What adult biking lessons taught me about successful sustainability policy

Having recently moved to Brussels, it was about time I built up my confidence of cycling. By chance, I found a bike shop that runs adult cycling lessons. So figuring I would probably put it off otherwise, I signed myself up during the summer and let me future-self worry about the logistics.

This weekend was the first class of four. It was a pleasant experience with the weather holding out (particularly considering it’s October in Brussels!). But as a policy geek, I found the experience fascinating as much as from my observations as the physical task of rolling down a slight incline without touching the floor.

Perhaps it was because the practice session was right in front of the European Parliament, however I could not help but make observations around what adult biking lessons meant from a wider policy perspective. (It was either that or I have worked in policy for too long and have lost the ability to socialise with normal human beings).

My first observation was the group. It was notable that our session was made up with a high majority of woman, many of which came from ethnic minority backgrounds. Of those, many had attested to never having ridden a bike before, or feeling embarrassed and discouraged from doing so. One woman mentioned that you would never see female cyclists in her hometown in France, meaning she never got into the habit. I wouldn’t be surprised if street harassment or catcalling played a part in that either.

Others highlighted that they had been looking for adult biking lessons for years – one person I even overheard attesting they had waited over seven years looking for a course. It was incredible to think that a lack of lessons had been holding these people back from something that many of my friends use as their day-to-day means of transport.

So what does this have to do with policy? Well firstly, it is incredible how a lack of adult cycling classes are currently holding our society back. The class I had signed up to was completely oversubscribed and was only running again in March. In other words, there was incredible demand, but nowhere near enough supply. The price I paid at 130 euros for four lessons was clearly very accessible, but my presumption was that this is not the most profitable for the bike shop.

You rarely see policy opportunities that are home-runs, though this is as close to one I have come across – a subsidisation of adult biking classes would lead to a greater number of cyclists, both combating climate change by changing consumer behaviour and Brussels’ horrendous traffic in one fell swoop. Better yet, these classes were being strongly attended by women and ethnic minorities, meaning it is genuinely supporting those who statistically tend to get left behind from policy actions.

Another observation was around the amount of psychological fear that individuals had to cross. Many of these individuals had traumatic experiences with bikes. This included examples of others telling them to jump on and it’ll be as easy as, well, riding a bike. The reality was usually a failure, as many of us forget the initial practice of learning the basics. Instead, we were fortunate to get proper practice by doing small exercises with support from instructors to build confidence.

From a policy perspective, we need people to feel secure in trying new things or using new technology. This needs proper guidance and support; moreover this does not magically happen unless we devote time and energy to do so. For those of us who already understand how something works, we often forget the difficulties of learning a new process – be it riding a bike or using technology. So when creating our policies, we need to dedicate the time to explain them and build confidence on the new tools we want people to use.

To zoom out even further, the experience highlighted the disconnect of policymaking at a supranational level compared to what we are seeing with individuals on the ground. I say this as someone who certainly supports the new EU policy measures announced this summer, including the European Green Deal which aims for Climate Neutrality by 2050.

Nonetheless, there is clearly more work to be done to link up long-term vision with what is happening on the ground – we need to better understand the way people act and how we can support them to be more comfortable around sustainability. Local action is just as important as the EU-supranational level, so we must not lose sight of making our policy have a genuine effect on the ground.

So I am glad I signed up for these cycling classes. Aside from learning that I don’t need too much more practice, it also gave a genuine insight of how we can tailor policy to be effective to real people on the ground. Now all I need to do is rest my legs for next week’s class.

Doing good deeds without expecting rewards will give you better outcomes.

I want to share a story about a good deed I did about four years ago. After a conference abroad, someone I had met was stranded in a bus stop. They needed 20 euros to get home, otherwise they would miss their connections, and ultimately not be able to get home when they lived thousands of miles away. Back then 20 euros was worth more to me than it is now, and yet it was still little compared to the complications of being stranded thousands of miles from home!

I lent the 20 euros, and quickly forgot about it. the person tried to send it back to me but because of bank issues we never fully organised the transfer of it back. I wasn’t honestly too bothered.

