Scope Right

12th April 2013

By Tony Bradford, Managing Director at the Centre for Corporate Health

Recently I received a phone call from an HR Director from an organisation that wanted to undertake a culture audit rather urgently.  My first reaction was to ask “why do you want to undertake a culture audit?”   I got a very common response to my question and that was “we just want to find out what the culture is and put some interventions in place to achieve cultural change. Can you tell me how much it will cost and whether you can do the audit and report the results to the next Board meeting which is in 5 weeks time?”  You can probably guess my next question… “why do you want to change the culture?” Over the next half an hour or so, we then explored the answers to this question.

Before we even discussed the various options, tools, and costs to undertake a culture audit I wanted to know a few key things:

  1. Did the leaders of the organisation have a clear understanding of where they were taking the organisation and what they needed to get there?
  2. Do they already know what the problems are?
  3. Did the leaders of the organisation have a clear understanding of what workplace culture actually is, how it impacts on organisational performance, and how to change it?
  4. Why do you feel a culture audit is necessary?
  5. What else is going on?

While the client was asking about the whole organisation culture, it became apparent in conversation that there were a couple of underperforming managers the organisation really wanted to manage out of their roles. They hoped that the culture audit would demonstrate how these people were not suited to the team and that this would be a catalyst for them leaving.  It became clear quite quickly that the main reason they wanted a culture audit was to get some additional “quantitative” data (from an independent external source) so that they could justify making a decision to move these managers on.  So, I politely declined the request to undertake the assignment, even though it would have brought in some good quick revenue.  And as a tax payer that really disappoints me when government organisations spend huge sums of money on things they don’t need simply to use up their budget in the last quarter of every year.  But I will put the lid back on that can of worms!!

I felt very uncomfortable with this approach and told him– the integrity of any culture audit depends on a transparent process aimed at truly enhancing the culture of the organisation with no hidden agendas.

Any issue with a specific individual needs to be addressed through a proper performance management review system. The fact that rogue individuals are creating problems for an organisation is perhaps an indication that all is not well with their culture, however I would encourage frank conversations addressing specific examples of where their behaviour has not meet organisational standards and an action plan to monitor their progress. 

Unfortunately, this organisation was doing what most typically do and that is avoid the elephant in the room and try and skirt around the issue by spending enormous amounts of energy and resources trying to fix a problem in a passive way, rather than have the authenticity and courage to do what they should be doing.   In a desperate attempt to try and not upset anyone and to avoid accountability, organisations will revert to hiring external consultants to undertake an “independent audit”.  But the irony is everyone can see through this and you end up with an even greater problem resulting in even more upset people than you started with and have spent a small fortune doing it.

So my first piece of advice for anyone considering a culture audit is if you already know what the problems are then just get on and fix them.  Don’t waste valuable time, energy and money measuring stuff that you already know.  Plus all the staff are usually wondering, “what ever happened with that last audit that we did?”

However, to be fair, I acknowledge that in order to get on and fix things, senior executives often need more data and culture audits can provide a lot of valuable information that not only identify problem areas, but also highlight potential solutions.  I firmly believe that culture audits must be executed as part of a much bigger strategic initiative. It is a big commitment and requires lots of effort but if used well, a culture audit can truly help transform organisations.

The following are my key points when considering any cultural change project:

  1. You must have clear goals before you start trying to fix problems.
  2. 100% buy-in and commitment is needed from the senior executive team. If not, then don’t waste your time. The senior team must be the champions of the whole project, not HR.  They need to understand the process of cultural change and what their role is.
  3. Secondary agendas and issues have no place in deciding to embark on a culture audit (if there is a particular performance issue, personality, or disruptive behaviour –these require direct performance management)
  4. Cultural change cannot be achieved without leadership development.  A culture audit conducted without an extensive leadership development program is a complete waste of time and money.
  5. Adequate resources must be assigned. Cultural change is a long and involved process that requires sustained effort and commitment, over several years.

Once you have clarity of the scope, a commitment to the process of cultural change, and adequate resources assigned, then you are ready to explore measuring culture and working towards creating a culture that would enable the organisation to better serve its stakeholders.

 

Questions? Ideas?

We’re writing an article for our May Research and Insights on Culture Audits – let us know what questions you’d like answered, or contribute your ideas and comments below.

 

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au

Is Jumping to Negative Conclusions Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

17th December 2012

Part 9 of our Nine Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

 

Error in Thinking 9: Jumping to Negative Conclusions

This occurs when you draw a negative conclusion from a situation when there is no evidence to support it.  There may even be conflicting evidence that you ignore.  The problem is that you end up with a negative, self-critical interpretation, which upsets you.  This occurs when making assumptions about how someone has behaved without first checking it out.  You assume that others are looking down on you or rejecting you.  This is also called Fortune Telling.  You automatically expect the worst to happen without reason.

