IT’S TIME TO SAY THANK YOU

The new year is upon us, and yet it feels very much like just a continuation of 2020 doesn’t it? Back in lockdown, back having our lives dictated to us, our freedoms suppressed, change forced upon us, things feeling out of our control.

It may be a bit depressing, but there is good reason for it: there is no doubt that we are at a very challenging time in this COVID crisis. We’re near the top of the mountain, we can see the top but it’s often that last stretch which can be the most difficult and demanding. We’ve done the hard work; we can see the end in sight and that’s when our guard can slip and the last few steps can become a real struggle.

I remember being with my dad on one of our many trips together to climb Snowdon in North Wales. He was a youth leader and a keen mountain-walker. He was always prepared for every eventuality as he climbed a mountain. In his backpack he had a tent, sleeping bag, emergency supplies of food, waterproofs, a little stove and a first aid kit. He never underestimated the mountain, and there is no doubt that, as a 9 or 10 year old, there was a point in the climb where a handful of nuts and raisins or a dextrose tablet (magic energy booster) were like manna from heaven, the little extra boost needed to get to the top.

It’s a strange story to share it might seem, but a valid one, I think – we’re near the (COVID) mountain top, but it’s not yet in reach and we’ve run out of gas, we’re running on empty. It’s been one heck of a climb to get to where we have, it’s been a struggle – let’s be honest here, it’s been so challenging to get up to this point, so how do we get ourselves to the top? How do we keep ourselves driving onwards and upwards when our legs have had enough of climbing? How do we catch our breath and fuel ourselves to continue this arduous journey to the summit?

Mountain

I think it’s time to say THANK YOU.

Odd thing to say – but actually a THANK YOU goes a very long way. Back it up with action, and a thank you can be transformatory, it can be healing and it can be energising.

It can be a PERSONAL thank you, to those who have helped you through this year. Who do you need to thank? A friend? A work colleague? A family member? A loved one? Who has been the rock to you? Who has been there for you during this last year? One of the loveliest things to receive (and I know this from my own experience) is a little note or card or email or text or WhatsApp message that says:

“THANK YOU for being you”, or “THANK YOU for being my friend”.

It’s not hard, but right now there is someone who is in need of a thank you, of your thanks, of your GRATITUDE – so why not use this prompt to send them that little something?

We all have things to be grateful for, and when things are bleak, when things are tough, it’s important to remind yourself of just how much you have to be grateful for, and to thank those who have been gracious, kind and supportive to you. As I’ve mentioned in the last posted blog, kindness is infectious, so spread a little kindness and give a little thank you to someone who you are grateful to.

That’s the personal thank you – but this is a business blog, written by a business consultancy, it’s about business best practice, it’s about excellence in action, in organisations. So now let’s talk to you organisational leaders out there, those who have teams and line manage people.

We have a very diverse Meta family – we are unusual in that we work in all sectors (corporate, public and third non-profit/charity) and with all kinds of sizes of organisations (from 10s-1000s of staff). We work with all levels of managers and leaders, from team leaders, to shift managers, to directors, executive directors, CFOs and CEOs. So, over the last year we’ve heard many different approaches to the pandemic and working practices. There’s been some AMAZING practice (I’d like especially single out CRISIS, SQUARED and BDHT here as organisations who have been AMAZINGLY supportive and appreciative of their staff and that it’s been our pleasure to work with).

We’ve also heard of organisations (mostly in the corporate sector if we’re honest here) who have carried on pretty much as though it’s business as usual, treating staff (who have been home-working, home-schooling and coping with the rather large challenges we’ve all been facing during this crisis) as resources rather than human beings. Restructuring, putting people at risk of redundancy, carrying on major projects that maybe could have been put on hold.

Now we understand that business must carry on. It doesn’t stop because there’s a pandemic going on and, at the same time, an acknowledgement of the human side of things is incredibly important, and will ensure the loyalty, and dedication of your staff. We’re ALL struggling, whatever your level within an organisation – we see an end in sight, but how do we get there when we’re running on empty?

The good news is that it’s not too late. As leaders we have tremendous power and a little can go a long way indeed. Remember that handful of nuts and raisins my dad would dish out as I thought the mountain path would never end? The dextrose tablet for those last 100 yards to the top of the mountain? Well, the organisational equivalent is a THANK YOU – a heartfelt thank you can make all the difference.

Has your organisation THANKED its staff? I mean REALLY THANKED its staff for helping the organisation to make it through last year? Even if your organisation hasn’t been particularly vocal about it, YOU can, as a manager or leader of people.

The new year is a great time to hit refresh, to start again, to set the tone for what is to come. It’s a great time to put behind us things that need to be put behind us and focus on the what next, what is to come. It’s a great time to say THANK YOU and to help lift the spirits of your staff to cope with the coming 3-6 months of uncertainty.

Right now your staff will be struggling, like the 10 year old me near the top of Snowdon. They need a boost, some motivation to keep doing the work that they need to do. So now is the time to really THANK them for all that they have done – and do it in a way that will stick in their memory, will really energise and delight them.

So spend time TODAY to think about how you can THANK your staff. Be you someone who has one person in their team, a whole directorate or a whole organisation – how can you really say a BIG THANK YOU?

Most people just want to be appreciated and valued for the work they do. They don’t need big gestures, small ones will do, but it needs to be genuine and heartfelt.

