Are you a John or a Jessy in your workplace? Wellbeing and organisational culture
Good news! This blog is not an in depth journey through academic theories on psychological risk, psychological support and organisational culture. Instead, let me tell you the story of John and Jessy to help highlight and personify these pertinent organizational issues.
The following story is based on true events.
John works in social care. He has been experiencing signs of burnout for a while, but his manager does not notice this. Instead, more work is piled on him. He has a nervous breakdown and is forced to stay off work on long term sick leave. On his return, no action is taken regarding his excessive workload. Instead, because other colleagues are away on holiday and sick leave, the pressure on him increases even more. His workplace does not have a culture where it is easy to talk about these issues. He tries to convey his struggles to his manager, but because the business is busy nothing happens.
Eventually, John has another nervous breakdown, resulting in another long term sick absence.
He contacts his union for support. He is then made aware that there is a legal duty of care that his employers have towards him, but this has been neglected for quite some time. The unions help him to legally sue his employers for neglect of duty of care and he wins a hefty sum in compensation.
Case study: John Walker v Northumberland County Council (1996):
In April 1996 John Walker, a senior social worker for Northumberland County Council, accepted £175,000 in compensation. This was for the two nervous breakdowns he suffered as a result of the stress of an impossible workload. The High Court ruled in November that:
- The stress or psychological risk was foreseeable because it was caused by work and the employers were aware of the consequential risks to his health
- The stress was preventable because effective action to alter the work and reduce the workload could have been taken
- The employer had a duty to provide his employee with a reasonable safe system of work.
Since then, there have been many other similar cases.
Jessy works for a large marketing firm. Her colleague Mateo is ill and has not been at work for 8 weeks. Jessy has to take on his workload, not knowing when her colleague may return. The first month is okay, but now after 8 weeks Jessy is feeling the strain. Her manager, Jeremiah, notices she has been looking weary and withdrawn for the last few weeks. Jeremiah has had training in managing psychological risk and stress in organizations, so is able to spot the signs at an early stage. He calls her in for a private meeting. He talks to her in a caring and compassionate manner, so she is able to open up and share that she is struggling with the additional workload. In addition, she is also caring for her elderly mother. The stress has built up so she is not sleeping well.
Jeremiah refers to his training guidance and carries out a formal stress risk assessment. Together they come up with a plan of reasonable adjustments that will help Jessy to maintain her usual efficient standard of work.
Jeremiah delegates some of Jessy’s work to other team members. He also suggests flexible working hours, including 2 days working from home, so Jessy can juggle work and care of her mother. He now knows Mateo is going to be ill for quite some time, so discusses the option of hiring a temp with his senior manager until the situation is resolved.
In the next team meeting, he encourages his team to be open about any issues of psychological risk, so he can address these early and avoid serious long term consequences. He shares his own experience of having anxiety as a teenager.
They discuss how the team can support each other and invites the team to draw up a strategy for this – they explore options such as a buddy system, regular breaks, walking meetings, meeting free Wednesday afternoons and so on. One team member says that mindfulness helps him and he volunteers to run a few sessions during lunch time. They agree to keep this as a permanent agenda item for future team meetings.
After the ideas are implemented, the result is that the workers are happy and look forward to coming to work. They feel cared for, valued and included. Their senior manager says they are creative, efficient and willing to go that extra mile to demonstrate loyalty to their company.
At work, are you a John or a Jessy? Do you have an open, safe culture at work where you can talk about psychological risk issues freely?
Does your organisation value stress risk assessments and wellbeing as core assets of your organisation?
Creating a workplace where there is an emotional connection between employees and their leaders is important for productivity. Hopefully you will agree that if workers feel safe and cared for in their surroundings, they are more likely to be more innovative, take risks and admit to problems and mistakes.
In summary, in an organization with positive organizational culture:
- Difficult situations at work are addressed effectively.
- There is a sense of community at work.
- Employees and management trust one another.
- Workplace is inclusive of persons with diverse backgrounds and points of view.
- Employees feel pride and commitment to their organization.
Please get in touch with your thoughts and comments. We look forward to hearing from you.
About Hansa Pankhania
Hansa is an acclaimed author and a renowned coach and speaker on wellbeing, stress reduction and resilience. She is an expert in managerial and corporate wellbeing and has provided coaching and consultancy services to over 300 companies. Hansa’s passion is to help companies save money lost through stressful situations and develop mindful, thriving workplace cultures. She has published seven books including a series on ‘Stress to Success’, as well as books for children.
Contact us at +44(0)7888747438