 

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. If you find you have previously jumped to the wrong (negative) conclusion, be aware of this tendency within yourself and counter it immediately. Remember that you have gotten this wrong before and you need more information before assuming you are being rejected or patronised.
  2. Ask yourself, what is the evidence for this negative thought? Often there isn’t any.
  3. Have a calm, open and honest discussion with the person, allowing them time to clarify what they meant before you make up a meaning that is not true.

 

Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

 

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au

 

Mining Industry Spotlight on Workplace Safety

19th November 2012

Brant Webb, survivor of the Beaconsfield mine disaster is committed to spreading the message to miners to stay safe on the job for themselves, as well as their loved ones.

At the recent Goldfields Mining Expo (GME) in Kalgoorlie, Brant shared his story with the mining industry, speaking out against a macho mining culture after battling depression following the Beaconsfield tragedy.

Traditionally, industry focus has been on the physical safety risks to workers, but now there is a growing awareness and increased understanding of psychological risks and the impact that mental health issues are having on many areas such as reduced productivity, increased staff turnover and also physical safety risks and workplace accidents.

Tony Bradford, Managing Director, Centre for Corporate Health and Brand Ambassador and Program Partner for the R U OK? Foundation also spoke at GME as part of the Mine Safety panel, explaining that even a mild mental health issue can decrease an individual’s functional capacity by 20%. This not only has a derogatory impact on productivity, but also increases the risk of accidents occurring.

Tony shared his expertise in the management of psychological safety risks in terms of the importance of recognising the early warning signs of a potential mental health issue and intervening early to prevent small niggling problems becoming bigger.

The panel discussion concluded with an agreement that while things are improving, there is still a way to go.

To download R U OK? Resources, specifically targeted at the mining community, click here

 

For more information about managing Mental Health issues in the workplace, visit www.cfch.com.au or contact us on admin@cfch.com.au or 02 8243 1500.

To be kept up to date with our latest research, subscribe to our free e-publication Research & Insights.

 

Goldfields Mining Expo

Held every 2 years, the Expo provides a unique opportunity for industry participants to conduct face-to-face business as well as showcasing a huge range of leading suppliers exhibiting the latest mining technology, equipment, and services.

R U OK? Foundation

By raising awareness about the importance of connection and providing resources throughout the year, the R U OK? Foundation aims to prevent isolation by empowering people to support each other through life's ups and downs.

Is Mistaking Feelings for Facts Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

9th November 2012

Part 8 of our Nine Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 8: Mistaking Feelings for Facts

This style confuses feelings with reality.  You may believe that because you feel hopeless, you are hopeless.  Because you feel dull, you are dull.  Realise that feelings are not objective facts.

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. Everyone has times of feeling hopeless or unloved or not good enough – it is only a feeling and feelings pass. They are not facts to define ourselves by.
  2. Distinguish what is really going on; ask yourself ‘How am I feeling?’ – get really clear using feeling words. Then choose to separate the current feeling from who you are.

 

Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au

Mental Health Month - Personality Disorders

29th October 2012

The final mental health issue we are examining as part of our Mental Health Month Blog Series is Personality Disorders.

Personality disorders are defined as an ongoing pattern of inner experience and external behaviour that differs significantly from the expectations of those around the individual concerned. Onset is often in adolescence or early adulthood and leads to distress and less than optimal functioning in both work and personal life.

It may initially go unnoticed until the individual experiences stress, a perceived threat or some other disturbance that creates a reaction that is disproportional to the event.

Three common clinical personality disorders include:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

  • Repeated acts that are grounds for arrest
  • Deceitfulness
  • Impulsivity or lack of planning
  • Aggression, maybe leading to assaults
  • Reckless disregard for safety
  • Constant irresponsibility
  • Lack of remorse with regard to consequences or actions

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Illegal acts will need to be addressed with the person
  • Observe and identify patterns of behaviour
  • The organisation may need to collect facts or evidence for some period of time; copy records and keep documents
  • The “office sociopath”, who may in fact come across as a bully, may need to be managed through internal policies to ensure other staff are supported and the organisation is not threatened or humiliated

Borderline Personality Disorder

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

  • Frantic attempts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable, intense relationships
  • Unstable self-image
  • Unstable emotions
  • Impulsivity in self-damaging ways
  • Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures or threats, or self-harm behaviours
  • Inappropriate or intense anger, chronic emptiness or boredom

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • The nature of the disorder means people will be “dragged in” at times of crisis or self-harm, so be aware and have alternatives available for the person
  • Minimize reactions when challenged or devalued
  • Keep your patience at all times
  • Be consistent in your feedback and boundary setting
  • Move away from topics that get stuck or trigger symptoms
  • Listen and respond reflectively, but with firm boundaries
  • Engage in conversation about issues that are important in the workplace, such as not engaging others in personal issues for long periods of time

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

  • Mentions own achievements and seeks others to recognise these
  • Regards self as ‘special’ with unique skills and abilities
  • Often perceived by others as haughty or arrogant
  • Has a strong sense of entitlement to ‘special’ concessions
  • Believes that others are less qualified and will not discuss professional topics if someone does not have the appropriate level of qualification, unless offering self as an “expert”
  • Happy to be the centre of attention even if the attention is not positive
  • Does not identify with the feelings of others; too self-centred
  • Often displays high levels of anger if challenged or if provided with feedback that does not match his or her perceptions of him/herself

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Recognise and understand their motives
  • Take the person’s concerns seriously
  • Outline expected versus observed behaviour
  • Follow through with sanctions or reprimands for inappropriate behaviour
  • Respond assertively and directly
  • Stay calm and patient in face of any anger or hostility directed towards you
  • Document your conversations

For more information about any of the Mental Health issues discussed this month, please refer to our Mental Health Training Program or contact us.