Let’s be honest here, there is no doubt that, without your staff doing what needs to be done, your organisation would not have got through the year as well as it has. This pandemic has been an unprecedented event – no-one leading an organisation has ever been through something like this, and so there has been extra pressure, extra demands put on both leaders and staff to just get through this as safely and securely as possible. It’s been a mountain to climb and, if we’re honest, many of us have been winging it as we go along, but now we’re through the worst of it (hopefully) so this is a good time to stop and say THANK YOU.

Have a think – get creative with your THANK YOUs, make your THANK YOU memorable and fun. Perhaps it’s time to do a silly awards ceremony, or to break out the virtual coffee and doughnuts. Is it time to give everyone a voucher as an appreciation of their efforts? Or how about this? If your organisation or team has had to work all the way through this pandemic, how about giving them a long weekend? Or an extra holiday day? If you can’t give it now, then give it in lieu to be used when work schedules allow? How about doing a Friday afternoon virtual pub quiz with real awards? How about having a virtual lunch? Or giving everyone an extra-long lunch break one day?

I remember, many years ago, I worked in the West End (of London) for NEXT. I was a deputy manager of the menswear floor in the Regent Street store. I don’t know if you remember, but NEXT was famous for its Boxing Day sales. All the stock would be 50% off or more – everyone went to the NEXT SALES.

I can remember sitting on the number 30 bus going into work at 4:30am on the first day of sales, and knowing that the people who were on the bus with me were probably headed to one of our NEXT stores to start queueing!

The downside of having a sale so quickly after Christmas was that all the SALES preparations had to happen in the run up to Christmas (as if Christmas wasn’t busy enough!). As a manager I was expected to stay behind to finish up the prep. It was Christmas Eve, and I’d been working all day – it’s fair to say that I was pretty annoyed by the time it was dinner time. I’d been working for hours and, although the end was in sight, I’d lost all motivation and was getting rather irritable and grumpy. To top it all off, our manager had buggered off somewhere – he hadn’t been seen for nearly an hour, and the ‘minions’ had been left to do the hard graft – that’s how it felt anyway.

Then there was a knock on the stockroom door. We could see our manager’s face through the small window. As we opened the door, the waft of fresh cooked takeaway pizza hit our nostrils, and from behind his back he pulled out a plastic bag full of cans of beer.

Our manager sat us all down in a circle, and said a heartfelt personalised ‘THANK YOU’ to each one of us that was left. As we sat and scoffed the pizza, and drank our well-earned beer, all grumpiness had disappeared. We laughed, we shared jokes, turned the music up in the stockroom and cracked on with the remaining sale stock prep. I didn’t get home until about 10pm that Christmas Eve, but I didn’t go home angry, I went home happy, content at a good job well done, and knowing that all my hard work was appreciated and valued.

My manager wasn’t an amazing manager, but he did something that I never forgot that day. He reminded me how important, healing, restorative and transformative a simple THANK YOU, followed up with ACTION (the pizza and beer) can be.

NOW IS THE TIME FOR US ALL TO SAY THANK YOU – and follow that up with an ACTION. How you do that is up to you, but it’s important to start 2021 with an acknowledgement of just how much you value and appreciate your people.

Let me start us all off – I want to say THANK YOU, to all of you in our Meta family. Thanks for being there, thanks for doing the wonderful work that so many of you do.

It’s been a tough year for us here at Meta, but there are many of you (you know who you are) who have offered me personal support and words of encouragement this year, and I want to say a HEARTFELT THANK YOU to you all – it has been so appreciated and often just what I needed when you gave it.

And, every one of you who is reading this deserves to be THANKED just for getting through this last year – it’s been a bugger to put it mildly, but you made it, and that is something to be celebrated too!

Together I believe we will make the top of the mountain, and get down safely again. TOGETHER we are ALWAYS STRONGER – TOGETHER WE CAN ACHIEVE ALMOST ANYTHING.

Wishing you all a much better 2021!

In peace and love,

Jo xxx

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KINDNESS (IS INFECTIOUS TOO)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to recharge and top up my batteries and I definitely am missing being with friends, family and loved ones.

I MISS HUGS. I MISS THE PHYSICAL TOUCH OF OTHERS.

I know I’m not the only one.

As we get into the eighth month of this pandemic, and are entering into another enforced lockdown, we’re all feeling the strain. We’ve been amazingly resourceful. I think we’ve been amazing to get this far and not gone completely nuts! It’s safe to say that almost everyone I come into contact with right now is running on empty. We’ve just run out of juice and that’s to be expected when we’ve had so long in isolation with all the COVID-19 stuff happening all around us.

I thought I’d use this Meta blog, to remind you of the POWER OF KINDNESS, how kindness is a gift that keeps on giving.

Kindness

During this pandemic we’ve seen the best of behaviours in people and we’ve seen the worst. I think many of us have just run out of positivity or optimism and now, more than ever, we need something that helps us feel good, helps us feel better than we are feeling just now.

There is no better FEEL GOOD thing to do, than to BE KIND. Kindness spreads, it’s infectious (in a good way) and right now I think it’s something that we can all be doing more of. Kindness not only benefits those who we are kind to (it literally increases the happy chemicals in their body and brain), but also benefits us too (we get a good chemical hit too!). And here’s the nuts thing, it also benefits people who observe us giving that kindness to another.

So surely that’s the definition of a GIFT that keeps on GIVING?

Three gifts in one, a triple whammy from a single act of kindness – BOOM – *drops the mic*

The other thing about being kind is that it’s really, really easy. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; it doesn’t have to be big – it’s about the small kindnesses too.

