Health is other people

17May 17

Think of a time when you felt good about yourself and your life. Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing? Chances are you were either happily alone, or with people that you cared about and who cared about you. You probably had an unspoken feeling of fitting in, of shared values, of belonging.

Humans are inherently social beings. 90% of the wiring in our brains is to do with processing social and emotional information. The need to experience a sense of belonging is so deeply woven in to who we are, it’s buried in the mechanisms that maintain not only emotional but also physiological equilibrium and wellbeing.

Our evolution as a species depended on the presence of what are called “hive” emotions. Feelings that keep us loyal, bonded and trustworthy. Generosity, empathy, acceptance, appreciation, that kind of thing.

So important are such “other”-directed sentiments to our own and others’ survival that we are designed to flourish and thrive when demonstrating ways of being that promote social cohesion. Win – win!

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Loneliness has been shown to be as big a risk factor for heart disease as smoking and obesity. Loneliness and isolation are bad for us. It’s not whether there are people around us. We can feel isolated even amid a sea of people. It’s the nature with which we connect, the quality of the interactions, the sincerity of the engagement, the “presence” that matters.

A recent survey showed that 94% of people are looking for a new job whilst at work. When asked why, a culture of secrecy, office politics,  difficult managers or colleagues, a sense of lack of belonging, are cited as the major reasons people move on. In other words, other people.

At work much mental and emotional distress and alienation can be caused by small indirect acts of aggression – body language, rolling the eyes, talking over people, ignoring  their emails or delaying replying, cliques, not inviting people, withholding information. These are subtle ways in which we can alienate people, albeit unwittingly. And yet we know that a team’s performance is directly proportional to engagement, which in turn depends on the emotional intelligence (EQ) of its leaders. EQ leads to listening, connecting, caring – creating a culture where everyone matters.

Jean-Paul Sartre said “Hell is other people”. Sadly, it can sometimes seem that way. But when we explore the science of wellbeing, we see that the opposite is actually true, which is why I say, “Health is other people”.

Belonging is as essential to our wellbeing as exercise and good nutrition. It underpins our sense of self. We care deeply about what others think of us. When asked, people would rather experience physical pain that the pain of social isolation. In the context of work, businesses increase their productivity when they create a culture where everyone matters, that are human centred. Rather than targeting individuals, demanding that they become more resilient, as if it were their fault they they can’t cope with excessive workloads, resources would be better directed at measures that increase personal presence, emotional literacy,  inter-personal connectedness, embedding a social-emotional culture that recognises and values our inter-depence, our need to belong.

You are how you sleep

15May 17


We spend approximately 1/3 of our lives asleep. Yet, to many of us, sleep is just something that happens at the end of the day, with little thought given to its importance. As a result, we are sleeping worse than ever before with far-reaching consequences for health and wellbeing. Sleep is a time of rich neurological activity – a time for repair, restoration and renewal, memory consolidation, cognitive maintenance and growth; we need it to feel balanced, energised, focussed and happy. 

We reviewed the latest research and expert advice to bring you five top tips for getting some good quality shut-eye: 

  • Lay the foundation for good sleep throughout the day – eat breakfast, take regular breaks, stay hydrated, exercise.
  • Avoid stimulants – caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are notorious sleep inhibitors.
  • Make sleep a priority – take action by giving yourself a regular sleep and wake time, helping your body become accustomed to a healthy bedtime routine.  
  • Create a wind-down routine – this could include a bath, listening to music, gentle stretching, reading or meditation.
  • Turn your bedroom into a quiet and peaceful sanctuary – ensure it is free of clutter and tech devices, keep lighting low and the temperature.

What will wellbeing look like In 2020?

28Apr 17

Wellbeing is a $3.72 trillion industry, according to new research released by the Global Wellness Institute. With people living longer and our pace of life only getting faster. Keeping healthy is now a full-time job within itself. On the flip side of this, statistics predict that the number of people who will suffer from one of the leading causes of disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and depression is only going to increase.

So how are wellbeing companies trying to counterbalance this? I want to share 4 key areas that experts predict by 2020 will have the biggest impact in improving people’s wellbeing and allow them to live longer and healthier lives.