Fast forward to about a week ago, this person messaged me about this money completely out of the blue. Their financial situation had improved and they wanted to pay their dues. After about 10 rounds of figuring out how Western Union worked, this person ended up sending me double, i.e. 40 euros, which I collected on Tuesday.

I actually asked this person what made them send the money to me four years later, and they said they had noted it down they owed me all this time. I just find it remarkable that people remember a good deed you did for so long, and in the end I got double the money back without having even tried!

Acting with kindness and supporting others are ideas that most people will get behind. As humans, we are hard wired to want to help others in their problems. We like the idea of doing something that will genuinely help others. This can make us feel useful, powerful, and give us a nice little warm feeling when we receive a little message of thanks from someone we know.

Quite often we act to help others, though implicitly have some expectation of reward at the end. A waiter/waitress may be extra nice for a tip, with our clients we may go the extra mile to sign them on, or we may work even harder for our boss in expectation for that promotion.

Our kindness therefore starts to build some strings attached to it. If we are nice to our client, and they don’t give us their tip, or contract, we are likely to feel pretty disappointed afterwards. It makes it harder for us then to act kind with the next client, as our priority shifts instead to what the reward is for our actions, rather than doing it out of our own genuine will to help others.

The ironic thing in life is that often doing things without expecting a reward will ultimately bring you better reward than if you actively tried. As this waiter, if you act kind to all your clients, through the laws of averages you will earn more tips throughout your time than in the individual circumstances.

But perhaps the waitering example is a bit of a specific example, does this really happen in other places in your life too? After all, this sounds all a little spiritual for someone who works in a high pressure office environment, especially if it can be quite cut throat!

In reality, many people gain success through their personal and professional lives by being nice and doing kind deeds consistently. Elbowing your way to a promotion may get you the reward now, but people will remember your actions. Whereas someone who has consistently helped others will find that many will be willing to help them later down the line when they are struggling, for example a redundancy or personal crisis. And furthermore, in our world, networking and positive relationships are critical. We want to build genuine connections, and the best way to do that is by being nice, without expecting that it will lead to something with everyone you speak to.

As a coach, we spoke a lot about genuinely looking to serve. We aim to help our clients, so when we are stuck we can use the guiding principle of ‘what would actually be useful for this person?’. It means I can help my client genuinely find solutions to what they need, and gives me licence to say things either more gently if the message is not going to be received well, or sometimes stronger to deliver an uncomfortable truth that I think they will benefit from hearing. I’ve also found this an extremely helpful guide on how to speak with others in every facet of my life.

As a coach, I am loathe to ‘advise’ people how to behave. And yet, if I could encourage you to think about something, it is this: observe how you act in your day to day interactions, and see if you can bring more kindness into it. Where you are being kind, see whether there is some implicit expectation behind this, and see whether you can do anything to make this unconditional.

I hope you enjoyed my story, please do let me know what you think!

How I prepared for big changes in my life

I’ve been on my own personal rollercoaster this month. I’ve just finished moving countries during a pandemic, where I returned to my flat in London that I haven’t been in for over a year. Since I’ve travelled from abroad, I had to quarantine in a shared house with housemates. In the midst of that, I had to finish my job and return my laptop (one final day back in the office!). Unfortunately due to the circumstances, the best way to do this was in the space of two weeks, making everything have an added time pressure.

I had to finalise moving out, organise my things to send them through boxes, and finally return to Brussels on the train with a bunch of luggage. This was essentially five full days of waking up, packing and selling furniture with pauses to eat. With a lot of it in quarantine, I couldn’t really move outside the room that I was trying to move out of either. (Oh, and my bed broke, meaning I had to build a new one before moving out too!)

In total, I’ve taken 6 PCR tests (all negative!), completed two separate quarantines, moved out of a flat and signed my contract for my new job after having finished my final day in the last one.

So I wanted to write a little bit about how I prepared for this pretty grueling few weeks. Ahead of time, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my month of July due to these reasons. I’ve made life-changing decisions in an intense time pressure, all the while worrying that one positive COVID test would through all my moving-out plans out of the window. Such decisions aren’t easy at the best of times, but they are even more complicated during a worldwide pandemic.