It’s about making sure that you smile and say hello to someone on the street as you are having your daily exercise. It can be about engaging with the lady at the checkout at your supermarket or saying thank you to your postie next time you see them. How about sending a ‘thanks for being my friend’ type of card to one of your friends you’ve not seen in a while (or who lives in another country?)

And let’s not limit kindness to just our friends and family! Many of us are working from home now, and we miss the contact and comradery of our team-mates. So many of the people in organisations I’ve been doing resilience workshops with say it’s the simple things that they miss – the informal chat in the staff kitchen as they make a cup of tea, the office banter amongst the team, sharing a joke or meme, being able to laugh with your work colleagues and just the buzz, the noise of the office! So make sure that those of you who are working from home check in with your work colleagues, make sure you’re showing you care, to those in your team – maybe set up a WhatsApp group for your team, or just randomly check in once a week with someone in your team.

How about a virtual lunch break? Or a virtual cuppa and catch up? Friday team quiz anyone? There are plenty of ways of making sure that no-one feels alone or isolated in this next lockdown period and plenty of ways to show kindness to those we work with.

I went down to my local foodbank last week to offer to volunteer and the lovely manager there told me that they’d been inundated with offers of help, so much help that they were overflowing with volunteers and they had to create a rota to ensure that everyone who wanted to volunteer got to! It reminded me that, as human beings, we want to help those who are less fortunate than us, and it really re-established my faith in our common humanity. I think that when we are struggling, we tend to think of others – I know I personally have been thinking to myself that, if I’m struggling with all the tools I have in my personal toolkit, then my word how must it be for others?

I’ve also been running quite a few resilience workshops and, of the many themes that come through, one of them is the fact that CARING for ourselves and others really MATTERS. Caring and kindness are sense-siblings to show we care. It is in itself an act of kindness to show that we are thinking beyond ourselves and our own self-interest, to reach out to others and show our willingness to help and support them any way we can.

The thing about showing we care is that it’s not hard to do. It’s about reaching out and saying, “Hey I’m here should you need me”, it’s about sending an email that checks in with someone you’ve not heard from in a while. It’s about taking time on your weekend or evening to go through your phone contacts and send a random text to a friend to say, “Hello and how are you doing?” It’s about sharing that YouTube clip that brought a smile to your face, or the meme that a friend shared with you on WhatsApp.

Whatever the format, whatever the platform you use, whatever the technology, every contact DOES matter. In times when we are all struggling to be positive, receiving a text, an email, a WhatsApp message, or indeed a phone call or Skype/Zoom call from a loved one or friend (or, let’s face it, from pretty much anyone!) is always something that touches us, and more importantly something that helps us FEEL GOOD. And we all need to feel good now – especially now we’re going back into the hibernation and isolation that lockdown brings.

There is so much research that highlights how important our social network is (no not THAT online Facebook type social network, but our actual friends and family network). Our social network is our support network, and those who have more a more ACTIVE social and support network with more connections tend to feel significantly more positive and have much better mental health than those who don’t.

So now is the time to be reaching out, to be reconnecting and re-enforcing our social and support networks. Let’s reach out not just to our nearest and dearest, those in our inner circles, but to those who are further out, those that we know may be by themselves or in an ‘at-risk category’, or just someone we’ve not spoken to in a while. What I can GUARANTEE is that the simple act of kindness of just reaching out to say hello and check in WILL give them a boost to their day. It’ll take you just five or ten minutes, but it might just make someone’s day.

In the coming months on the run up to Christmas, let’s ALL make a concerted effort to be KIND, to show that WE CARE, to as many people as we can.

I know from my own doing of this as an exercise, that it’s good not just for those who I write to or contact, but it’s good for me too! Just recently I got in touch with my first ever best friend – Gary McCausland. When I first went to infant school, Gary gave up his place on the cool kids table (the orange table) to be with me at the back of the class on the black table. We became great friends and shared a love of the Beatles, playing guitar together and were in our first ever band together (the Bulrushes – I still have an audio tape somewhere :D), but sadly we had lost touch over the years.

I wrote to him near a couple of months back, as I’d found an old email address for him. Then just a few weeks back I got a response out of the blue… and it delighted me so much to hear from him. It was a real GIFT just to get that email and, although we’ve not quite got together yet, just hearing from Gary was like having a piece of who you are returned to you. He was the one friend I thought I’d lost that truly mattered to me – and now he’s not lost, he’s re-found – and in these uncertain and challenging times, that makes me very happy indeed.

So, do what you can this month to be a positive ripple – kindness is a gift that keeps on giving, so give what you can, when you can.

Please do remember that if you’re receiving or reading this blog, that you are a part of the Meta family, part of our network, so feel free to reach out to me or to Di – we’d love to hear from you!

In peace and love

Jo xxx

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“THE UNHOLY TRINITY”: OVERWORK, STRESS AND SLEEPLESSNESS

As I write this, Boris Johnson’s government has just imposed some new restrictions that limit our ability to socialise and, again, we find ourselves in a position where control and our social freedoms are taken away from us. It’s understandable: no-one wants a second wave of Coronavirus, and at the same time it throws us into new uncertainty and it is another change that is out of our control – which has a profound psychological effect on us.

I wanted to talk today about something that has become increasingly clear to me over the last five or so years: the fact that unless we start to look after ourselves better, unless we actively tackle the insidious triple danger of sleeplessness, stress and overwork in our own lives (and in those of our staff and teams, for you leaders reading this) then life (and work) is only ever going to get slowly but surely more difficult and challenging.

