Wellbeing Spaghetti and Other Tales From The MADWorld Summit, 2021

Mad World-166

MadWorld is always one of my favourite annual conferences. It’s a gathering of leading thinkers and practitioners in the mental health and wellbeing space and I’m very fortunate to sit on their UK Advisory Board.  

This year felt a little different; as we listened, shared and engaged in conversations about what it means to lead a high-performance organisation, in the post-Covid era. It felt, as if, there was a greater sense of urgency. The mental health and wellbeing of ourselves, our colleagues, friends and family, remains in sharp focus as the full impact of the pandemic emerges and we bear witness to human trauma on a global scale. Many of us, still facing the uncertainty of job loss, long term illness and bereavement.  

Burnout is a very real execution risk for organisations as they look to restructure, re-organise and re-imagine how work – can work for everyone!  

This year, I led a round table discussion – the why and how of building emotional intelligence into hybrid working. A big thank you to my co-chair, Marie Helson, Director of People at Hello Fresh. Organised over two x 45-minute sessions, we were joined by wellbeing practitioners from; the Police, the NHS, law firms, FM, retail and the charity sector. These are just some of the highlights from a very rich discussion. 

In the round

Some parts of the NHS are introducing unmanned, listening booths, in order to encourage staff to speak up and share difficult emotions and experiences, confidentially and without judgement. (They look a bit like photo booths). 

When working from home, our ability to set and maintain boundaries is critical to maintaining good mental health; this is particularly relevant now, as published last week, overtime hours are at an all-time high.  

Many in our workforce are experiencing a deep sense of guilt; a feeling that “other people have had it far worse than me”. This may be stopping people from sharing their personal stories of trauma and loss. We must encourage people to speak up. Negative thoughts and emotions, can hold us back, we feel stuck in the past.  

Resist the temptation to brush difficult emotions under the carpet; grief, anger, nostalgia, guilt; must be acknowledged in order that we can move forward together.  

We laughed out loud, when someone said; “wellbeing hour, otherwise known as lunch time is back!” It’s got to be a good thing that employers are encouraging people to take a full hour at lunchtime, to eat, exercise and if possible, get outside. 

MadWorld is always an inspiring and uplifting event and this year, the buzz of human connection and strong sense of community was palpable.  However, I am left with questions. One that came to mind during our round table discussion; “at what point did we stop trusting our intuition, in relation to our mental health and why are we now “seeking permission” from our employers to lead healthier, happier, more balanced lives?  

The paternalistic organisation is either dead or dying, some would argue the organisation never loved us. We have an opportunity now, to re-contract with our employers. It’s imperative that we start tuning in to our inner voice because we intuitively know, what we need to do, to be healthy – mind, body and spirit. We must reconnect with self, acknowledging that we are not robots, we have finite energy and we must take time away from work, to recharge and replenish that energy.  

My biggest fear; organisations that cannot let go of the past, a past built around hierarchies, bureaucracy and top-down mandates; will experience one or both of the following outcomes – their talent will leave them and or employees will work to rule. 

We have a unique opportunity afforded us by the pandemic, to build fully inclusive, healthy human systems at work. To do this, organisations must acknowledge that every employee is unique, with a passion to learn, create and to participate in work, that is both meaningful to them and that contributes to society and the planet. We know that humans are motivated by purpose, mastery and autonomy – Dan Pink, Drive. Let’s design a future, where every single person has access to opportunity and to contribute their unique talents. 

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For me; Aviva’s Debbie Bullock, UK Wellbeing Lead, nailed it when she called for “equality across different ways of working and creating jobs/ roles that are good for humans”. I couldn’t agree more. Whilst, I didn’t have the opportunity to visit every talk, workshop and briefing, below represents a snapshot from my day at MadWorld, enjoy! 

Top 10 take-aways; 

  1. Laughter is the best medicine. Speaking about toxic workplace culture turnaround. Nick Tzitzon, Chief Strategy Officer at ServiceNow summed up a sustainable healthy culture, as follows; 1. keep it real, every employee has a voice, listen and then act 2. let your people dream big 3. LOL – let people laugh, it’s a form of vulnerability, esp. if you can learn to laugh at yourself. 
  2. Prevention’s better than cure. Jilly Calder, VP HR Uk and Europe, is taking a prevention and personalise approach to mental health and wellbeing, at Atkins. A core focus on social wellbeing, means creating a sense of belonging, inclusion, feeling safe and social stability. Did you know that loneliness and social isolation create a significant increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke? 
  3. Be insight-led. For Andy Holmes, Global Head of Wellbeing at Reckitt, they’re led by the science of human performance. Wellbeing increases our capacity, that’s it. There’s even science behind (best use of) idle time too. Thank you for your wellbeing spaghetti metaphor – far too many organisations are still approaching mental health and wellbeing without much thought or data, they’re literally throwing stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks.  
  4. Make time to connect. Humans simply want to be appreciated and valued this unlocks mental energy. @andy holmes, reckitt 
  5. The why of work. “Write your “to-be” list rather than your “to-do” list”. Humans thrive when our work is meaningful and purposeful. @andy holmes, reckitt 
  6. I’m fine, thank you. Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy. Importantly, the people you talk to don’t have to be in your immediate team. 
  7. Meetings re-imagined. Have you heard about flo-state meetings = high skill + high challenge. Meetings can be a huge drain on our time at work and create unnecessary stress. I love the idea of keeping meetings to small groups of highly engaged individuals who are best placed to solve the problem at hand. @andy holmes, reckitt 
  8. Psychological safety. Create safe spaces where employees can share and ask for help, without fear of reprisal or judgement. Psychological safety is the founding stone of creating healthy human systems at work. The primary custodians of psychological safety are managers. Psychological safety must be fostered and measured at the team level first. As such, why not make psychological safety a primary measure of manager capability. 
  9. Lean into emotional intelligence. Managing/ leading hybrid teams means learning a new competency, where human skills are front and centre. @marie helson, Hello Fresh 
  10. We could have done this on Zoom. We all need to become more intentional about spending time together, in person, that means a re-think of office design and creating employee experiences that entice and delight. How about intelligent buildings that know, as soon as you enter, where you’re going to do your best work.  

The future of work is exciting. Let’s make sure human health and wellbeing guides our org design, our real estate choices, our tech stack and our culture. 

What did you learn at this year’s MadWorld Summit? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences about mental health and wellbeing at your place of work. 

About the author

Catherine de la Poer is founder at halcyon, she is a coach and digital anthropologist, she works with clients to build healthy human systems at work. 




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