I’ll start by saying I am a planner at heart, which meant I am quite used to meticulously planning an itinerary of dates. I enjoy having the dates checked, and tend to be a fairly organised person. So for me, at least making sure the dates worked was something I was personally more comfortable with. That said, I also spent a pretty substantial amount of time worrying over the details and often getting overwhelmed by the challenge I was about to face (which is the downside of being a planner!).

I was fortunate that lockdown ended in Belgium in June, meaning I could restart my yoga practice which really helped me here. Rebuilding some strength was certainly helpful for carrying boxes, though that was only a part of it! I found my moments of pause and reflection allow me to process a lot of emotional baggage that I knew was to come.

Moving flats is always tiring and stressful, and there were also a lot of changes I had to come to terms with – saying goodbye to my place of work for the past 4 years, and moving away from my country of birth. On top of that, it would be a stilted and unsatisfying goodbye as due to COVID I only saw a few people before leaving.

Unexpectedly, the quiet time for reflection I had during yoga made me feel these emotions quite intensely a good month in advance. But unlike the usual bouts of worrying which tended to help rather than hinder, it allowed me to emotionally process some of the difficulties I anticipated. It was a strange experience being sad ahead of time it actually left me feeling quite despondent, despite nothing yet having passed. And yet, if I didn’t take that time beforehand, the emotions would have been much more difficult to handle when I was in London, making the experience even more stressful.

Outside of yoga, I had some time to properly reflect as to whether moving countries was the right thing for me. Working with my own coach, as well as taking time to reflect on my own values, I had time to really accept that what I was doing was right for me. Although I still have small waves of doubts, this has given me a clarity of purpose over the last few weeks to keep soldiering on without having that feeling that this is all a terrible mistake.

Coming out of the other side of this, I still feel pretty exhausted, and there are still some hurdles to come. Still, I feel I’ve broadly achieved something here by managing so many life changes in an intense amount of time. I’m not going to pretend that I did everything perfectly, or that the last month hasn’t taken an emotional toll either.

But I think that there are some valuable things that you might be able to take by reading this, particularly in dealing with the emotional side for big changes. My observation is that whilst we often plan the physical side, the mental side can be something we might neglect. Even if you might not do yoga, you may find an alternative which gives you space to properly emotionally process what is going on around you. Taking time to reflect on what you really want and being clear on how your decisions are leading to that are also really important.

So I hope sharing this experience is helpful for you, do let me know in the comments!

How to stop being the bottleneck for your team

Many of us have suffered the frustrations of our work proposals getting stuck in the inbox of our bosses. We’ve likely spent hours crafting a work proposal with an extremely tight deadline, only to find this missed by 4 days because our head of unit has not responded in a week. This can quickly kill our productivity, motivation and innovation without much effort.

So we can certainly recognise the negative experience of being stuck by a bottleneck. But what if the bottleneck for your team is actually you without realising it?

I’ve certainly seen my fair share of bottlenecks from my corporate experience. Often this comes from a mixture of reasons, though it usually comes with the perception that the leader is either uncertain or too overwhelmed to make real decisions.

Although the easy answer would be to simply label our leadership as incompetent, I see this as a overly simplistic response; there must be more to this phenomenon when we see capable individuals falling into this trap as they lead teams. This is particularly bizarre when we see individuals getting promoted for their ability to ‘get things done’, and yet when we see them leading a wider team, efficiency and productivity can often plummet.

I’ve actually coached around this issue before, though individuals rarely see themselves as bottlenecks at first. Instead, the issue relates to general trust and empowerment around teams. Unfortunately, the capable individual who was promoted for being effective now is responsible for making other people effective, which is a very different skill set. The individuals tend to stick to the same skills that got them this far, rather than reassessing the needs of their new job.

This can often lead to leaders asking to check every document or note from their team. They may want oversight of every detail or process, and to have input at each stage. This fits in their idea of ensuring high quality and taking pride in their work. Indeed, it is how they have operated to get the promotion in the first place.