I think it’s safe to say that all of you reading this would say we’ve had a rough year. That’s putting it mildly and yet here we are, making it work despite everything! We are truly amazingly flexible and adaptable and we should all be patting ourselves on the back for what we’ve managed to do and the obstacles we’ve overcome within this crisis period. But we can’t do that forever, and from my own empirical research, I’m already seeing the warning signs that say we’re coming close to breaking point. Now I don’t want to be all doom and gloom here, I want to just emphasise how important it is that we take this existential threat seriously and do what we can to tackle and ultimately defeat what I call: THE UNHOLY TRINITY.

The UNHOLY TRINITY sounds like something from a dodgy 1970s Hammer Horror movie doesn’t it? But actually it’s a very modern phenomenon.

I think it really kicked in after the recession of 2008/9 when our stress levels significantly increased as a working nation. Job security went out of the window, and we were all fearful of losing our jobs and income. In return for keeping our jobs, we agreed to work that bit extra to help out, and when organisations did inevitably flatten structures, reduce headcount, and cut costs (which many have been doing ever since incidentally) we worked that bit harder to ensure that we got everything done and weren’t one of the ones ‘restructured out’.

Meta has been in business since the beginning of the millennium, and since 2000 research by the OECD and Eurostat database shows that we work now on average 1.5 hours longer than we did in 2000 (40.5 hours a week in 2000, 42 hours a week by 2019). I was once challenged by a senior director within an organisation as to whether we really did work longer and harder than we used to, that’s why I did the research, and what’s interesting is that the more you research, the more you realise that working harder and longer hours just doesn’t work.

I know it seems like an oxymoron. Surely if you work longer you’ll get more done right?? But all the research seems to say that if you work longer, especially whilst working through breaks (which many of us do now), then you get less not more done, and at a lower quality too! It also affects our ability to be creative – organisations that are famed for their innovation spend a lot of time and resources making sure their staff’s well-being is looked after to maintain their creativity.

What’s fascinating is when you look into the productivity per hour (check out the OECD’s fascinating research on this) the longer your average working day/week, the less productive per hour you become.

We are not alone in this upwards trend of working hours. However we are 2 hours above the EU average and amongst the worst in productivity. To spotlight one example: in Denmark workers work on average 37.7 hours a week and yet it is 23.5% higher in its productivity per hour. To put that into a context you’ll get, that’s two weeks extra holiday they’d have a year and they still get more done. This is a trend that is repeated not just through the EU but across the world.

So working longer hours doesn’t work! Not only does it not lead to increased productivity, but it also increases our stress levels (more on that in a moment).

This was all happening before the Covid crisis hit, but let’s update that research to the very latest during the last six months – you know how many of us are working from home now? You’d think that would lead to a better work-life balance, but actually we’re working even longer hours now we’re working from home more. Research done just last month by the National Bureau for Economic Research in the USA, using data from over three million American workers, found that the average workday in the USA had gone up by 8.2% (that’s a whopping 48 minutes per day). OK we’re not the USA, but we’re not far behind it, and what I find fascinating is that figure – 48 minutes.

I reckon that’s almost precisely the AVERAGE COMMUTE TIME for most people to and from the office. So now we are working from home, not only are we working 1.5 hours longer than we were 20 years ago, but in just six months we’ve upped that again by 48 minutes, using that commute time to work longer. No wonder we’re tired, no wonder we’re stressed!

No longer do we have that commute home to unwind and get our work day out of our system and get back to some semblance of normal. Now we open the door to our home office and we’re immediately launched into the stresses of home – kids, dinner and the stuff to be done around the house.

The body never gets a chance to calm itself down and get back to its normal state after the stresses of the day, and as a result that longer working day increases our stress and ensures that it carries on into our home life.

Which leads me on to introduce you to the second member of the UNHOLY TRINITY: STRESS.

Now I’ve talked a lot about stress so I won’t go into too much detail here, other than to say that, in our opinion at Meta, now more than ever we need to be actively doing what we can to tackle stress. As individuals we need to take the threat of stress more seriously, we need to be making sure that we understand it, that we’ve analysed what stresses us out and have tools in our toolkits to reduce its impact on us.

As leaders in organisations you need to be getting the conversations going about stress with your staff and ensuring you have a coherent strategy for tackling it within your organisations. This is not just because it’s the right thing to do, or a mental health tick box exercise, it’s because if you don’t face up to the tsunami wave of stress and mental health issues that will inevitably come as a result of the Covid crisis, then you’ll face serious capacity and performance issues within your businesses. Quality, creativity and ability to innovate will suffer too.

In short – it makes sound business sense to right now be investing (significantly) in the well-being (physical and mental) of your staff and tackling the silent killer called stress in your workplace and organisation. Think of it as a preventative medicine, to stop it before things get significantly worse.

Stress affects our ability to make good decisions and think things through, it makes complex tasks more difficult – we literally can’t think straight when we’re under stress. It tends to make us snappy, uptight and not very pleasant to be around. It makes us defensive, aggressive, emotional, and makes us react in ways out of character with our normal lovely selves. We make impulsive decisions, we say inappropriate things, we can feel helpless, out of control and struggle to get even simple tasks done. When we’re under stress we become more susceptible to illness as it suppresses our immune system, which is something nothing of us want when the danger of Covid is all around us!