To be kept up to date with our latest research, subscribe to our free e-publication Research & Insights.

Mental Health Month - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

25th October 2012

We continue our Mental Health Month Blog Series with a look at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…

Like other anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characterised by the concept of panic or the panic attack. The essential feature of PTSD is the development of clinically significant emotional or behavioural symptoms in response to an identifiable psychosocial stressor (a person, situation or event that can be traced as being the initiating factor that subsequently causes the PSTD panic).

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

 

Re-experiencing Symptoms

Avoidance Symptoms

  • Recurrent intrusive recollections (images, thoughts, smells)
  • Recurrent dreams/ nightmares
  • Reliving (sense of reliving the experience, dissociative flashback episodes)
  • Distress to reminders (physical and emotional)

Active avoidance (pushing away reminders of)

  • Thoughts, feelings, conversations
  • Activities, places, or people

Passive avoidance (“numbing”)

  • Inability to recall important aspects of the trauma
  • Diminished interest in activities
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Unable to feel normal range of emotions
  • Sense of foreshortened future

Hyper-arousal Symptoms

Functional Impairment

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Irritability/anger outbursts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Increased startle response
  • Social functioning: withdrawal from others or activities previously enjoyed.
  • Occupational functioning: inability to work (must be due to psychological rather than physical cause), or working in a reduced capacity

WHAT YOU CAN DO?

  • Treatment from traumatic events needs to be psychosocial and focus on returning the individual to his/her roles
  • Medication (pharmacotherapy) considered adjunctive, NOT best practice on its own
  • Trauma Focussed Therapy shown to have best results: a type of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that targets traumatic memories

For information on other common anxiety disorders, please see our separate blog here

For more information about any of the Mental Health issues discussed this month, please refer to our Mental Health Training Program or contact us.

To be kept up to date with our latest research, subscribe to our free e-publication Research & Insights.

Mental Health Month - Anxiety Disorders

22nd October 2012

We continue our Mental Health Month Blog Series with a look at Anxiety Disorders…

Anxiety Disorders are one of the most prevalent psychological disorders in Australia. All Anxiety Disorders are characterised by the concept of panic or the panic attack. A panic attack sufferer experiences the sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness or terror, often associated with feelings of impending doom. No matter how irrational the anxiety may appear to other people, to the individual suffering anxiety it feels incredibly debilitating.

COMMON ANXIETY DISORDERS

  • Panic Disorder with/without Agoraphobia
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

The panic attack is not a diagnosis in itself but is the core feature in all Anxiety Disorders. The majority of symptoms are physical in nature, developing quickly and thus many individuals become very fearful of the symptoms, fearing that “something terrible” is happening. This relates to the cognitive symptoms of the episode.

Physical Symptoms

Cognitive Symptoms

1. Palpitations, pounding heart;

2. Sweating;

3. Trembling or shaking;

4. Shortness of breath;

5. Feeling of choking;

6. Chest pain or discomfort;

7. Nausea/ abdominal distress;

8. Dizziness, light-headedness;

9. Feelings of unreality or detachment;

10. Numbness or tingling;

11. Chills/ hot flushes.

1. Fear of dying;

2. Fear of losing control or going crazy.

Cognitive symptoms are a direct result of the fear associated with the

intensity of the physical symptoms

TO ASSIST SOMEONE HAVING A PANIC ATTACK

  • Remain with the person and assist them to breathe slowly
  • Ask them to breathe in through their nose for three seconds and out through their nose for three seconds
  • Talk them through the panic attack by giving them messages that their distress is coming down and that they are okay

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Treatment for Anxiety Disorders similar to other psychological conditions with generally very good results
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) – includes Cognitive Therapy and Behaviour Therapy, and Psycho-education
  • Mindfulness Therapy/ Acceptance Commitment Therapy
  • Pharmacotherapy

For more information about any of the Mental Health issues discussed this week, please refer to our Mental Health Training Program or contact us.

To be kept up to date with our latest research, subscribe to our free e-publication Research & Insights.

Mental Health Month - Suicide Risk

12th October 2012

Today, as part of our Mental Health Month Blog Series, we look at Suicide Risk & Substance Misuse.