Here’s an interesting, though probably scary fact. Your phone and wearable technology probably know more about you than you do right now.  They know when you wake up and when you go to sleep and the quality of your sleep, how your body responds to the workouts you put it through, and how your stress levels are affecting you physical and emotional states.

We now live in world of smart devices. While fitness trackers are dominating the wearable’s sector currently, there is predicted to be a shift in how we track our information. Collecting data is not as new as we realise, in fact, it started as early as 1984, when Adidas stuck a microsensor into one of their shoes to record runners’ distance, running pace, and calorie burn.

According to research, analysis and advisory firm, International Data Corporation (IDC), smart watches will take the lead by the end of this decade, accounting for 52% of the market worldwide. Though what’s already starting to emerge as one of the newer technologies is smart clothing. IDC predicts it will grab a 15.6% market share globally by 2020. Having sensors built into our workout clothing, jackets, belts, and shoes actually helps the quality of information to be more accurate. It’s still a developing industry, but smart clothing is the future.

Emotional wellbeing is fast becoming a key focus. With the World Health Organization predicting that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is an area that technology can become really effective in helping people understand their physiological states. Because our stress levels and our state of mind are intricately connected and subjective, one of the best ways for people to understand their emotional wellbeing is through Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

Within our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), we have two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic activity leads to an increase in heart rate (e.g. during exercise), while parasympathetic activity induces a lower heart rate (e.g. during sleep). HRV, therefore, provides a measure to express the activity of the ANS, and may consequently provide a measure of stress and our emotional states.To understand how this works, there are a number of seconds that elapse between one heartbeat and the next one. This is called the Interbeat interval (IBI). Measuring HRV is not about the average IBI, but rather about its variability. It looks at how much the IBI fluctuates from each heartbeat to the next. Our parasympathetic is super-fast, so sudden changes in IBI influenced by this branch. Thus, greater HRV equals more parasympathetic stimulation on the heart, and thus, more flexible emotional responding. People with good HRV tend to be more optimistic, take initiative and are stress resistant. Whereas people with low HRV tend to be depressed or anxious. With wearable devices that track HRV, users can actually track their stress levels over the long term and access clear data to help pinpoint situations that may cause their anxiety or stress levels to spike.

Exercise is predicted to become more gamified by 2020. In 2016, we saw the astonishing rise of Pokémon Go, which demonstrated accelerated digital change into areas such as gamification and augmented reality (AR). Gamification within health and fitness is already visible to a degree via levels of motivation, challenges, and rewards that we see already with activities such as Crossfit. Though there is an emergence in applying the motivational triggers, data visualization and fun of gaming into the fitness experience further. Experts predict that more fitness devices connected with gaming devices via Bluetooth will become more crucial to getting more people active.With AR, our health and fitness experiences and engagement will draw people into nonstop virtual interactions. Coupled with more input from sensors from our smartphones and smart clothing, users will get more accurate results and continued motivation to keep going. Because people will have a better understanding of information, and the different biomarkers they need to change to become healthier.

One of the exciting areas within wellbeing industry that is expected to advance by 2020 is Stem Cell Therapy. Stem cells are the foundation for every organ and tissue in your body, they are also known as a centerpiece of regenerative medicine. Stem cells can be injected into the body to replace cells damaged by aging, disease or trauma. Even though stem cell treatments are yet to make it into the mainstream, forecasts for their growth are promising the market to explode over the next five to ten years.In 2013, the global stem cell market size was valued at around $38 billion. Over the next five years, it is expected to nearly quadruple, reaching and surpassing $170 billion by 2020.

What effect this will all have is of course unknown. Though what is clear, the more we educate and inform people to understand what wellbeing means for them and how they are responsible for changing their habits and behaviors, then the more we can inspire them to make the changes they need to become healthier.

Article by: Dean Griffiths, first published on

How to make remote working, work!

22Apr 17

When Professor Robert Kelly’s daughter marched into his office during a high-profile video interview with the BBC, nobody could have predicted the world-wide coverage this event would be afforded (if you haven’t seen the footage, you can view it here: Heated debate has ensued around his handling of the situation and the initial reports that suggested the woman who finally apprehends the wayward children was a nanny when, in fact, she is Prof. Kelly’s wife. All this aside, the footage gives airtime to an important issue: working from home has many benefits but it is not always the holy grail many believe it to be; it comes with its own set of unique challenges.