Unfortunately, being a leader means having only a limited amount of time with a far greater amount of responsibilities. Such leaders can therefore get completely bogged down in editing small pieces of work (or even micromanaging it), whilst the rest of their inbox is ignored. And when faced with middling results, rather than reassess this approach, leaders often double-down and simply work longer hours to get through everything they are responsible for. This has the negative effect of building a culture of long hours, and one where your employees may be waiting until 8pm for your yes/no response to their email.

I would much prefer leaders to see themselves as conduits rather than bottlenecks. Their aim is to facilitate the successful passage of their team’s work into the wider organisation, whilst giving key support and input at the appropriate stages. What this requires is a far greater level of trust in the abilities of their staff, and acceptance that no one is going to be perfect from day one.

Currently, whilst we hear much about collaboration and trust, we often see the real story in how our managers behave. I’ve seen both sides of this, from a story about a PA who wasn’t even allowed access to their leaders emails, to an honest and open discussion about upcoming challenges from another leader. The former gives the sense of insecurity and control, the latter that the leader is a reasonable and approachable human.

So if you’re a leader, think about how your work is perceived by your team. You may be inadvertently working yourself to the ground, and with it, making your team perform much worse.

Do you have any stories of ‘bottleneck’ leaders you want to share?

What it’s like to work in Government

I’ve been working in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the UK Civil Service for the last four years. I have been based in Whitehall, at 1 Victoria Street, close to the Houses of Parliament. I had internship stints in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the European Commission and HM Treasury.

It’s been a fascinating journey since I’ve joined BEIS. I’ve had the fortune of moving around a few different positions and gaining a wide range of experience in a relatively short amount of time. I started working on EU policy whilst the UK was still a Member State. I worked on the coordination of the EU Council of Ministers meetings. This meant working with Ministers and policy leads to create a briefing and itinerary for an international meeting. I even went with my Minister to Brussels to attend the Competitiveness Council and see how EU negotiations happened in practice.

Later, I was the policy lead on the European Accessibility Act, where I worked with analysts and lawyers to set our negotiating position for the EU file. This meant working closely with stakeholders and doing short and sharp analysis to ensure the best result for the UK Government.

At the end of 2018 I took a team lead role within the legislation team. I ensured that the necessary legislation was in place to ensure a functioning statute book by the end of EU Exit. In practice, this meant organising the delivery of over 40 ‘Statutory Instruments’ – pieces of secondary legislation to amend UK law. I learnt plenty about the complexities around legislation, and how government makes things happen in practice to ensure that policies thought up within Whitehall are actually put in place.

I’ve most recently moved into my current role within the Regulated Professions team. I take on a wider programme management role to ensure that a team of over 30 staff are delivering a wide array of work – be it from international negotiations, stakeholder engagement and policy delivery. My highlight in this role was writing the bid for a Professional Qualifications Bill; we were only one of a few successful bids and it’s fantastic to see this become a reality with the bill being introduced in Early May.

More wider afield, I’ve learnt a lot about the world of politics having seen the knitty-gritty process of Brexit unfolding from the inside. I’ve worked with Ministers and seen the different relative interests and pressures of government responsibilities.

I’ve also greatly enjoyed being immersed in the world of the Civil Service– I have gained a wide array of skills (including project management and leadership & management qualifications) as well as a chance to really make a difference to the public. I’ve been heavily involved in Diversity and Inclusion, first chairing the Faith and Minority  Ethnic (FAME) Network, where I had the opportunity to present to the Executive Committee and recommendations on Race.

I was my Group Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, where I wrote and agreed with my Director General and Directors the first ever Group D&I Workplan, encompassing our ambition to create a more inclusive workplace for the 600 staff within the group.

I have particularly enjoyed being in BEIS – as far as government departments go, I find the atmosphere welcoming in particular, and the remit is very broad meaning there are plenty of opportunities to move internally and try something new. It’s why I’ve ended up staying for several years, rather than moving to another government department as other civil servants have done.

