The X-Factor in wellbeing and
                                          performance
Derek Mowbray
derek.mowbray@mas.org.uk...
of people working but under-performing whilst feeling unwell due to ill health, psychological
distress or threats to wellb...
Much of the advice offered in these reviews can be interpreted within the standard therapeutic
framework of the ABC model ...
Rules for recruitment, jobs, citizenship, life balance that promote commitment and trust.
         Behaviours that promote...
Step 1 – is working with the top team of managers and non-Executive Directors. At this level the
focus is on reviewing and...
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The X Factor In Wellbeing And Performance

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Introducing the XABC model of wellbeing and performance

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The X Factor In Wellbeing And Performance

  1. 1. The X-Factor in wellbeing and performance Derek Mowbray derek.mowbray@mas.org.uk www.mas.org.uk www.orghealth.co.uk March 2010 Introduction People who feel well perform better than people who feel ill. This arises because individuals who feel well can look outside of themselves and focus on their work, whilst those who feel unwell tend to focus more on the sensations within themselves of feeling unwell - a form of protection. The individual perception of wellness is idiosyncratic. People with a diagnosable illness may feel well, whilst someone with no recognisable illness may feel unwell. The idea of wellbeing and wellness embraces sensations of anxiety, depression and fear, which, at their lowest intensity, may not register as being externally identifiable. It’s not uncommon for people feeling depressed to appear to be well and difficult to diagnose. Nevertheless people with low intensity unwellness tend to focus their attention on themselves, limiting their capacity to focus on activities outside of themselves. The extent to which individuals can focus on work whilst feeling unwell is largely due to their personal level of resilience and tolerance. This paper focuses on psychological distress arising in work however caused with origins at home or at work, including distress caused by physical ill health. Diverting attention and concentration away from the outside world towards internal sensations can also come about because of boredom, mismatch of skills, knowledge and experience needed to complete tasks, as well as the activities of others that may not accord with internal beliefs and values of the individual affected, such as bullying, harassment, shouting and rudeness. The beliefs and values of the individual are a central element of the Psychological Contract that is the unwritten and silent agreement between the employee and the employing organisation and its controllers based on a personal sense of fairness. The sense of fairness is based on personal beliefs and values, and is, also, idiosyncratic. One person can be resilient to and tolerate rudeness in others because rudeness doesn’t feature as a challenge to their personal beliefs and values, whilst to others rudeness may be a challenge to a core belief on the grounds that rudeness masks a whole range of other unacceptable forms of behaviour that combine together to create an adverse event – an activating event that any individual might trigger for any reason. Individual response to events, such as rudeness and diagnosable illness, is key to the sense of personal wellbeing and presents a major challenge to organisations that wish to eliminate the high costs attributable to sickness absence, staff turnover and presenteeism (the phenomenon 1|Page
  2. 2. of people working but under-performing whilst feeling unwell due to ill health, psychological distress or threats to wellbeing, such as fear). The relationship between wellbeing and performance is on the ability of individuals to apply their skills, knowledge and experience to a task in a way that absorbs their concentration and energy. If concentration is interrupted or personal energy is directed towards self preservation then performance falls off. This is the basis for much of presenteeism, the total costs of which are about 58% of all costs attributable to staff sickness absence, turnover and presenteeism combined. Presenteeism is a massive challenge to all organisations. For many managers and employees presenteeism occurs as a step towards sickness absence which may be a step towards turnover, where the reason for turnover is disengagement with the current employer, and engagement with an alternative or no employer. Presenteeism and dis-engagement are linked. Engagement has been described as ‘a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption’. Vigour is characterised by ‘high levels of energy and mental resilience whilst working, and willingness to invest effort in one’s work, and persistence in the face of difficulties’. Dedication refers ‘to be strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge’. Absorption is characterised by being ‘fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work, whereby time passes quickly and one has difficulties with detaching oneself from work’. Dis-engagement, therefore, is the opposite of engagement and is the principal feature of presenteeism where people come to work but under-perform because they cannot concentrate on their work effectively, and are dis-engaged with their work and/or their organisation. The standard solutions There has been a spate of advice since early 2008 arising from a significant number of reviews relating to health and wellbeing. Amongst them are: Mental Health and Work – March 2008. Royal College of Psychiatrists. ‘Going the extra mile’ July 2008. Institute for Employment Studies. Staff Engagement in the NHS. Briefing no. 50 November, 2008. NHS Employers. Improving health and work: changing lives. November 2008. DoH/DWP Improving working lives in the NHS. July 2009. DoH. NHS Health and Wellbeing Review – Interim Report. August 2009 NHS Mutual. Engaging staff and aligning incentives to achieve higher levels of performance. 2009. The Nuffield Trust Psychological Health and Wellbeing: a new ethos for mental health. November 2009. BPS. NHS Health and Wellbeing. Final Report. November 2009. Promoting Mental Health through productive and healthy working conditions. November 2009. NICE. New Horizons in Mental Health. November 2009. DoH 2|Page
  3. 3. Much of the advice offered in these reviews can be interpreted within the standard therapeutic framework of the ABC model where A is the activating event that causes ill health and/or psychological distress, B is the belief, values and physiology that influence individual response to the adverse event and C is the consequential behaviour and outcome that arises from the individual response. The therapeutic intervention is often to support the individual at B by either applying psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or bio-medical interventions. The role of Occupational Health Services is frequently advocated in this context as are the services of Employee Assistance Programmes, General Practitioners and Counsellors. The interventions are designed to modify the individual response to the events so that the C – consequence –is that the individual remains in work or returns to work. However, this approach does little to address the massive challenge of presenteeism. The HSE/CIPD report on ‘Manager Competencies for preventing and reducing stress at work’ in 2008 and The MacLeod Review – ‘Engaging for Success – enhancing performance through employee engagement’ 2009 – come closer to addressing the fundamental issues relating to the causes of psychological distress, presenteeism and under performance at work. The MacLeod Review focuses on the importance of engagement in reducing costs attributable to sickness absence and staff turnover, whilst the HSE/CIPD research emphasises the behaviours of managers as moderators of sickness absence and staff turnover. The X-Factor in wellbeing and performance In their report ‘The Wellness Imperative: Creating more Effective Organisations’ (2010) the World Economic Forum identifies the importance of embedding wellness strategies into organisation strategies so that they become part of the bloodstream of daily organisational life. The report shows the unambiguous link between wellness and productivity and performance. This supports the approach set out in ‘Building Resilience – An Organisational Cultural Approach to Mental Health and Well-Being at Work: A Primary Prevention Programme’ by Derek Mowbray (2008) that promotes the building and sustaining of a Positive Work Culture as part of the organisational strategy for all organisations to improve performance and eliminate the costs attributable to sickness absence, staff turnover and presenteeism. The key element is a focus on the cultural foundations and context within which people work. A Positive Work Culture provides the context that promotes commitment, trust and engagement between employees and their employing organisation. As everyone acts according to the meaning of the situation they find themselves, a Positive Work Culture provides the meaning most closely allied to commitment, trust and engagement, and this stimulates the behaviours that actively promote the characteristics of commitment and trust. These characteristics include: Purpose that is clear, unambiguous and succinct. Architecture that engages people in decision making about themselves. 3|Page