‘Fixed hours from a fixed location’ is no longer the only way we work. Employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of incorporating the option of remote and flexible working as an effective way of reducing staff turnover and absenteeism. The positive effects on employee wellbeing are hard to deny: a recent global survey by Polycom revealed that 98% of respondents found that flexibility around when and where they worked had a positive impact on their productivity; many businesses report a substantial increase in morale and job satisfaction after introducing such options; for those with family commitments, being able to work from home can be a lifeline that enables them to simultaneously pursue a career.

But, as Prof. Kelly’s daughters so charmingly brought to light, working from home isn’t always as easy as it seems. Distraction comes in many forms, from children to household chores, it takes discipline not to fall foul to other demands on our attention. Not having colleagues around can be lonely and cabin fever can start to set after 8 hours on your own within the same four walls.

What does this mean for employers? Well, simply rolling out a remote working scheme as part of a wellbeing strategy may not be enough, putting some structures in place and offering simple training can help both businesses and their employees get the best out of such an arrangement. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs says: “With remote work we can focus on results as a main performance measure; when and where people do their work isn’t usually important — how, why and what they do is”. Regular contact with the team is imperative and there are endless programmes to make this possible, from Slack to Skype. Training remote workers to plan their time will help them to stay organised when away from the more structured office environment; this should include taking breaks and making sure that there is a set endpoint to the working day – both easy to overlook when working from home.

With some basic systems in place, remote set ups could be cemented as a viable way of working, with both employer and employee reaping the rewards. Sara Sutton Fell again: “a flexible work environment acknowledges that our workers are whole people, with big, and sometimes complicated, lives outside of the “office.” And it doesn’t do the company or the individual any good to make them feel they need to shut that part of themselves off when they start work each day”.

Emotionally healthy families are happy families

12Apr 17

By Nick Haisman-Smith of Family Links, a charity dedicated to empowering children, parents, families, schools and workplaces to be emotionally healthy 

For us here at Family Links, happiness doesn’t mean we have to be happy all the time or be forever free from difficult feelings, such a goal is impossible. Rather it means aiming to feel fulfilled and having the ability to reach our potential, both of which I believe can be achieved by supporting good emotional health in ourselves and our families. Emotional health refers to a set of social and emotional competencies and beliefs including self-esteem, self-awareness, empathy, emotional regulation and relationship skills, which are all important to deal with daily life and challenges, but also to support children and positive family relationships.

So how can parents foster good emotional health within their families? There are a number of everyday things that we can all do for ourselves and each other to create an environment in which our family members feel valued, loved and appreciated. Some of these tips may seem like small acts, but they can make a big difference to relationships and communication between family members, and indeed any relationship.

– Keep each other in mind

Stay tuned in to what is going on for the different members of your family. If someone has an important meeting or a lesson they’re not looking forward to at school, check in with that person at the end of the day. By doing this, we prove to that person they’re being thought about and it shows we’re aware of what is going on for them.

– Have regular whole-family time

Putting time aside to spend together as a family is a great way to enjoy each other’s company and have fun. The activity does not have to be a big or expensive thing. It could be watching a TV programme that everyone enjoys, playing a game, or just being silly together. A little bit of light heartedness goes a long way.

– Find regular individual time with everyone

While it is important to take time as a whole family, we also need to maintain our relationships with each individual family member. Every few days, try to have a few minutes one-on-one with each other person to see how they are and tune into what is going on for them.

– Try to regularly spend meal times together

It is not always possible to eat a meal all together, but having at least one meal a week with the whole family can be really beneficial for relationships. Sharing food is an important social activity, and it can be a focussed time of day to check in with each other round a table, with distractions, like phones, out of the way.

– Listen to each other

This might seem like an obvious one, but actually being listened to can make a significant difference to how valued we feel, so we know our opinions and experiences matter to our family. This also encourages the idea that each person’s voice matters equally, whether they are a parent/guardian or a child.

