Oscar Kilo – What’s it all about?

This month we launch Oscar Kilo which I believe represents a landmark in our commitment to improve the working lives of our people. It is more than symbolic though and in this opening blog I’ll attempt to explain why we have taken this path and what the opportunities are if we choose to take them.

What we have learnt

When we set up the national working group in 2012 there was  a need to avoid ‘solutioneering’ given the scale of the challenge ahead. Starting with Dr Ian Hesketh’s research we began scouring the UK and further afield for evidence of what works. Wellbeing done badly is worse than not doing wellbeing at all in my view. It wastes effort and can actually make people trust you less and feel less valued if the rhetoric isn’t backed up by reality. This is why staff engagement is vital – we need to understand the personal context and the wider organisational issues affecting our wellbeing at work. For me there have been some ‘lightbulb moments’ gained mainly from the perspective of a Chief Officer thinking he was doing his best but probably making things a bit worse. Oscar Kilo will enable us to pull in all the research and build a network that engages everyone in wellbeing , from the frontline, to the office, to academia. . You will be able to go there and find out how to be world class at wellbeing so expect to be challenged along the way. Now for some things I’ve learnt the hard way.

Lesson 1 – You judge yourself on your intentions others judge you on your behaviours

Simply standing on a stage and saying ‘I want to prioritise your wellbeing’ won’t wash unless the reality matches your grand statement. All sorts of important issues start coming up if you are genuinely open to listening to your people. Fairness, behaviours, leadership, targets that take us away from our purpose and recognition are all cited as helping or hindering wellbeing. Most people accept the stress and anxiety of their core job and bravely get on with it, what they cannot abide is being treated unfairly or the printer not working at 3am. Walk the talk or don’t bother.

Lesson 2 – Working hard to do the wrong thing better

How work is designed matters when it comes to wellbeing. This is often overlooked by people like me who have largely lost sight of the day to day experiences of their people and harbour under the misapprehension that things haven’t changed much. Badly designed work creates stress and takes us away from our purpose. There can be no more soul destroying way to spend a working day doing a task that feels it has no purpose and meaning. Leaders need to commit to finding out ‘what is getting in the way of you doing a  great job?’ and then sorting it out in a more sophisticated way than simply knee jerking into more badly designed process. Adopt the mindset that most people don’t come to work to do a bad job, it’s the system they work in that makes us busy fools.

Lesson 3 – It’s personal because we are human

Discretionary effort is often based upon how I think this place will support me ‘should I ever need it to’. Most policy and process is designed to mitigate against bad stuff happening rather than make great stuff happen……we are experts at this. As a result they are inflexible and de-humanised. A 48 page policy saying when you can take compassionate leave doesn’t help me if my need for help doesn’t ‘fit’ neatly into one of the 48 pages and it’s urgent. If it doesn’t work for me I’ll feel let down and start removing my discretionary effort – we see this a lot.

Lesson 4 – Head & Heart

We need a sharper business case for wellbeing than we have achieved so far. For some it’s remains pink and fluffy when in reality it’s the exact opposite. PTSD, stress , anxiety , misconduct , whistleblowing are high risk areas for all organisations and most cases I see can be traced back to a missed opportunity to intervene early when it was manageable as a wellbeing issue. We don’t and things escalate. We are looking at linking the research to the operational risk more explicitly. I have stats about stress, debt, sleep deprivation, sugar consumption and PTSD that paint a pretty obvious operational case for 1st line managers and senior leaders to invest in wellbeing. Start mapping your workforce according to their continuum of need and you’ll start identifying early intervention opportunities that are simply good management practice. Like listening more and talking less. Stop diving into broom cupboards if you see someone heading your way who is struggling.

Lesson 5 – Life doesn’t stop at the locker room door

Why do we think it does? Many people bring into work complex and challenging issues that affect how they perform. Get used to it. Ignoring this obvious fact isn’t helpful and when it eventually becomes a work ‘problem’ it’s now going to take a lot more effort to recover it believe you me. Quite often what people need is someone to just say ‘I understand what you are dealing with’ they accept you can’t fix it . Just knowing your line manager understands why you may be feeling a certain way and how this may get in the way of you doing a great job is often enough.

Empathy is often in short supply.

That’s it for now.