How to improve culture by changing attitudes


Wellbeing and performance at work

Ancient philosophers called it a gift to the mind, and it’s as helpful today as it was three thousand years ago. This gift, in essence, is a change of attitude that tilts towards kindness. Early scholars of the human condition might have lived in a different time and place but, just like us, they struggled with the daily irritations of annoying workmates and nosey neighbours.

They didn’t have the internet, KPIs or contract incentives to deal with, but you can bet that they squabbled over resources, and teased and patronised each other. And no doubt they even harboured desperate thoughts in difficult times. After all, like us, they were only human.

So the wisest amongst them took a positive approach and set out some principles on how to work well, build lasting relationships, and live happy and contented lives. Among these principles were a few on the benefits of attitudinal change.

Then and now

Ancient and contemporary scientists alike have found associations between attitude, behaviour and flourishing mental health. Over the last decade neuroscientific research has produced a growing body of evidence on practical ways to achieve changes in all three.

But you don’t need to read ancient texts or study neuroscience to experience their collective wisdom. Just try these few gems of attitudinal change in combination with some form of regular reflective practice, such as mindfulness and/or coaching, to experience their positive effect.

1. Be happy for those who succeed: Out with the tall poppy syndrome! Be honest, has it ever delivered anything more than corrosive resentment? Try flipping it and celebrating your colleagues’ successes. You may not have contributed to that specific piece of work but you can share in their happiness – it’s freely available.

2. Support and encourage those who put in the effort: They may be inexperienced, but giving new team members the benefit of your knowledge and experience when they need it will build trust and deliver results. When you are friendly and helpful to others you can’t help but feel good yourself, another useful reason to “fake it till you make it”.

3. Show compassion to those who try but continue to fail: It’s easy to talk behind Sam’s back and call her names, patronise or isolate her. It takes a little more courage and compassion to show her some kindness and explore what’s holding her back. It could be as simple as finding a role that plays to her strengths.

4. Keep your (emotional) distance from those who do bad things: No matter what your philosophy on life, you have to admit that bad stuff happens in this world. And it also happens at work. What you’ve witnessed might be dishonest, misguided or misogynist but you can’t un-see it. Your duty of care to the wider team may feel confusing in challenging times but by remaining calm, with the support of wise counsel, you can think clearly and act wisely.

Brain chemicals and kindness

Mental health professionals tell us that practising kindness toward ourselves and others makes us happier, calmer and more resilient. It’s a gift that keeps giving. Acts of kindness support and are supported by the healthy production of brain chemicals such as:

  • oxytocin, which helps us trust and form social bonds that contribute to psychological safety
  • dopamine, which has been called the “helper’s high” because it sparks feelings of euphoria
  • serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, and
  • endorphins that contribute to stress reduction and emotional wellbeing.
Psychological Safety

If you’re still not convinced that kindness and compassion are relevant to the contemporary workplace, let’s talk about cold hard cash.

Research undertaken for the Australian Government in 2016 by the University of South Australia, estimated that the cost to Australian employers of a low climate of psychological safety to be $6 billion per annum. Need something even sharper and more relevant to your workplace? Think about what it would cost you in budget and productivity terms if affected staff took “43 per cent more sick days per month and had a 72 per cent higher performance loss at work”. These are big numbers and well worth the effort required to change them.

Bring these insights together with strengths-based coaching

And here we are at the unmistakable conclusion that wellness and performance are inextricably linked.
Great leaders have confidence, insight, content knowledge, resilience and self-regulation to name but a few sparkling qualities. But these leaders don’t grow on the vine. Their strengths are generally developed over time through experience, study and self-reflection. And, if they are lucky, they have some help along the way.

In strengths-based coaching, we not only identify our particular emotional and relational strengths, we want to know how to put these strengths to work!

And by clarifying our thinking and execution strengths, we fire up about how, and how well, we are prepared to take meaningful action. It’s the potential interplay between your particular strengths and capabilities that informs the questions, sparks the insight, and generates action.

Put your strengths to work

Remember that strengths are not necessarily well-developed capabilities. Afterall, most of us are pretty familiar with them and have worked hard to develop them. Strengths are your superpowers, and working with them is less of a slog because they energise you; they bring you into focus and engagement at work so that what you do, and how you do it, turns out to be highly satisfying and productive. Client organisations report that seven in ten employees are more engaged when their manager focuses on their strengths.

Ancient scholars, neuropsychologists and WHS experts agree: what you see (think, feel, say and do) is what you get.

The scientific method (then and now) confirms that by changing our attitude to the people around us we can:

  • change the culture of our surroundings
  • clear away our nagging judgement of others
  • quieten the internalised voice that questions our own capability, and
  • deliver great results at work.
Cultivating many leaders

Let’s agree that there is more than one great leader looking for an opportunity to emerge from your organisation. Is the team culture where you want it to be or is it holding them back? For instance:

  • Is the tall poppy syndrome alive and well?
  • Are team members generally friendly and supportive of each other?
  • Are people in roles that optimise and capitalise on their strengths?
  • Are they collaborating on projects and achieving results?
  • What are your absenteeism rates and does this tell you anything about psychological safety?

By investing in their growth through coaching, you send a powerful message about the potential for career advancement in your organisation. Who knows where it might lead – colleagues might even decide to invest in each others’ success!

Now there’s a team spirit to aspire to.

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