Suicide still remains a serious and topical issue in our community. Australia continues to have a high rate of suicide attempts each year, as well as completed suicides, especially for younger people and males in general are more at risk of suicide. The potential role of substance use and misuse, in the context of suicide should also be examined.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

  • The person has threatened to end their own life, verbally or in writing.
  • Overt statements of suicidal intent ie. “I am going to end my life”.
  • Less obvious statements that might refer to a decision to end life : “life isn’t worth living”, “I can’t go on”, “I can’t see a future for me” etc.
  • Sudden changes in behaviour
    • A conversation that has a sense of finality about it
    • Creating a will
    • Giving away something of sentimental or personal value
    • Rapid increase in positive mood
    • Drawings, poetry or music with morbid themes
    • Emotional symptoms including withdrawal, hopelessness or helplessness
    • Changes in academic/work performance, dramatic decline in achievements

WHEN SOMEONE SEEKS HELP…

  • S/he is looking for help: wants a reason to keep going.
  • S/he is ambivalent about living or dying: maybe just for that day. Wants to check out whether anyone cares.
  • Empathise and talk about his/her circumstances. Theory that if you can keep someone talking for 15 to 30 minutes, immediate desire to suicide may abate.
  • Consider your own attitudes to suicide and how this impacts on the interaction.
  • Remember, whatever the outcome, it is his/her decision – you are not personally responsible.

WHEN DEALING WITH SOMEONE WHO MIGHT BE AT RISK…

DON’T:

  • Panic
  • Act shocked – this can put distance between you
  • Be sworn to secrecy: confidentiality does not apply to suicide
  • Debate or moralise; be judgemental: don’t lecture on the value of life
  • Ridicule, dare or use guilt to prevent suicide

DO:

  • Take all threats seriously
  • Ask about suicide: be direct – mentioning suicide will not give them the idea
  • Show interest, concern and a willingness to help and listen
  • Acknowledge the person’s feelings
  • Acknowledge the reality of suicide as a choice but present other options
  • Use empathy and listen attentively
  • Focus on handling one hour/ one day/ one problem at a time: suicidal people feel overwhelmed by their problems
  • Convey a message of hope – focus on strengths, explore alternative solutions
  • Help identify supportive people, family and friends: a suicidal person often believes they have no support
  • Identify professional supports and community resources (usually done via the treatment provider)
  • Crisis support and urgent referral
  • Follow-up

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?

  • Ask the person for the contact details of his/ her GP and assist to make an appointment.
  • Arrange an escort or offer to be one yourself.
  • Transport the person to a local hospital to be accessed by the Mental health team.
  • Access a Community Mental Health Team who may be able to come to you.
  • Call 000 and ask for an ambulance.

For more information about any of the Mental Health issues discussed this week, please refer to our Mental Health Training Program or contact us.

To be kept up to date with our latest research, subscribe to our free e-publication Research & Insights.

Mental Health Month - Depression & Mood Disorders

8th October 2012

As part of our Mental Health Month Blog Series, today we look at Depression & Mood Disorders.

The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2020, depression will become the second leading health burden worldwide (heart disease being the first). Onset for women is at 18 – 24 years and 35 – 44 years in men.

Around one million Australian adults and 100,000 young people live with depression each year. An estimated 5.8% of men and 9.5% of women will experience a depressive episode in any given year.

In addition, in many professional service occupations (such as law), it is estimated that 1 in 3 people will experience a mood disorder or mental health issue.

EARLY WARNING SIGNS

Physiology

Behaviour/Actions

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Diarrhoea/constipation
  • Skin rashes or irritations
  • Susceptible to illness
  • Reduced libido
  • Appetite has changed (more or less)
  • Sleep has changed (disturbed with early morning wakening)
  • Lethargic and tired
  • Appearance changes (less well groomed, looks tired etc)
  • Short-tempered with others
  • Withdrawn from others
  • Achieving less than normal
  • Absenteeism/lateness
  • Minor accidents/more mistakes
  • Use more drugs/alcohol/tobacco
  • Increased use of medication
  • Forgetful
  • Lack of confidence
  • Gambling and other addictive behaviours
  • Decreased concentration
  • Performance management concerns
  • Lack of efficiency and effectiveness
  • Working back late when workload does not warrant it

Thoughts

Emotions

  • Confused
  • Negative
  • Cynical
  • Sarcastic
  • Pessimistic
  • Rigid
  • Irrational
  • Intrusive
  • Constant
  • Irritable and angry
  • Depressed
  • Nervous
  • Ill at ease
  • Overly positive
  • Worrying
  • Bored or apathetic (don’t care)
  • Overly reactive
  • Mood swings

In your workplace take note of any significant change to a staff member’s character and usual way of functioning. If you have observed this change to be maintained over 1-2 weeks, then approach the person and hold a conversation with them. Most people who are experiencing a Mood Disorder will experience several symptoms in each of the four categories presented above.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  1. Gather the Facts
  2. Create the right environment to have a conversation
  3. Communicate your care and concern
  4. Follow up

For more information about any of the Mental Health issues discussed this week, please refer to our Mental Health Training Program or contact us.