Stress is something that was already a problem before Covid, but the latest research shows that we are all now facing even more elevated levels of anxiety and stress since the pandemic began. According to research done by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), when the Covid pandemic struck and we went into lockdown, there was a significant spike in our stress and anxiety levels to 5.2/10 on average (with 49.8% of people registering 6-10/10).  To put this into perspective, in the whole of 2019 (I think we’d all probably agree that was quite a stressful year too) we were on average at 2.8/10. Now because we’re amazingly adaptable human beings we’ve had a bit of a bounce back, but we’re still at 4.2/10 – a significant rise in stress in all of us.

So stress is very real and here right now and that’s causing many of us to have sleepless nights.

Which brings me along to the THIRD VILLAIN in the UNHOLY TRINITY – SLEEPLESSNESS.

There is a real sleeplessness epidemic going on in the UK, and this is not just because of the extra stresses of the pandemic, it’s been gradually getting worse for years. I started researching into sleep about 10 years ago, when I noticed just how many leaders I was working with were struggling to get a good night’s sleep. The fact is that getting a good night’s sleep is essential to have a healthy body and mind. Simply put, SLEEP is your greatest resource of all.

Sleep what is it good for

With a good night’s sleep, you can be your creative, fun loving, brilliant best, whereas with interrupted or reduced amounts of sleep, you can guarantee a more difficult and challenging day ahead.

The problem is that many of us are struggling to sleep right now. According to research done by Phillips in early 2020, the average sleep time in the UK is just six hours 32 minutes, which is considerably worse than the six hours 48 minutes average across the world.

So what?? I hear you say. What’s 16 minutes a night? Well, actually over the course of a year that’s an extra four whole days’ worth of sleep – and seven-to-eight hours are the minimum we all need to get per night to ensure that all that our body needs to do to repair, recover, regenerate, recharge and download actually gets done.

If we don’t sleep for long enough or have fitful sleep, then essentially we interrupt the programme of works that our body and mind has for us that enables us to function at our best. We can’t fully download or process the content from our brain, which means we can’t retain or absorb information in the same way the next day, we just don’t have the internal capacity or processing power to do what needs to be done. We don’t repair all the cells that need to be repaired, we don’t grow enough new cells to replace the old ones and as a result our physical health suffers. On top of that, our immune system will be compromised and we increase our risk of high blood pressure. Without sleep we tend to be more grumpy and irritable and our ability to see the world in a positive light becomes harder and harder. To put it bluntly, after a few nights of bad sleep, we’re barely able to function at all!

It also means we are more likely to start up our own internal stress factories, and we are more susceptible to STRESS. And STRESS is the number one cause of SLEEPLESSNESS, and WORK (especially now we’re working harder and longer) is the number one cause of that STRESS.

So now I hope you can see that these three members of the UNHOLY TRINITY not only cause each other but feed into each other and aggravate one another. It leads to an inevitable downward spiral, each feeding the next. They are truly an UNHOLY TRINITY and it’s time we all took notice of them and frankly did something to take them on and knock them down to size.

You see the thing is that when they are all together in their unholy union, then it’s difficult to disentangle them and tackle them. However, tackle each individually and they are relatively easy to do something about.

That’s what we’ve been doing here at Meta, working with frontline organisations to help tackle that UNHOLY TRINITY. We’ve combined the workshops that we provide on the BIO-CHEMISTRY OF STRESS, WORKING SMARTER NOT HARDER and #HAPPYSLEEPING, to create our RESILIENCE TOOLKIT programme. It’s a three-day programme that not only gives those who attend the understanding and the tools that will enable them to fight back and recover their health and well-being, but ensures that this is fed into the teams they work in too, in a way that builds resilience within the organisation.

At the end of the day Meta is a business consultancy. We understand the demands and pressures of work, and we understand the dynamics of organisations. This means that the RESILIENCE TOOLKIT programme is practical and easy to apply back in the workplace, and as a part of the programme we’ll work with your leaders to ensure that your organisation acts on the feedback and becomes a more resilient place as a result.

I personally have been researching the BIO-CHEMISTRY OF STRESS, SLEEP and SMARTER WORKING PRACTICES for years and years now, and what I’ve come to realise is that, although IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, these are things that most of us don’t know enough about and, as a result, we are unsure how best to tackle them. I’ve done the research so you don’t have to, and now I want to share that research to enable you to get the best from your people in these challenging and unprecedented times.

So if you’d like to find out more about how Meta can help you, your team, your leaders, or indeed your whole organisation to combat STRESS, WORK SMARTER, SLEEP better and increase RESILIENCE, then please DO get in touch. We want to do what we can to ensure that we all get through these unprecedented and challenging times.

Have a great month all of you, and please don’t hesitate to contact us should any of the UNHOLY TRINITY be affecting you.

Jo xxx

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THE COVID HANGOVER – IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT STRESS

There is no doubt that we are living through unprecedented times. With no apparent end in sight, we have learnt to cope with new ways of working and new ways of being. It’s not easy, but because as humans we are amazingly adaptable, we have done our best to make it all work.

But at what cost?

I’ve recently being doing some Bio-Chemistry of Stress and Resilience workshops with a leading homelessness charity. This wonderful charity has been on the frontline throughout the pandemic and has been an exemplar of how to look after your staff’s well-being during that time. I wanted to refine the programme’s content to reflect the impact of Covid-19, and so was looking to see if there was any research on how Covid-19 had affected our well-being. I found some research done by the ONS (Office of National Statistics) published about a month ago, about the mental health implications of the start and continuation of the pandemic.