So whilst there have certainly been point where it’s been a challenging ride, if you ever get the opportunity I would certainly recommend BEIS as a great place to develop (or even start) your career. There are plenty of interesting pieces of work and a generally friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Why Staff Networks are a force for good

Today is the National Day for Staff Networks. We celebrate the hard work that staff networks do in organisation’s across the world. Today also gives us an opportunity to highlight the hard work that goes behind staff networks, and in particular the countless time and effort of dedicated individuals often taking their personal time to make their organisation’s a better place.

Staff Networks, or Employee Resource Groups as they are sometimes called, are employee-led groups within an organisation. These are often based upon under-represented groups or protected characteristics, for example on race, LGBT+, Gender, Religion or Parental groups to name but a few.

Since joining the office workforce, I have found staff networks an invaluable and critical function within the business organisation. So much so I chaired the departmental race and faith network for two years, and am currently the Secretariat lead for the cross-government race forum!

The reason staff networks are so valuable is that they are a force for genuine positive support and change within an organisation. In a world where we often bemoan hierarchical structures with little opportunity to have our voice really heard, staff networks demonstrate a tried-and-tested way to really bring the voice of different staff together and give them to the organisation as a critical-friend.

With more emphasis and action towards Diversity and Inclusion, staff networks are often key sounding boards for HR initiatives that effect certain groups. For example, companies have spoken to their disability network to test products with a disability-lens attached. In other words, staff within the company can see how well the product would work for disabled individuals, and help ensure that accessibility features are in place. This is great for the organisation as it ensures a better-made product, whilst it also acknowledges and values the skills and experience that disabled staff have within the organisation too.

But at its best staff networks can go even further. In my time working as a network leader, I worked very closely with my HR to support, test and challenge new proposals, including on introducing new talent schemes, performance management measures or outreach initiatives on recruitment. In a space where HR budgets are tight, I could coordinate support via our volunteers to give valuable time and resource. Working in the Civil Service meant we had a wide-range of expertise including analysts, policy-professionals and event managers, meaning we could tap into a rich and vast set of experiences that would otherwise be left hidden away in silos within the organisation.

In my time, we gave critical feedback all the way up to the head of our organisation on the situation around race, building a movement to highlight and address systemic issues. Using data and analysis, we presented across Senior Management Teams, eventually leading us all the way up to the Executive Committee. I was even given the space to present a paper with a set of recommendations (all of which were agreed upon). It’s certainly not an experience I would have gotten without the recognition and creation of staff networks!

So today is a day to rejoice. Bringing people together in support of an organisation by making people’s voices heard is always an important thing to cherish. I do recognise that staff networks are often under-resourced or sub-optimally structured, however we must remember that these are essentially a free resource for the business ran by volunteers, and the amount they can bring to the table is far more than any set of external consultants trying to do the same thing!

So if you’re a member of an organisation with staff networks within them, I would really encourage you to get involved. A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into maintaining them, and there is always a need for more volunteers. It’s a fantastic way of widening your own personal network, understanding more about the organisation’s objectives and give yourself an opportunity to pick up wider leadership skills. If your organisation does not have a staff network, why not set one up?

For further information about the National Day for Staff Networks check out https://www.nationaldayforstaffnetworks.co.uk/

Taking in nature to restore your wellbeing and energy

Last week was a Bank Holiday Weekend in the UK. Although the weather was quite hit-and-miss, I managed to go out to some local forests and woods over the weekend.

I must admit that I’ve never really paid that much attention to nature previously. I’ve grown up in cities, and tended to relegate visiting ‘green spaces’ to a walk at the city park or when on holiday to see the local exotic scenery. So I wasn’t really sure what I was going to get from popping out of the city to my local forest.

Perhaps it’s an added effect of the lockdown, but I found the opportunity to find silence in a forest unbelievably nourishing. Having spent most of my life in the space of a small apartment over the last six months, the freedom and release from covid-style living was extremely revitalising.