To be kept up to date with our latest research, subscribe to our free e-publication Research & Insights.

 

Mental Health Month - October 2012

1st October 2012

October is World Mental Health Month, an initiative by the Mental Health Association of NSW. It is a great opportunity to focus on the issues that affect 1 in 5 Australians at some point in their lives.

When you consider the number of other people who are directly affected by mental health issues, such as family, friends, colleagues and employers, the impact of mental health issues increases significantly.

It is also a chance for Australian organisations to reduce the $6.5b spent on managing mental health issues at work, by focussing on early intervention.  

Mental illness comes in a number of forms and everyone can benefit from not only awareness, but also practical information on how to recognise the symptoms and intervene appropriately.

The Centre for Corporate Health has conducted over 7,000 mental health assessments and have found that not only is mental health an issue that is rising in dramatic proportions in Australian organisations but that many managers lack the skills to be able to recognise the early warning signs of a mental health issue.

Our experience suggests that many mangers lack the confidence and competence to be able to effectively manage this serious issue in the workplace.

As a result, many employees are left struggling to cope on their own which ultimately places them at serious risk for the development of a severe clinical disorder.

During Mental Health Month, we will publish a series of blogs covering a number of common mental health issues. We’ll outline the early warning signs and offer practical tips on what you can do to help.

For more information about any of the Mental Health issues discussed this week, please refer to our Mental Health Training Program or contact us.

To be kept up to date with our latest research, subscribe to our free e-publication Research & Insights.

 

 

Is Personalising Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

3rd September 2012

Part 7 of our 9 Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 7: Personalising - ‘It’s All My Fault’

This means that you assume responsibility and blame yourself for anything unpleasant.  You believe that if someone is in your care is in a bad mood, then it is your fault.  If a guest doesn’t enjoy herself at your party, then you believe that it is obviously your fault.

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. Most of the time we praise people for ‘taking responsibility’, however when we start to believe that we are causing other people to behave or feel in a certain way, we are assuming responsibility for someone else.
  2. Care about others and their feelings and empower them to take responsibility for their own feelings and behaviours – you cannot actually make someone have a good time at your party; it is up to them.
  3. Establish boundaries with interpersonal relationships. You can only ever be responsible for your own behaviour.

Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au

 

 

Is Catastrophising Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

6th August 2012

Part 6 in our 9 Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 6: Catastrophising

This is when situations are turned into life or death issues. For example, you believe that a headache means a brain tumour, or if someone is late they have been involved in an accident, etc.  Images of disaster occur with lots of ‘what ifs’.  ‘What if I get ill’, ‘what if my plane gets hijacked’ etc.  Such people convince themselves that the worst will happen.  They are constantly alert for the first signs of danger.

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. Remember Dale Carnegie’s “How to Start Worrying and Start Living”, one of the first self-help books? It plainly explains that 80-90% of the things we worry about never happen – tell yourself this every time you make an imaginative ‘what if’ leap to a disaster.
  2. Remember human beings are resilient, even when a real disaster does strike, humans are remarkably adept at surviving and getting through difficult times – remember how resilient you are.

Read more about the 9 Errors of Thinking

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on admin@cfch.com.au

RUOK? and CFCH partner to support Australian Workplaces

31st July 2012

The Centre for Corporate Health (CFCH) is collaborating with RUOK? Day as their Program Information Partner for RUOK? at Work, RUOK in Health and RUOK? Afield

The Centre for Corporate Health’s primary purpose is to Build Resilient Workplaces through psychological intervention, and this is a natural fit with  RUOK?’s commitment to raising awareness of the importance of making connections and speaking up when things are not ok.

The key elements of the 2012 campaigns include:

RUOK? at Work?

RUOK? at Work is designed to be used in any workplace at any level of management – from executives to general staff. The Centre for Corporate Health has been educating organisations for many years about the impact of relationships in the workplace on organisational performance and the material shared in this campaign is designed to increase awareness and connection across the tiers within organisations.

The program can be incorporated into an existing health and wellbeing strategy or used as a stand alone program. The resources are also useful for individuals wanting advice on how to initiate a conversation with their boss, colleague or employee. The material for the campaign has been created by the Centre for Corporate Health and draws on our in depth experience and knowledge of the factors that most significantly contribute to Mental Health issues at work.

The purpose of the campaign is to:

  1. Educate employees, managers and executives about how to manage difficult situations
  2. Empower employees, managers and executives to say ‘I’m not ok’ when struggling with a problem, big or small
  3. Help people respond appropriately to a friend, colleague or member of staff who says, ‘I’m not ok.’
  4. Educate people about how and where to access help in the workplace
  5. Cultivate a positive workplace community and reduce workplace stress

Another key element of the campaign includes the The Australian Workplace Relationships Survey

This survey is designed to take a snapshot in time as to the current state of Australian workplace relationships across a wide range of industries and sectors.