Using a standard mental health measure for anxiety (0 being not anxious at all, 10 being extremely anxious) they measured the impact of the coronavirus and found that stress and anxiety levels were raised significantly at the beginning of the pandemic to nearly 50%, replying with a score above 5/10 and with the average being 5.2/10. Now, to give some context, during the entire year of 2019 we had been consistently at 3/10 or lower – that is a very significant average rise.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. As humans are amazingly adaptable, once the initial shock of Covid-19 and lockdown was over, we did bounce back somewhat, because as I’ve mentioned earlier us humans are amazingly resourceful and quickly get used to the ‘new lockdown normal’. However, the data backed up our own empirical research here at Meta with our extensive Meta leadership network, to show that although we did bounce back a little, we didn’t return to our baseline of 3/10. We actually are pretty consistent at 4/10 – so ALL of us currently have elevated levels of stress and anxiety, from our normal levels.

This research has only just been published, and it reflects the first stages of the pandemic. However, I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not back to anywhere near that 3/10. I’m not feeling OK and as if life is normal, that’s for sure! I still have good days and bad days, I’ve definitely got more positive, and I’ve definitely adapted my life and work to reflect the complex, challenging situation we find ourselves in. I’ve learnt how to deal with it (mostly), but I still find myself at times taking a snapshot of a Covid-19 life situation and thinking ‘what a crazy time I am living through!’

Yesterday I was in my local Sainsbury’s and, as I went through the checkout, for a moment reality kicked in – here I was paying through a big thick plastic shield, wearing a face mask. The checkout lady was wearing a mask, and then I looked around, suddenly noticing that everyone else in the store was wearing a mask too – it was like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie, and I thought to myself, this is crazy, this isn’t normal, it’s very very abnormal! And at that moment, I could feel my own anxiety levels rise. Would things ever be normal again? How long will this strange and bizarre Covid nightmare continue?? Then my brain kicked into gear, my common sense, matter of fact self got back to accepting the reality of the situation, my anxiety subsided and I just ‘got on with life’ again.

You see that’s the thing, we’ve all got USED to the pandemic. Doesn’t make it any less anxious making, or less serious. Us humans are brilliant because we do bounce back, we make our lives work, no matter what challenging situations we find ourselves in. And that in itself is brilliant; but we also have got USED to and are tolerating things that actually we need to pay attention to.

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Before the pandemic, there was already a silent killer at action in the UK and around the world. No-one really talked about it, but sure enough, from time to time, in every workplace and in every home it struck, silent but deadly – its name?

STRESS.

Before Covid we were seeing more and more of our leadership network suffering from stress-related illnesses, finding our own empirical evidence that stress-related illnesses were on the rise in the organisations we worked with. So much so that we were making it our focus to help local NHS organisations and others, what we’d now call ‘frontline services’, in the fight against stress.

Then Covid-19 struck, and we all pulled together, got stuff done and lived off adrenaline (one of the two primary stress hormones), as we worked our way through the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic threw up.

We have got used to stress as a fact of life, we’ve built up a tolerance to it – even before the pandemic we were complacent about it – but now as we come out of lockdown, we need to start talking about the inevitable ‘wave of mental health and well-being issues’ that is coming.

There is such a thing as stress fatigue. It’s also known more commonly as burnout, and without wanting to sound too dramatic, we all need to make sure that, right now, we’re doing what we can as individuals, team members, leaders and organisations to ensure that we don’t have a ‘wave of burnout’ as a result of this extended time we’ve been in lockdown.

No-one is taking the threat of stress seriously enough. Our body is not designed to be under such elevated levels of stress for such a sustained length of time. Yes, we’re brilliant at making things work, and during this crisis we’ve all pulled together, we’ve done amazing things, reacted and adapted to keep our businesses and our lives working. However, we need to start being honest with ourselves and with each other about just how stressed we really are, and what the long-term effects of that stress will be on our staff and our organisations.

Stress is very real, and it is absolutely here to stay. So, it’s time to start talking more openly about it. We need to be honest with ourselves about how much stress we are under and be kind to ourselves more often – filling our own fuel tanks more regularly to ensure that we’re doing what we can to combat our stress levels.

Then if you are a leader, you also need to be talking to your staff more about stress and doing what you can to support them through this easing of lockdown period and afterwards, when life is apparently back to a semblance of ‘normality’. You see the interesting thing about stress is that when adrenaline and cortisol are running around your system, you tend to be able to deal with most things, you ‘hold it together’, you make it work – however the serious health (mental and physical) implications tend to come AFTER the worst of the stressful period is over. It’s the mother of all hangovers – and we need to be making sure that we’re prepared and looking out for the signs right NOW.

So, what can you be doing as an individual? I’m sure that all of you reading this have at one time or another been taken through our FILLING YOUR FUEL TANK EXERCISE exercise. If you don’t know this exercise yet, just click on the link to access the PDF.

It essentially reminds us that we all need energy to thrive and need to keep on topping up that energy fuel tank during the day to ensure that we are performing at our best. Right now, I want you to think of your fuel tank as having a small hole in it. Metaphorically that’s the equivalent of being under these slightly elevated levels of stress – you’ll be burning up and losing more fuel than you would do usually. That means now, more than ever, you need to be making sure that you are topping up your fuel tank on a regular basis and making sure that you make time at the end of your working day to relax and unwind before you launch into your evening routine.