I found something reassuring in looking at the big tall trees all around me. It sounds a little silly in some senses, but the fact there are whole woodlands that have survived hundreds of years puts my own life in perspective. After all, the world is not going to end if I miss my close-of-play deadline, nor is our current situation under lockdown going to last forever either. Life will go on.

The fact that there was a whole ecosystem of life around me – the birds, animals, plants and bugs – also made me realise that the world doesn’t revolve around me either. My obsessions on my wants and needs aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things!

I am someone who tends to find my burnout zone is when my mind is constantly looking for stimulation, including often when sleeping or just as I wake up. Unfortunately the lockdown has exacerbated my use of technology and social media, which has meant I am often over-stimulated, with little opportunity to release it.

I found going way outside of my usual habitat to a forest give me a massive piece of perspective on my life. I’ve also found I appreciate nature far more than I ever previously have because of it. With Spring coming and better weather (hopefully), it’s something I will look to do far more often, as I’m currently quite fortunate to be able to jump on public transport to do so.

So if you’re in need of some revitalisation, I would really recommend going out to take some nature. I realise not all of us can easily access big woodlands or natural spaces, but even going out to the park and popping in some headphones to play forest sounds can imitate the immersive experience.

When was the last time you popped out for a spot of nature for your wellbeing?

Why leaders need to actively build inclusive cultures in their teams

I’ve worked in a number of different teams, often led by ‘good’ people who generally work hard, are considerate, and have no explicit ill-meaning malice within them.

So why does it often go so wrong?

I have seen a number of new teams being created at a very quick pace due to wider work pressures and fast-paced nature in which business demands are changing quickly. This trend is not going to change either, with our working lives becoming more embroiled in shifts and rapid changes, organisations are becoming more agile in deploying teams quickly to respond to new opportunities or challenges.

Unfortunately, when teams are built up at pace, often little thought is put upon team dynamics and building a wider inclusive culture. And whilst practically nobody sets out to build a non-inclusive culture when setting up a team, this aspect falls through the cracks as lots of new managers grasp to understand their new responsibilities, so instead are focused that they are delivering to their job standards and proving they can do the job. From the team leaders perspective, this can quickly turn into command and control decision-making from the top.

Organisations do not help themselves in how they set up these teams. Generally, highly proficient individuals are selected to lead the team. This is potentially on promotion, rewarding these individuals for their hard work and their technical potential from other work.

Unfortunately, there is little within the workplace to highlight the importance of new-found management responsibility or the importance of building a team. As such, what often takes place is a strong technical deliverer (but average manager) gets promoted into a position of responsibility where they are suddenly the head of dozens of people or more. With little training and guidance around this area (or even consideration whether someone would be a good team leader from a people perspective in the first place), the seeds are sown for a poor team culture.

What often happens is that the new team leader operates in the same way that they did when managing a small team. This is particularly problematic because the way of working with a few people is very different to managing a large group of people. Whilst things like relying solely on informal conversations through coffee point chats or the pub for work conversations is less of an issue when it is a group of three, it does not work for a larger team. Instead, what it leads to is those with the direct access via these methods are thrusted into a position of exclusive access. Others outside of this group find it difficult to get their voice heard. Staff instead have to resort to turning up where their boss does to be ‘seen’ or for any of their ideas to see the light of day.

Sadly, many leaders do not realise that they are inadvertently creating an exclusive culture. It requires a good deal of introspection and thought for leaders to take stock of routes of access, and how relying on traditional communication methods (i.e. heirarchical messaging upwards) is fraught with the danger of them only hearing one side of the story from the people they interact with frequently. This leads to problematic decision-making due to a disconnect with what is happening throughout the team, and leads to a growing disillusionment and resentment from wider staff who are not part of the more exclusive club.

This usually manifests itself via worse employee engagement and satisfaction scores, leading to middling output. Higher staff turnover and its associated cost to the business is usually the result. It can also lead to siloed working and a lack of attention on all areas of a project. For example, areas such as team or project management, HR or finance may just get sidelined despite being critical functions. In all, there is little positive to come out of an exclusive culture.

So what can be done to improve the situation?

