Restoring Heart and Agility in Companies That are Barely Coping

Executives in traditional companies wouldn’t want to admit it, but their employees are barely coping. It is, in part, because the pressure of volatile global conditions is being off-loaded to employees. Instead of responding with awareness, the reaction is to work harder and faster pushing people toward burnout. It is no wonder that depression affects 300 million families world-wide. Stress-related illness is a huge cost to companies. Restoring heart and agility in companies is a necessity for a company to stay healthy, keep pace and remain relevant to society and customers.

Spotting the Signs of Barely Coping

An observant manager can see the signals indicating their workplace is under too much pressure. It starts personally. The joy of getting up and going to work is gone.

  1. You loose heart for your work. It is a real effort to show up. At the end of the day, you feel drained of energy.
  2. It is hard to focus or meet deadlines. Important details are overwhelming.
  3. You are easily irritated by people and feel like running away from home or hiding in a dark cave.

The malaise spreads to the workplace:

  1. Fear builds around capacity to meet deadlines since not all members of the team are performing to potential.
  2. Judgment from others immediately follows, fed by the belief that the environment you’re in doesn’t have an effect on you. It does. People shoulder the blame and sink further. The rate of abseentism goes up. Even those who come to work are not able to do their best. They are quickly assessed as non-performers and funnelled into the performance management system.
  3. Decision-making is compromised and options narrow as the reduced level of vitality impacts the desire to accept risks and be creative. Innovation becomes a meaningless buzz word.

Coping skills help reclaim control in your life. Extending that to the workplace is a shared responsibility requiring heart and courage. Accepting self-responsibility personally requires your desire for well-being and it is only one part of the equation. The other reverts back to the workplace. If people are not well, neither is the company. Engaged employees able to contribute their whole self, is the authentic source for a company’s confidence and capacity for business agility.

It is a relief to learn that executives are seeing workplace health from a more holistic perspective. Virgin Pulse reports well-being programs are top of mind and recognized as a top driver in engagement. A broader perspective may allow the stigma toward stress-induced illness to be replaced by a focus on workplace relationships, use of power and control and other factors affecting expression (or, on the other hand, repression of talent).

Outside of the US, mental health has greater acceptance according to Virgin Pulse’s academic team, Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Chief Medical Officer, and Dr. David Batman, Science Advisory Board, Virgin Pulse. In the US, extrinsic motivators work more effectively to engage employees in their well-being; financial incentives for instance. In Europe motivation is intrinsic, self-responsibility higher and self-reliance greater. One would also expect that self-efficacy, the belief that a positive outcome is within your creative control, would be higher outside of the US as well.

The stigma toward stress-related illness assumes the person lacks resilience. Ironically, it is the workplace that fails to be resilient. In the workplace, resilience is a community affair. The network of co-workers, when not struggling to survive the day, collectively provide the supportive safety net needed to gain strength and learn from each setback. In workplaces where the sense of belonging, support and care is low, those who are barely coping with external pressures wind up in the performance management system. Their value to the company, as employees or partners capable of contributing value, is lost.

Recovering Workplace Health; Transforming Workplaces

For management to move from using a command and directional stance to peer-to-peer leadership requires a more sophisticated set of skills. It takes adversity to bring those to the surface. When you look at the diminishing health of the planet’s life support systems, mistakenly judged by traditional thinkers as being ‘eco-nuts’, there is an stinging imperative to change. Resisting the pressure to accept responsibility and grow, people explode in acts of violence. Natural disasters reveal a breakdown in the earths capacity to self-regulate. The dots are not being widely connected, a function of the perceptual distance between nature and human health, yet human survival relies on closing the gap.

Attribute #1: Care

Business has a big impact on world resources and on the mental, emotional and social health of communities, including the community inside the company getting the work done. Care is a core value that engages decision-making at the heart level. Without a full-hearted effort the fuel companies rely on for performance is being siphoned off rather than aligned with purpose, meaning and impact. True leadership doesn’t come from logic. It comes from the heart. With a clear heart, unencumbered by fear, anxiety or the stress of not meeting commitments, foresight is available. You can see what lies ahead, or at minimum, you feel confident that whatever does lie ahead, you can handle with ease.

Attribute #2: Agility

Regardless of company size, unless response time is short, and communication fast, the chance of being agile enough to thrive drops. Haier is an excellent example of the value of agility in transformation. Built on self-managed teams, Haier has learned how to reinvent itself multiple times. Other companies that regularly reinvent themselves employ bio-mimicry management.

What is the real source of heart and agility in leaders?

How can you take charge of restoring your health in a work environment that works against it? How can you prepare yourself for life’s interruptions? The human spirit is a powerful force, so caring for it is a logical and natural place to start.

Sense of Control: Having a sense of control over your life and what happens does not come from controlling everyone or everything in your outer world. It comes from creative response.

Initiative: Accepting responsibility for your well-being and taking action to stay well requires initiative. Doing something because you see it needs to be done is a definition of taking initiative.

Outlook on Life or Mindset: What Do You Stand For? Values? Beliefs? explained the difference between growth and fixed; challenge and threat mindset. Put simply how do you see the world? What filters do you apply? How do you make sense of the world?

If a sense of control, initiative and outlook on life are core indicators of your emotional and spiritual health, then what skills can you apply to rise above difficult situations? How can you make a good decision when you are under stress?

1. Employ self-distancing. Step back and observe your situation as if you were an eagle flying overhead, or a gecko on the wall observing the dynamics. From that vantage point you will gain insight into what is going on and how to better respond.

2. Recognize that good can come from difficult experiences. Your character is built of how you learn from challenges and who you become from what happens to you. You gain resilience and strength by recognizing that better things lie ahead as long as you open the space in your heart and mind for good things to happen. Positive outcomes are within your reach by allowing for new possibilities to show themselves. Consider the drive to work. Is it a big rush? Or are you able to slow down, keep your head up, remain open to signals and give yourself time to adjust to another drivers actions.

3. Use your emotions to navigate. Challenges allow you to stretch into new territory and to stay well throughout the learning journey. Do things that restore your heart, fire your creativity up to achieve a goal, and avoid being a victim.

Increasingly, skills like those above, paired with an open, receptive mind, are essential for everyone and anyone to handle the world’s events without falling into fear. Converting workplaces from traditional to self-organizing and self-managed, to healthy decision-making environments, takes courage and self-leadership. The desire to have a positive impact and live a fulfilling, meaningful life is attainable.

Dawna works with progressive early adopter decision-makers to create growth oriented workplaces and conscious leaders. A speaker and workshop leader, she is also the author of Decision Making for Dummies and has contributed a chapter on the new purpose of business to ‘The Intelligence of the Cosmos” by Ervin Laszlo. She’s adept in the subtle skills of working with energy as a powerful force for well-being and creativity. Dawna hosts the Insight to Action podcast for business innovators and is working on a Virtual Reality experience for removing stigma to depression while developing skills. Contact her through and LinkedIn.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.