What can you do as a leader? Well you need to start the conversation with your staff members, or within your organisation. You need to realise that your staff (especially those who have been frontline workers), although apparently OK on the outside, are not going to be OK.

NOW is the time to be pro-active about your staff’s mental health and well-being. Now is the time to give them the tools for their own toolkits to be able to understand stress and have some practical tools in their own toolkit to reduce its impact going forwards. It’s time to talk about WHAT particular things are stressing people in your organisation out. Is it homeworking? Isolation? Technology? Fear of losing their jobs? Then, as an organisation and leadership team, you can start actively looking at doing what you can to mitigate these stress factors.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it will be for you as organisational leaders to be doing this RIGHT NOW. Act before it’s too late – this might sound doom and gloom, it’s not meant to, it’s just meant to give a bit of a reality check on the current mental health of the workforce and the workplace, and I hope you’ll heed this call to action.

An organisation is made up of individuals, those individuals pull together to become more than the sum of their parts, their combined strength is what makes your organisation strong and successful, their strength makes your organisation excel. So, make sure you’re looking after your people, because if you look after them, they will look after you.

At Meta we are passionate about helping individuals, teams and organisations be their best. We have been developing and refining workshops that combine the latest cutting-edge research on resilience and combatting stress with practical tools that can help everyone who attends to have their own resilience and stress toolkits.

Right now, in this pandemic period, we want to ensure that we support leaders and organisations like yours to equip your staff with the tools needed to beat stress and to negate the negative mental health effects of this pandemic. That’s what we’ve been doing recently with frontline organisations, and we’d like to extend that offer of help and support to you too.

If you’d like to ‘talk about stress’ and re-build the resilience of your staff and your organisation, then please do drop us a line and we’ll do what we can to help.

We’re also here for you, the individual reading this blog. If you’re getting this, then you’re a member of our Meta family and as such we’d like to extend our own offer of support through this period too – don’t suffer alone, please do reach out and we’ll do what we can to support you in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Have a wonderful month all of you, and please do call on us should you need to.

In peace,

Jo xx

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LESSONS FROM COVID – HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR ‘NEW NORMAL’ TO BE

As the lockdown begins to ease, we hit a new phase of the Covid Crisis and a new change journey to deal with. Once again the change is being ‘put upon us’ we don’t have a lot of choice about it, it’s happening whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not. It is inevitable, then, that we will again find a ramping up in pressure and stress, on TOP of that which we’d already been feeling and dealing with. It’s been one heck of a series of lessons, has this lockdown period, so what do we take away from it all? Surely there’s got to be some positives to come out of this time. Can we really see this phased return to work and ‘normality’ as an opportunity? At Meta we’d strongly urge you to do precisely that… let me explain why.

Look, this lockdown has been a really strange time for us all. It’s been WEIRD, MESSED UP – let’s face it, it’s been pretty RUBBISH. However there have been some really interesting shifts in our collective behaviour as a result of it. Sure, some of it was enforced (i.e. social distancing and self-isolation, home educating the kids). However some of it evolved naturally over time, as individuals and families got used to being in lockdown – going out into nature, listening to birds, taking time to be together and doing activities together as a family, spending more time virtually with extended family and friends, doing things WITH our neighbours and community, helping others in the community.

All in all, there’s been some really good things that have come out of this extended period in lockdown, some work related, but many about the way we lead our lives. So before we launch ourselves back into the lives we used to have, before we go back to our old patterns of working and busy, busy, busy lifestyles – let’s take time to do a review of what we really want to take forward with us and what we’d really like to leave behind. Then perhaps we can look back on lockdown as the time we really started to LIVE our lives, the way we wanted to, not the way that we felt we HAD to.

There is no doubt that for me and for Meta the Covid-19 pandemic has been tough. Not just because of the experiences we’ve all been sharing, but as I have mentioned before we’ve also had the extra stresses of Di’s house fire (and her consequent living with me for the last three months) and the fact that my wife’s mother died unexpectedly a month or so ago. Combine that with a virtually empty work diary and no income to speak of, oh and the fact that my mum cracked her rib a few weeks back, and all in all it’s been a challenging time! However I’m naturally a positive person, and I’ve always seen everything that comes into my life as an opportunity to learn and grow. Sure sometimes the lessons come thick and fast, and maybe they’re not exactly what I’d have chosen myself (certainly not in the quick succession they’ve been in) but that’s how it is, so you do what you can to deal with it best you can and to use it as an opportunity to reflect, review and learn from it all.

At the end of the day, we all want to feel like we are moving forwards, that we are evolving. Sometimes that comes from carrots (the lovely things) and sometimes it’s with sticks (the not so lovely things).

NN2

About two weeks ago I decided it was time to wrestle back control, to reflect on what had been happening and use a review to figure out how I wanted my ‘new normal’ to be. It’s really simple to do, but it’s a really POWERFUL exercise, so I thought that this month I’d share that with you, and perhaps this is something that you can do. It doesn’t take long AND it’s something that you can do as an individual and do with your partner/family.