From the leaders perspective, they can look to re-evaluate how accessible they are to the whole team. An often used idea is having ‘open hours’ for anyone to speak with them anonymously about issues they may be having. Leaders could also go a step further, and try and book short catch-ups with more junior members of the team to get a better sense of the mood music from below. Leaders can also look to build more inclusive habits into their meetings, ensuring a more equitable participation from different people. They can also look to break down implicit hierarchical barriers by empowering more junior staff to give their opinions at regular intervals.

From an organisations perspective, much can be done to avoid the negative culture being built in the first place. Organisations can do much more to value, train and assess management capability within their performance management, and in particular when looking at promotions or job opportunities for their staff. Currently, organisations rarely genuinely consider whether people are likely going to be good at leading a team when putting them into a post, despite it being a critical factor in its success. An important way to do this is by instilling the importance of management and effective team working within their company values so that this is fostered throughout the whole organisation.

These are my thoughts. What good stories do you have around building inclusive team cultures, and conversely, do you have any horror stories?

Understanding ourselves during the rollercoaster of lockdown

The lockdown has been a tough journey. For some of us, it has meant the difficulty of losing loved ones and not being able to grieve as we normally would. For others, it has meant homeschooling and juggling job responsibilities. Some of us are worried about protecting our more vulnerable friends and family, meaning we haven’t been able to visit them in quite some time.

Some of us have felt the brunt of the pandemic economically, losing our trades and livelihoods, being left in limbo awaiting an unknown future. Others of us have kept our roles, but have had to quickly adapt to spending most of our time virtually, and often with additional work pressures than before.

Yesterday I asked a group of people how those who were introverts were feeling. For me, I found the first lockdowns easier – after all, as an introvert I’m quite happy sitting in my bunker for long periods of time. However, I’ve now gotten to the point where I’ve been inside for so long I feel like I’m losing touch with reality. It seems like a lot of introverts have been feeling this way too.

Whilst this is no doubt tough on the extroverts among us too, it’s interesting to see how they generally struggled far more at the beginning compared to the introverts. I don’t doubt the extroverts are still struggling too, but probably in a different way than some of us introverts who can find going outside more daunting the longer we are stuck inside.

For those that have been following me on LinkedIn, I’ve been posting quite a lot recently about feeling particularly burnt out recently. I highlighted the common signs for me – sleeping worse (and snoring more!), less motivation in the mornings, enjoying my hobbies less, finding my work and extra-curricular pursuits far less engaging and having tension stomach aches.

For better or for worse, I’ve learnt a lot more about my own trigger points and warning signs internally. For me, I tend to be a lot more disorganised with my thoughts, often interrupting myself mid-speech when I am overwhelmed. For those interested in the Myers-Briggs space, I have a co-pilot ‘extroverted feeler’, meaning I tend to have a heightened sense of feeling for others. When a lot of people around me are in pain, I tend to close the barriers simply because I do not have the capacity to cope with the feelings. In practice this leads to me ‘shutting down’.

I also tend to lose my physical connection with my body, meaning I am spending most of my time in my own head. I believe that the tension stomach aches have been my body’s way of telling me to start focusing on my body more, as I tend to neglect it when I am stressed via poor eating or lack of exercise.

These have been the signs I have found within myself. Some of this may resonate with what you are feeling, but much of it probably won’t either. As individual human beings, we are unique in our own way, and have our own wants and needs. On top of that, we’ve all been affected differently, so the degree to how difficult we’ve been finding it us different for all of us.

So it’s been interesting to reflect about how this situation has affected us all personally. Whilst I would not wish the difficulties we’ve had to endure on anyone, the silver lining is that it has given us an opportunity to understand more about ourselves. If we learn from this, we can look to come out of this as stronger and more resilient human beings.

I would also add that I don’t know anyone who has come out of the pandemic better off. This has negatively affected us in some way. So it is completely normal to feel low, upset or angry with the situation around us, even if you are one of the more fortunate ones for still having a job. We would not be human if we didn’t feel some sense of loss right now.