Encourage and model open, honest feelings

We cannot all be happy all of the time, and it is not emotionally healthy to bottle up feelings like anger, jealousy and frustration. By modelling a healthy expression of a range of emotions to children, we give the message that it is okay to acknowledge all feelings, even if they are not always comfortable.

– Take time for yourself

Good emotional health starts with you. If we do not look after ourselves as individuals, it will become impossible to help or support others. Check in with yourself to see how you are feeling, and do things regularly to nurture your own wellbeing. This could be anything from going for a walk on your lunchbreak to socialising with friends. By regularly doing things to look after ourselves, we prevent “burn out” and become better able to give out to other aspects of our lives, including maintaining emotionally healthy relationships in our families.

For more tips, take a look at Family Links’ free downloads for parents.

Depression doesn’t stop when you go to work

07Apr 17

As the WHO launches their campaign ‘Depression: Let’s Talk’ we are featuring one man’s account of dealing with depression whilst pursuing a career as a writer. He brings to light many important issues around mental health in the workplace and what employers can do to create a culture of acceptance and support by putting mental health at the centre of their employee wellbeing strategy.  

Depression affects millions of people around the world. It destroys lives, it ruins marriages and it also impacts on how we work. Yet mental health problems, including depression, are still often a taboo subject in the workplace, which is odd when you consider that one in four adults will experience a mental health condition in any given year.

It can be difficult for a person suffering from depression to report the issue to their employer for a number of reasons. Depression can wrongly be seen as a selfish condition, or mistaken for a short period of sadness. Sometimes managers and even HR departments don’t understand, or aren’t trained to deal with mental health issues. For those who have never experienced the illness, it’s difficult to contemplate exactly what the sufferer is going through or why they can’t just snap out of it and pull themselves together.

Unfortunately depression doesn’t work like that. My experience with depression is better than most. I’ve been lucky enough that it hasn’t had too dramatic an impact on my working life and I’ve been able to build a career. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve been fortunate enough to not only work for some very forward-thinking employers, but also to be in a position where I can influence policy regarding workplace mental health.

All employers have a responsibility for their employees’ health and safety in the workplace, including pre-existing mental health conditions and conditions brought on by work. How can employers ensure they meet this responsibility? I would suggest that the best way is to remove the taboo around depression and other mental health conditions and encourage their employees to come forward and seek help. Living with depression can be very lonely, and it will only be made worse if you feel that you have to hide your illness from your bosses. A lot of people suffer in silence until the problem gets too much, compounding their feelings of helplessness and isolation.

I’ve had my own issues with depression for a long time, but I have some great friends and family who have offered me help and advice, as well as knowledgeable and compassionate managers. Even so, I’ve still experienced days where I’m overcome and I can’t get out of bed. I’ve felt lower than I thought possible, I’ve thought about killing myself and I’ve done or said things that I never would have if I’d been having a good day.

On days where my condition gets the better of me, minor issues at work become major issues. My mind is a dark pool where the little annoyances that we all experience will swim around like sharks, devouring any suggestion of levity until they grow too big and overwhelm me. Then I shut down. My brain stops. Whatever task I’d been consumed with becomes unimportant as I sink deeper and deeper. My head is no longer on the job, which, depending on where you work can have serious health and safety impacts not just for you but also for your colleagues.

I have had to work hard to recognise when this might happen, and to take action to ensure I never put myself or others in a position of serious harm. My manger was aware of my condition and afforded me the flexibility to work in a way where I could best manage it. The company helped me fight my illness by offering me advice, resources and support. And importantly, by not making me feel selfish or ashamed for suffering from a condition beyond my control. They recognised that I’d have days where I couldn’t be productive, and helped me manage my workload to compensate.

Due to the confidential nature of workplace illness, and the reluctance for sufferers to come forward, it’s really important that employers build a culture of acceptance and support. Managers can find it difficult to discuss issues like depression, so it’s important for companies to help them with robust policies, procedures and training. With the cost of replacing staff lost due to mental health conditions reported to be £2.4bn per year in the UK alone, it makes sense for employers to help their employees combat the illness, even if just in a fiscal sense.