The quality of our relationships at work has a significant impact on our overall performance and wellbeing. Building and maintaining supportive workplace relationships is not only essential to enhancing cooperation and teamwork, but is also important for increasing both individual and organisational resilience.

The survey is open to all Australian’s until 30th July. Results from the survey will be announced on 14th August.

Resources:

New resources will be released on the following dates:

  • Late July 2012
  • Late August 2012
  • November 2012
  • February 2013

RUOK? in Health

RUOK? in Health is designed to encourage clinicians, doctors, hospital staff, nurses, out-patient service providers and health support staff to take the time to have a conversation with a colleague. With extensive experience of working with large hospitals and health organisations, the Centre for Corporate Health is keen to ensure that these workplaces support a high standard of mental health for all levels of employees.

Health professionals invest a lot of time in looking after others, yet they also need to take the time to check in with each other and look after themselves.

The purpose of the campaign is to:

  • Encourage health professionals to look after their own well-being
  • Educate health professionals about how to manage difficult situations
  • Empower health professionals to say ‘I’m not ok’ when struggling with a problem, big or small
  • Help people respond appropriately to a colleague who says, ‘I’m not ok.’
  • Educate people about how and where to access help
  • Cultivate a positive workplace community and reduce workplace stress

Resources:

Resources will be made available in mid-August

RUOK? Afield

RUOK? Afield is designed to promote connection and a positive working environment among people who work in remote locations and are removed from their support network on a regular or extended basis.

This includes fly in fly out professionals, workers in mining, oil and gas extraction, farmers -  anyone exposed to social isolation through their job. With increasing incidences of mental health issues occurring for workers who are away from home much of the time, the Centre for Corporate Health has been keen to share its knowledge to build personal and organisational resilience despite the challenges of this lifestyle. We believe it is possible to design, support and create flourishing workplaces with good quality programs and interventions that meet those challenges.
 

The purpose of the campaign is to:

  • Educate employees, managers and executives working away from traditional support networks about how to manage difficult situations
  • Empower employees, managers and executives in remote locations to say ‘I’m not ok’ when struggling with a problem, big or small
  • Help people respond appropriately to a friend, colleague or member of staff who says, ‘I’m not ok.’
  • Educate people about how and where to access help
  • Cultivate a positive workplace community and reduce workplace stress

Resources:

Resources will be made available in mid-August.

Want to know more?

For more information on these exciting programs, please contact us on 02 8243 1500 or admin@cfch.com.au

Is Making Mountains out of Molehills Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

2nd July 2012

Part 5 of our Nine Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 5: Making Mountains out of Molehills

This occurs when you focus on something that may be uncomfortable or unpleasant for anyone and exaggerate these feelings. For example, making a common error and blowing this out of proportion so that it generates two days of misery.  This thinking makes you more upset than what you need to be.

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. Review the situation at hand, and ask if you are exaggerating the impact of a mistake or set back?
  2. Decide to let the incident go so that you can focus on the future.

Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on admin@cfch.com.au

Is Over-Generalising Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

13th June 2012

Part 4 of our Nine Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 4: Over-Generalising

This is when you believe that because one thing has gone wrong in the past, you assume that everything else will be a disaster too.  You generalise about people as well as situations and events.  Unfortunately if you think this way, you increase the chances that negative things will happen by the expectations you set up.  One of the most common ways of over generalising is labelling yourself as an ‘idiot’ or a ‘fool’ just because a situation is not going your way.

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. Become aware of your language – how often are you indulging in negative self-talk?
  2. Make an effort to stop labelling and judging your behavior as ‘stupid’ or ‘idiotic’ – remember and reinforce the things you’ve done well.
  3. When thoughts of past events come up and you start expecting that they will happen again, imagine the outcome with a positive result instead.
  4. Think of every new and present situation as a blank canvas where you can create the outcome you want.

 Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

 

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au

Is Pessimistic Thinking Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

7th May 2012

Part 3 of our Nine Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 3:  Looking on the Dark Side (Pessimistic Thinking)

Looking at the world with dark coloured glasses causes people to dwell on an unpleasant event, completely ignoring the positive things in life.  This belief results in us thinking that only bad things happen, and that others are more fortunate than us.

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. I choose to make a conscious effort to think of one positive thing every time I find myself focused on a negative thought or judgement.
  2. Helping others often lifts a person’s mood. If you’re feeling pessimistic, find a way to help someone less fortunate and observe how you feel.
  3. Keep a diary of the positive things that you did or that happened today, to help develop a broader thinking style.

Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on admin@cfch.com.au

Are Unrealistic Expectations Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

2nd April 2012

Part 2 of our Nine Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 2: Setting Unrealistic Expectations

Inflexible rules, goals and high expectations.  This occurs when people try to be perfect, faultless, and in control of all situations.  Such people often say things like:

  • I must
  • I have to
  • I’ve got to
  • I should
  • I need

Such people tend to have little tolerance for their own errors and those of others.

