Mental Fitness: from wellbeing to developing the skills needed for the future of work
Many organisations have invested heavily in supporting employee wellbeing and improving resilience, particularly over recent years. However, the most innovative organisations are now proactively developing the emotional and psychological skills that individuals need to perform at their best, whilst helping to prevent future ill health.
I founded Developing Talent in 2008, based on my belief that learning and development interventions were often costly, but far less often resulted in lasting behavioural change. At best, there was a short-term improvement and then before long, old habits crept back in.
Behavioural change has always been the ‘acid test’ of what we do, and so much has changed over the years. The skills we need to develop have changed significantly and we now work in a more demanding, fast paced, and uncertain environment than ever before.
Proactively developing skills that help us to look after our mental health as well as perform at our best in demanding environments has become critical to the success of organisations.
“According to Deloitte, for every £1 employers spend on proactive mental health programmes they get back £5.”
Mental health and employers report – Refreshing the case for investment January 2020
However, we are now better placed to equip ourselves for success. The ongoing development of neuroscience and the research we can draw upon demands that we do things differently. We can develop innovative, scientifically researched approaches to specifically target the skills needed for the future of work.
These skills include:
- Resilience: our ability to persist through or recover from challenges (inside or outside of work), to proactively manage our mindset spending less time in ‘survival’ and more time in ‘growth’.
- Adaptability: our ability to develop an agile mindset. To become skilled in managing ourselves and others through change and uncertainty, not getting stuck or holding on to the past.
- Inclusion: our ability to build effective relationships with everyone we work with, irrespective of ‘difference’, and developing productive and inclusive ways of working.
- Focus: our ability to think clearly under pressure. More than ever, we need to weigh up complex information or scenarios and manage our capacity to do so. This includes energy and distraction management, being smart about when we do our best thinking and how to manage our cognitive resources.
These are the four clear outcomes of an approach that we call Mental Fitness, which can be defined as follows:
“Proactively developing the skills needed to improve our performance by taking control of our own psychological and emotional wellbeing.”
If like us, you can see the value and importance of developing these skills, perhaps the question becomes ‘how’ do we go about this? How do we gain buy-in and commitment to a new approach, and what might it look like in your organisation?
Developing a personalised approach to Mental Fitness
The benefits of physical activity are well known, and many people have established their own approach towards maintaining a level of physical fitness. This is usually based upon finding activities that we enjoy and that can fit regularly into our busy life schedule.
As a concept, Mental Fitness is not dissimilar to this. It is about individuals finding the exercises (mind tools and techniques) that work for them, and developing their own approach. Mental Fitness awareness also includes learning about the relationship between body and mind, and how physical activities can support our mood, energy and focus.
Mental Fitness programmes are multi-disciplinary, encompassing different fields of mind management. Individuals learn and experience a broad range of scientifically researched tools and techniques. Through a Mental Fitness Toolkit, they discover what best for works for them and how to create sustainable habits applying this to their own lives.
Gaining buy-in and commitment
There have been great strides forward in recent years around the openness and willingness for people to talk more about emotional and psychological wellbeing. However, there is still some way to go and from our experience some will feel unsure about investing time in this type of programme.
Five key insights on introducing a Mental Fitness Programme to your organisation
- Develop skills that improve performance, as well as wellbeing: Many top athletes and other high achievers practice forms of mental fitness. It is about developing the skills we all need to perform at our best, more often, and to enjoy successful careers. In terms of resilience and mental health, it is a proactive and preventative approach. Whilst it can benefit individuals already experiencing some difficulties, the programme is aimed at a broader group.
- Identify a personalised approach: As with physical fitness, what one person enjoys or finds works for them is different to another. Individuals will learn and practice various tools and techniques before developing an approach that works for them.
- Encourage senior sponsorship and role modelling: When senior leaders actively support these types of programmes, it helps individuals to see the value and relevance, leading to significant impact. Consider running a programme with some Senior Leaders so that they can become advocates within the organisation.
- Include awareness sessions: We run initial online or face to face introductory sessions to share the concept of Mental Fitness and help individuals understand what they will experience, and how it can benefit them.
- Create momentum, whether sessions are voluntary or attended by all: The quality of the learning and the experience is particularly high when individuals have opted into the programme. Future cohorts can then benefit as they hear about the experience and benefits from their colleagues.
Defining your approach
“The sessions with Developing Talent were very engaging and relaxed. We've all been so busy during the pandemic and the techniques I learnt stuck with me. We focus strongly on our culture at Microsoft and the sessions help to develop the behaviours that support this.”
Louise Cooke, Senior Manager, Microsoft
"The natural style and pace of the sessions meant that complex conditions and situations were explained in a clear and easily digested manner. The skills being taught were genuinely best practice and could be successfully applied in many sectors."
Tim Scofield, Project Director, Turner & Townsend
"Gary really knows his stuff and presents in a calm, measured and effective way. What I really liked was hearing how small steps can make big leadership changes. "
Emma O’Connor, Head of Training, Boyes Turner LLP
"Developing Talent worked closely with me on a management project. By keeping me focused on the strategy and timeline my coach facilitated the change and coached me through the process."
Chris Shaw, Managing Director, Beaufort Financial
"The Mental Fitness programme is very informative, stimulating and interesting. The programme, has helped me to develop many skills, including resilience self-compassion over the course of the four weeks"
Nancy Heath, Simmons & Simmons LLP
“We consulted with Tessa on a number of initiatives and she is always very knowledgeable, reliable and provides realistic solutions to our problems. She understands our business."
Chloe Seeley, Head of Attraction & Operations, KPMG