My experience with depression at work is one of the better ones, but it’s easy to find numerous examples of people suffering from mental illness who have been discriminated against, let go or passed over for promotion. Sometimes the employer is aware of the condition when they do this, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes, instead of making their employer aware of their condition an employee will have several unauthorised absences until the employer is forced to terminate their employment. This can tip a person on the precipice of self-harm over the edge.

If you’re suffering from depression and you don’t feel you can talk to your employer about it, I urge you to seek an alternative source of help. There’s plenty out there. Just remember that the worst thing you can do is suffer alone, and you don’t have to.

By Jordan Oldbury. First published on

Employee wellbeing, the Nordic way

30Mar 17

This week, Norway was announced as the happiest country in the world, nudging long-reigning Denmark into second place. A quick scan down the rest of the list reveals that other Nordic countries including Finland, Iceland and Sweden can all be found within the top 10. For the first time in its history, The World Happiness Report focussed on happiness in the workplace. Co-author of this chapter, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve says: “People tend to spend the majority of their lives working, so it is important to understand the role that employment plays in shaping happiness.”

Lending further strength to these rankings is The Global Workforce Happiness Index, a study that looks exclusively at workplace wellbeing. In 2016 this report gave top 10 spots to Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, based on 200,000 respondents’ job satisfaction level, willingness to recommend their current employer to others and their likelihood to switch jobs in the near future. Author of the report, Daniel Eckart says: “Employee happiness is crucial for retaining good talent as well as having a motivated workforce that delivers great results and continuously innovates”.

With this in mind, we pose the question: what can we learn from the Nordic countries in terms of workplace health and wellbeing? Here is what we found:

  • Work-life balance is an absolute priority and employers have strategies in place to ensure their people are achieving this. The average working week in Denmark, across industries and job roles, is 37 hrs hours and overtime is actively discouraged.
  • Employees are often elected to sit on a workplace wellbeing panel and play a vital role in promoting everything from healthy lifestyle habits and work-life balance, to improved nutrition and exercise.
  • Employees in Nordic countries report feeling a sense of autonomy in their work, something that has long been associated with high job satisfaction.
  • Annual leave allowances are generous. In Finland, like most of its neighbouring countries, this is at the very least 25 days/year.
  • Mothers are encouraged back to work and strategies put in place to aide this process. 78% of Danish mothers return to work once their children are in school, compared with a global average of 66%

Such a forward-thinking approach to the workplace does not, of course, exist in isolation and many other social, economic and political factors come into play that can make it challenging for other countries to adopt the same policies. But, when developing employee wellbeing strategies, businesses would do well to take a leaf out of the Nordic book and do what they can to encourage their people to be well, work well and live well.

Fathers and the fight for flexible working

17Mar 17

The challenges inherent in pursuing a career whilst caring for children seem to be overwhelmingly attributed to women; from press coverage to policy development, the focus tends to be on the mother’s struggle to find balance. It may be true that women are still taking the lion’s share of childcare responsibility, but traditional patterns of employment and parenting are changing and a growing number of men want to work fewer or flexible hours so that they can shoulder more childcare responsibility. But it seems employers have been slow to respond to this shift and many fathers report facing a negative bias and discrimination in the workplace.

What are the challenges fathers face?

The 2017 Modern Families Index found that men were more than twice as likely than women to think that flexible working would have a negative impact on their career. These findings are bolstered by a Plymouth University study that uncovered a trend in employers treating fathers who request flexible hours with suspicion, whereas mothers were praised for their dedication to balancing work and family commitments. In addition to this research, a recent article in The Guardian featured a number of fathers who said the discrimination they felt when trying to secure child-friendly working arrangements came primarily from their male colleagues.

What can employers do to help fathers?

Employers can ensure fathers’ quest for work-life balance is supported by developing an employee wellbeing strategy that addresses the challenges they face. For example, awareness campaigns can be developed that address the stigma associated with working fewer or flexible hours and bring about cultural change that makes it acceptable to prioritise family life. An ongoing investment in workplace health and wellbeing could include training in areas that are of particular benefit to parents such as financial planning, stress management and first aid, as well as on valuable topics such as teaching children emotional resilience.

How can women benefit from fathers working flexible/fewer hours?

The complex nature of family life means that the challenges mothers and fathers face can’t be viewed as separate issues; supporting fathers to invest more time in their children could be the most direct way of ensuring women have the freedom to work because responsibility for childcare is more fairly divided.