Emotionally Resilient Re-frame:

  1. Catch yourself when using phrases like ‘I must’ or ‘I should’ or ‘he has to’ or ‘she needs to’.
  2. Are implicit expectations and inflexible rules dominating your thinking?
  3. How else could you frame the statement so that it is less emotionally charged (for example ‘I prefer’ or ‘I choose’ or ‘he could consider’ or ‘she may like to know’)

Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

 

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au

Mental Health Training in our Schools

28th March 2012

An announcement was recently raised in the news that the Black Dog Institute will roll out mental health training for Year 9 and Year 10 students in schools across the State mid-year. Such an initiative is applauded, given the high rate of mental health issues amongst adolescents, whereby it appears that the incidence is continuing to rise.

During the adolescent years, peer support and parental support are both strong protective factors in youth development. As such, having peers identify signs in mental health issues of their friends, and having some basic skills in how to best respond to these signs, is an important step in creating a supportive network to address these issues in a supportive and constructive manner.

Another consideration highlighted in the Black Dog Institute training is the need to build resilience in adolescence. Building resilience and creating a positive well being is a key strength for youth in navigating the tumultuous adolescent years. Martin Seligman, Psychologist and world leading expert in the area of resilience, emphasises the importance of developing resilience in youth to aid in future outcomes in terms of well-being and life satisfaction. Indeed, Dr Seligman has been instrumental in helping schools create a learning environment and culture that thrives on the principles of resilience. Geelong Grammar in Melbourne is a successful case study of note in this regard.

By incorporating such a strengths based model of building resilience, it is noted that the mental health training is adopting a dual approach in addressing mental health issues in youth: first, by identifying and addressing those youth with mental health issues that need extra support and guidance to address the issues that they are facing; and second, developing resilience and well-being which has been shown to have positive outcomes in terms of life satisfaction, overall positivity, and happiness.

Overall, it seems that addressing mental health issues and resilience in schools is a positive step forward in not only addressing current mental health issues in schools, but also creating a future framework where peers are building on strengths to become more resilient. Together, it is considered that these are likely to create more positive outcomes for our youth of today.

Is Black & White Thinking Undermining Your Emotional Resilience?

5th March 2012

Part 1 of our Nine Errors in Thinking Blog Series

Today, we look at 1 of the 9 errors in thinking that can take hold when our fear and sense of uncertainty is heightened, as well as the emotionally resilient reframe of each of these thought patterns.

These points come from the well-respected, psychologist’s reference book Beating the Blues, by Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball.

Error in Thinking 1: Black and White Thinking

This style of thinking views experiences as one extreme or another, with no middle ground.  People are judged in a ’black and white’ way with no shades of grey.  Events are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and people are either ‘terrific’ or ‘terrible’ or ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Emotionally Resilient Reframe:

  1. Practice noticing when you have a strong ‘good / bad’ or ‘right/ wrong’ response to a person or incident.
  2. Choose to not attach a judgement to the situation and consider what may be a middle path of acceptance – not agreeing or disagreeing, simply observing that you have had a response and can choose to let it pass.

Read more about the 9 Errors in Thinking

 

Want to know more?

For more information or to discuss your organisation’s needs, call us on 02 8243 1500 or email us on info@cfch.com.au

Controversial New Code on Workplace Bullying - Good or Bad for Business?

6th February 2012

We have been hearing a lot lately about the Code of Practice for Workplace Bullying [“The Code”]. The Life Matters program recently discussed The Code and provided some interesting perspectives from different stakeholders.

According to The Code, workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety”. The costs of bullying have been clearly understood in terms of individual morale, workplace culture, productivity, and the potential for litigation. The Code also clearly describes what is not considered to be workplace bullying, such as reasonable management action relating to performance, rostering, recruitment and selection, and organisational change processes.

It is considered that each individual deserves to work in an environment that is free from bullying and harassment. This notion was largely consistent with speakers from the Life Matters program. In particular, it is acknowledged that there have been some tragic cases of the consequences of bullying by not adequately dealing with the situation, as is the case with Brodie Panlock in Victoria. In such cases, it is hoped that The Code will provide an avenue for employees to access support in areas where this has not been traditionally possible.

Other implications for The Code for employers relate to reviewing and updating existing policies, procedures, risks, and complaints processes, and increasing awareness and understanding of workplace bullying for all employees. This was also acknowledged in the Life Matters program and there was some discussion around the relative time and financial cost to the employer for this occurring. Whilst there is an initial cost for these processes to be established, workplaces, even small business, are in a better position to be able to effectively manage their team and respond to any potential issues that may emerge. In the case of vexatious complainants, effective OH&S management systems provide a transparent avenue for these complaints to be addressed before they have the potential to explode.

Another way to consider the implications of The Code is in terms of high performing teams and organisations. Research into effective workplace cultures shows that having a workplace with a supportive manager who actively listens to their staff and constructively responds to the needs of their employees builds strong morale. Together, supportive leadership and positive employee morale has been shown to have a significant and positive impact on the workplace culture and in turn the overall performance of an organisation. By taking a positive psychology approach to building a team with strong and positive workplace culture, many of the issues relating to workplace bullying can be ameliorated.