  4. 4. Rules for recruitment, jobs, citizenship, life balance that promote commitment and trust. Behaviours that promote encouragement, discretion, challenge, team working, support and routine appraisal leading to commitment and trust. The approach of building and sustaining a Positive Work Culture has a direct influence on how individuals respond to activating events. If a cultural context has wellbeing and performance embedded as part of the organisational strategy there is less risk of activating adverse events occurring. Should such events occur, the individual response will be proportionate to the culture that promotes commitment and trust. This furthers the opportunity for stronger engagement between employees and their The X-Factor in wellbeing and performance MAS employing organisations. This is described as the XABC formula. X = conteXt The XABC formula This places an emphasis on building and sustaining a Positive Work Culture A = activating event based on wellbeing and performance (within the cultural context of the organisation) principles, using commitment, trust B = thoughts, emotions and behaviours and engagement behaviours. X is the (reaction to activating event) context within which managers are C = consequential outcome expected to behave and is the cultural (the manifested response to an event) foundations for the organisation as a whole. A is the activating adverse event and will be influenced in its type and severity by X; B is the thoughts, emotions, values and behaviours that influence the reaction to the adverse event and which is influenced by X, and C is the consequential behaviour and outcome from the reaction to the event Without the X-Factor in wellbeing and performance, all organisations will continue to employ people who fall back on their own thoughts, emotions, beliefs and behaviours, encumbered by, at best, a neutral, and at worst, a hostile, cultural context, to react to activating adverse events. This is effectively allowing chaotic responses to take place, all of which will impair wellbeing and performance amongst managers and staff – a feature of much of organisational life in the UK today. A partial antidote to this is building and sustaining organisational and personal resilience (www.orghealth.co.uk). A full antidote is to incorporate the X-Factor into organisational strategy. Implementing change The implementation process is based on the identification of the whole organisation and its constituent organisations. Each organisation, whether large or small, needs to build its own cultural context which is allied closely to that of the hosting organisation. Managers of the constituent organisations need to be identified and developed in the behaviours that promote commitment and trust. The strategy of change that drives a change in culture is the strategy of conviction. This relies on convincing managers and employees of the benefits of a Positive Work Culture and the relative ease with which such a Culture can be built and sustained. A Wellbeing and Performance Agenda can be agreed that incorporates: 4|Page
  5. 5. Step 1 – is working with the top team of managers and non-Executive Directors. At this level the focus is on reviewing and revising, as required, the purpose, architecture, rules and behaviour expectations that form the cultural foundations for the organisation as a whole. This is part of the organisational strategy, and will involve the identification of benefits to be accrued from a Positive Work Culture. Step 2 – is a survey of all managers and employees using the Quality of Working Life Assessment (www.qowl.co.uk) to identify ‘hot spots’ and provide a benchmark against which changes are measured. Step 3 – is the preparation of a Manager’s Code (www.mas.org.uk) that sets out the behaviours of managers in a) managing the organisation b) managing people and c) managing the business or service. Step 4 – is raising awareness of all managers and staff to the benefits and processes involved in building and sustaining a Positive Work Culture and the adoption of a Manager’s Code. Step 5 – management development of all leaders, managers and aspiring managers in all aspects of a Positive Work Culture. Step 6 – the provision of cognitive coaching for managers to help them re-align their thinking and behaviour with the requirements of a Positive Work Culture based on wellbeing and performance. Conclusion The relationship between wellbeing and performance is well established but inadequately implemented in organisations. Consequently many organisations under-perform because they fail to focus on eliminating the level of presenteeism that exists. Instead, most organisations provide services in support of the ABC model of care, that helps individuals to respond to adverse activating events by offering personal therapy, coping strategies, and other interventions to keep people at work, or help them to return to work. A more effective approach to the elimination of presenteeism is to be found in the XABC formula. This formula places an emphasis on building and sustaining a Positive Work Culture that will prevent presenteeism from being a drain on resources, and turn those who contribute to presenteeism into high performing and engaged employees. The application of the XABC formula to organisation strategy elevates the significance of wellbeing and its impact on performance, leading organisational success. For more information on building and sustaining a Positive Work Culture, and on the application of the XABC formula please contact barbara.leigh@mas.org.uk For more information on resilience training please see www.orghealth.co.uk 20th March, 2010 5|Page

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