Maria Miller of the Women and Equalities Select Committee says: “Many fathers want to take a more active role in caring for their children and we have found that sharing caring responsibilities equally between mothers and fathers is the key to reducing the gender pay gap.”

Fitness in your front room

08Mar 17

Trying to balance work, family, fitness, healthy eating and the many other demands on our time can feel impossible. And despite most of us being more than aware of its indisputable benefits, it seems fitness is often first in this list to be dropped. Perhaps not surprising when a trip to the gym or a class can take hours out of your day and a sizeable chunk out of your monthly budget.

Over the past few years, a solution to this predicament has started to emerge and is now growing at staggering speed: fitness from your front room! YouTube is awash with channels that provide accessible and achievable exercise routines for free; type ‘exercise’ into the App Store and you’ll be overwhelmed with options.

Here is a list of our current favourite resources for time-efficient exercise without the expensive price-tag:

A combination of charming delivery and accessible content has given Yoga With Adreine over 2 million followers on YouTube.

Kayla Itsines is having a moment in the fitness world. Her empire now spans a book, a best-selling app and a YouTube channel.

Personal trainer and trailblazer of the #strongnotskinny movement, Zanna Van Dijk is fast establishing herself as one to watch.

If things had started feeling a little female-heavy then The Lean Machines should redress that balance with their fun and upbeat approach to fitness.

The Body Coach’s Shift, Shape and Sustain Plan claims to transform your body and the way you see nutrition forever.

Lastly, we can’t leave prolific fitness DVD creator Davina McCall out – she is still a reliable source of lighthearted and accessible exercise programmes.


08Mar 17

Following on from Part 1 of this article (published 28th Feb), we pick up the analytical thread and explore further ways in which ‘the squeezed middle’ can be supported during a particularly precarious time for this demographic, using the specific example of elder care.

The obvious benefit of most general value to anyone caring for an elderly relative is flexible working. The problem with the flex offer is that while it might be compulsory to consider requests, there continues to be a work culture where anything other than full-time working is perceived to be less committed, less responsible and less of a contribution. Organisations need to be able to point to a clear policy not just on the availability of flexible working as a principle, but also what’s expected in terms of attitude and understanding to flex-workers from employees at all levels. Leadership institute Roffey Park offers its staff who are carers the opportunity to take a respite weekend.

Support around financial wellbeing from employers is often tentative. It’s usually restricted to workplace pension offerings, pensions in general, in some cases schemes to help with day-to-day budgeting. The squeezed middle need more sophistication than this, as part of a wider employee wellbeing strategy. They are more likely to have more complex financial assets in terms of property and investments, and more complex costs and needs in terms of planning – whether that’s supporting children through Higher Education or helping them onto the property ladder, the eldercare issue, or trying to ensure they’re in a position to retire at a reasonable age without heavy financial burdens. Online financial education content and tools aren’t enough, and neither is the EAP offering. There’s a need for specialist support and advice on planning, personal, specific and face-to-face.

Technology is beginning to provide other forms of reassurance and means of re-gaining and keeping control. Take start-up company Tutella, which supports the creation of wider support networks through use of a free app. The company has been created by health entrepreneur and advisor to the NHS on clinical innovation Paul Gaudin. The private social network app is the basis of rallying and organising family and neighbourly support – who’s going to do what when, how can we help each other? – as well as linking its members with professional advice and knowledge when it’s needed. Networks can then access a professional 24/7 video GP support service via digital devices, and expert advice on property and funding, finances, legal issues, patient support.

Squeezed middle angst needs more of a forum. Given their seniority, years of experience and sense of themselves as the strongest links at home and work, there’s an issue of their reluctance to be open about the personal strains they are under, the isolation that can come with being a carer in particular. An employer can help in the background by carrying out research into the needs of this group in more detail, and their specific needs in terms of flexible working and other more concrete benefits that can form part of a strategic employee wellbeing strategy. All in all, the squeezed middle is the stalwart of society, they don’t complain, they just get on with their lot, but in doing so, they give the impression that they’re OK, they’re doing alright and don’t need your help. Clearly that isn’t always the case.