Overall, by having three pillars operating in concert, namely (1) effective OH&S processes managed by (2) supportive leaders, whereby this helps foster (3) an effective team culture that is motivated toward working together to meet organisational goals. In such workplaces, the likelihood of bullying is not tolerated.

Want to know more about managing bullying in your workplace? Email us at info@cfch.com.au or call us on 02 8243 1500

Combat Workplace Bullying by Building Emotional Resilience

30th November 2011

Combat Workplace Bullying by Building Emotional Resilience

A national push is underway to replicate the Victorian legislation known as Brodie’s law, which provides up to 10 years jail time for serious bullying offences. There is no doubt that workplace bullying can have long reaching and destructive consequences and is a very important issue that must be seriously addressed. However the introduction of such legislation may see an increase in claims for bullying and harassment that may really be reflective of workplace tension or conflict.

In this context, it is worth considering the issue of emotional resilience on perception of events. Emotional resilience is essentially our ability to ‘’bounce back’’ from stressful, traumatic and tragic events. Emotional Resilience is a skill anyone can develop and shapes an individual’s perceptions and responses to adverse events.

An emotionally resilient person has developed effective coping strategies and will likely perceive conflict in a less personal way. This perception usually results in a more ‘’adaptive’’ and less emotional response that is fuelled by fact, not feelings. Overly emotional (or hypersensitive) reactions have increased nearly 20% within the general population and often lead to increased conflict and distress in the workplace.

Incorporating Emotional Resilience into a workplace’s early intervention, bullying prevention strategy can significantly improve workplace culture and eventual outcomes.

Want to know more about improving emotional resilience in your workplace? Email us at info@cfch.com.au or call us on 02 8243 1500  

Practical Tips to Build and Maintain Emotional Resilience at Work

5th September 2011

Emotional resilience refers to our ability to 'bounce back' from challenging or difficult situations. It is our ability to respond to demanding situations with a level of persistence and emotional control.

Recent research highlights that due to today's complex and fast paced working environment, we tend to be less emotionally resilient than perhaps we were fifty years ago. As such, there is a need for us to implement simple yet effective strategies on a daily basis in order to ensure we remain resilient.

1. Be Optimistic

Did you know that people who are more optimistic in their thinking tend to have better physical and emotional health outcomes that those who are pessimistic in their thinking? We know that the quality of our thinking impacts directly on how we feel, the goals we set for ourselves and our relationships with others. Be mindful of negative thinking patterns and try and practice thinking realistically and more positively. If your notice yourself slipping in to negative thinking, ask yourself 'what am I gaining by thinking this way?", 'what is the worst thing that can happen in this situation?', 'is this likely to happen?", and 'is there another way to look at the situation?".

2. Live in the Moment

Did you know that we spend most of our time either thinking about the future or the past? By doing this, we can end up worrying about an event that may never happen or ruminating about a past event that we cannot change. By focussing our thoughts and energy on the present activity, we are able to feel a sense of calm and focus on whatever we are doing.

3. Don't Stress

Did you know that in today's modern workplaces we tend to over use our 'stress response'., leaving us feeling as if we are constantly running on adrenalin? The 'fight or flight response' was only ever designed to be used for emergencies only however nowadays, we are using it for situations which would not be defined as an emergency. Try saving the 'fight or flight' response for situations in which you need some adrenalin such as undertaking a presentation or meeting an urgent deadline.

4. Get Moving

When our 'fight or flight' reactions don't get an outlet, one can have a build up of emotional reactions that can feel like a pressure cooker about to explode. In our normal often sedentary working day, it is also important to ensure you are getting enough movement out of your day. Exercising three times a week for about 45 minutes is a great way of releasing emotional reactions, however it is also important to ensure you are simply moving around enough during the working day. Try taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking over to see a colleague instead of emailing or phoning or parking or getting off public transport a little earlier so that you can walk further to work.

5. Drink Water

Did you know that when we become thirsty, our body is already experiencing signs of dehydration and is under stress? By keeping a water bottle visible on our desk, we can ensure that we are drinking 2 litres of water a day to keep our body topped up. Our bodies easily lose water through our environment, such as working in air conditioning or heating and also by substances that we ingest such as caffeine and alcohol.

6. Relax

Did you know that undertaking relaxation exercises such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing for twenty minutes, if done properly is equivalent to having a few hours sleep? Making time to practice such exercises on a daily basis even if only for ten minutes, can ensure you feel energised to tackle the next challenge. Try practicing deep breathing as you are travelling to or from work, sitting at your desk or whilst having a quick break. Simply breath in through your nose for three seconds and out through your nose for three seconds. As you breathe out, say the work 'relax' to yourself and allow your body to slow down.

By implementing and committing to a couple of these strategies, you will find