So take a moment to think about how the pandemic has affected you as an individual. What have you learnt about yourself? were there things that you found more/less challenging than you expected?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Why you’re not hearing about Diversity issues in your workplace

Talking about Diversity issues can be pretty tough. In an organisation where it’s not the done thing, saying you are being treated differently can be extremely uncomfortable, particularly if you happen to be the ‘only’ in the room – whether that be the only woman, BAME person, disabled individual or something else entirely.

I had an interesting conversation recently with a group of coaches around clients from underrepresented backgrounds. Many organisations have a culture of raising these issues through a one-to-one with managers. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t end particularly well for the underrepresented member of staff wanting to raise their concerns, as they tend to be brushed aside. But why is this the case?

To give an illustrative example, a woman may bring an issue about feeling treated unfavourably in the workplace by another male colleague, for example not being invited to workplace drinks, not being copied into emails or generally not being addressed in meetings with respect. The women follows standard procedure and bring this to the attention of their manager, who in this case is male.

The manager finds this surprising, and due to a lack of wider understanding around diversity issues can only process this issue in one of two ways. In his eyes, either this is a case of clear-cut sexual discrimination / sexual harassment case, and therefore a serious HR issue they need to deal with, or this is a misunderstood perception of the woman he manages, and therefore not a real problem.

Offices tend to be quite small, tight-knit and often cliquey cultures. What often happens is that this manager, knows the male accused in question himself. From what he can see, the accused is a nice, upstanding person, so what his female report is telling him does not correlate with his own experience. The male manager has also not seen any lewd or outright poor behaviour from the accused person towards women. This therefore leads him to conclude that he is not a sexist, ruling out the first option. The response that the male manager therefore inevitably gives is that this can’t be the case as John/Fred/Jim is a nice guy, and perhaps it’s just the female report misunderstanding the situation.

Unfortunately, the male manager is not aware that his experiences are very different compared to the female he manages. He therefore does not think to question whether his experiences would be a good reference point for this situation. He is also unlikely to hear about any individual issues against this person publicly either. Indeed even if several female colleagues have made complaints, these would be in their own one-to-one chats. No one will ever piece these together, as they are all held in separate, private conversations.

The issue then is put back onto the female as her fault as she misunderstands, which inevitably makes her doubt her instincts. This makes it difficult for her to feel confident in her job when she is told that what she is feeling is imaginary.

If she is savvy, she may speak to other female colleagues and get a better idea of this male colleague’s behaviour, and how to handle it. Whilst this helps, it obviously does not solve the problem itself, and these other females will also probably tell tales that they’ve raised issues but been brushed aside.

From the female’s perspective, at this point it is better to give up with the formal system as the one-to-one conversations are ineffective. Whilst she could raise it more formally via a grievance, she realises this will likely result in retribution against her, and she is unlikely to be believed in her claims.

Thus we find the full cycle of diversity issues not being addressed properly. It is worth pointing out that in this example, it is a man as both the manager and perpetrator, both of which are statistically more likely to be more senior in the organisation, whilst the woman may be in the minority. This is only exacerbated with other diverse characteristics, for example BAME individuals may not have other BAME people in the office to turn to in order to verify their experiences, simply due to a statistically lower amount in the population and therefore in the workplace.

So how can we break out of this cycle of not hearing from our minority groups in the workplace? A good start is via anonymous surveys, which collect diversity data to really get a sense of how people are feeling, and whether there are discrepancies between age, gender, race, sexuality etc.

Another way is to hold anonymous focus groups, building a safe space for these individuals to raise the issues in a group setting, and share their experiences. This allows for a more open dialogue than the often uncomfortable one-to-one conversation, though relies on a lot of trust and genuine engagement to get people to actually attend.

There are also other ways, including senior managers having an open door policy to discuss more private issues, or being more aware of how people are feeling and taking more care to actively catch-up with their staff when they are behaving a bit differently.

Of course, probably one of the biggest solutions would be to improve managers ability to deal with diversity issues . Unfortunately, basic managerial competency tends to be lacking in most organisations, meaning there is a lot to do in this space.

Those are my thoughts. Why do you think people don’t speak up about diversity issues in the workplace?