During the Covid-19 Pandemic period:

  1. What would you like to leave behind and not take into your ‘new normal’ life?
  2. What have you learnt about others? – This could be your family, your relationship, friendships, your kids,  your fellow workers, your organisation, your community whatever feels appropriate..
  3. What have you learnt about yourself? – What lessons will you take away from this time?
  4. What has not been so good for you? – What are the things that have not worked for you?
  5. What has been good for you? – What are the things you’ve enjoyed?
  6. What have you enjoyed or found good in the way in which you’ve been working? – Not just during the pandemic, but before the pandemic too
  7. What have you enjoyed or found good in the way you’ve been living your life? – Not just during the pandemic, but before the pandemic too
  8. What would you like to take forward into your ‘new normal’ life from the way in which you’ve been working? – What’s been your best practices?
  9. What would you like to take forward into your ‘new normal’ life from the way in which you’ve been living your life? – What’s important to keep?
  10. How can you ensure the changes that you want actually happen? – What support and encouragement can you put in place to make your ‘new normal’ a reality?
  11. What are THREE things that you can do now to make sure this HAPPENS?

This is quite a comprehensive REVIEW. There’s deliberate overlap between the questions, however each is designed to encourage your mind to give extra bits of useful information to create a more complete picture of how you’d like your life to be in ‘the new normal’.

Sure there will be things that are out of our control, of course there will, however because you’ve taken the time to do this REVIEW to really create a vision for how you’d like your life to be, it’s much more likely to happen. It becomes within your control, and when you hit up against something, you then have a choice as to whether this is a part of your ‘new normal’ that you’re prepared to compromise on, or not.

With life and work there are always compromises. However if you have got clear about what you really want, then you can make more informed choices about what your ‘non-negotiable’ boundaries are and your ‘negotiable’ boundaries are.

The review I’ve put forth here, is a starter for ten – it will most certainly give you a good chunk of information to use, but it’s not the be all and end all. It’s the starting point for the bigger conversation – ‘how do I want my work and my life to be going forwards?’

It will, however, ensure that you don’t miss the opportunity that this pandemic has given us to reflect, review, learn and grow. It also reminds you that there is more than we think that is within our control, so why not use today’s blog as a prompt to design how you’d like your ‘new normal’ to be?

Jo Clarkson, Meta CEO

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IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK

We’ve been in an enforced lockdown now for over two months as I write this blog. I don’t know about you, but I definitely have good days and not so good days. There’s so much to take in, from the daily governmental briefings to the sheer scale and likely long-lasting effects of what we’re going through. It’s not easy and in fact I’d say just because there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and the government is easing restrictions, doesn’t make how I’m feeling much better. So much of this is change that has been forced upon us, but that means we’re all on an ever shifting change journey, and just as I was getting used to being in full lockdown, and just about accepting that as my ‘new normal’ – we get the announcements that our new normal will be changing again and soon!

When it comes to change, the most difficult change to deal with is the one that is out of our control, or the change that is forced upon us. We all take time to adjust and adapt to change, especially one that affects our lives so totally as this one has. So, in this blog, I just wanted to acknowledge that what we are facing is NOT NORMAL and, as a result, all of us will be experiencing a mid-high level of stress most of the time. It’s constant, it’s not going away and, as a result, we definitely need to be kind and forgiving to ourselves and to those around us. We’re not going to feel normal when things aren’t normal, and that is OK.

Everyone is experiencing this lockdown in their own way, in their own family and friends bubble. Actually, everyone I have spoken to is experiencing lockdown in a virtually unique way – one family unit is never quite the same as another and indeed, in my closest friends, I don’t think there is one who is having the same experience of lockdown. One consistent message that cuts across all the experiences though, is that it’s a bit of a rollercoaster! I’d concur with that; it’s definitely been a rollercoaster for me and for Di.

There are so many lovely positive things happening out there, from family and friends spending more time than ever together (even if it is virtual, it’s still a good thing), communities coming together, people smiling and saying hello to each other as they walk past, when normally they wouldn’t (being positive ripples!), more families doing things together, spending quality time together, and the fact that almost everyone has been getting out into nature, exercising and finding time to literally smell the flowers! It’s lovely but it makes the down days, the dips in the metaphorical rollercoaster ride that is the COVID-19 ride, even more of a challenge. When you see so much positivity around and you’re feeling rubbish, it can get to you – and cause you to feel even worse.

So, I wanted to use this blog to say: IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK.

In fact, it’s more than OK, it’s to be expected. Of course it is, what we’re experiencing is UNPRECEDENTED (Gosh how many times have we heard that word in the last couple of months??!) and therefore there is no ‘right way’ to be, there is just the way you manage to make it work for you. Now more than ever, we need to be kind, forgiving, compassionate and understanding of ourselves. You see we can be quite harsh on ourselves sometimes. I know I can be on myself, and I also know that it’s not useful to be like that. It just makes me feel worse, not better, and I have come to understand, in this lockdown period especially, that even as Mr.(Meta)Positive, I too have not been OK a significant amount of time!

It’s only natural to be out of sorts, when things are as they have been, and that’s not likely to change as we move into an easing of lockdown measures. We’re going to have to be constantly adjusting ourselves, changing what have become established routines to incorporate new freedoms and new changes to the rules. The ground is constantly shifting, which will mean it is inevitable that you will feel a bit ungrounded, and a bit (and here comes the science bit..) ‘WOBBLY’. Things aren’t going to be the same, they are going to change and so we’re going to most likely return to a more up and down rollercoaster ride – so whilst the highs will be higher, the lows will, at times be lower.

So being NOT OK, is perfectly OK – indeed there should be a self-help book called ‘I’m not OK you’re not OK, and that’s.. OK!’ – because right now we need to know that it’s OK to not be OK!

Let’s make a pact you and I today – I’ll be kinder, more understanding and compassionate towards myself if you’ll do the same. Let’s agree that, actually, we’re going to have some down days in the coming weeks and months and that it’s OK to not be OK sometimes.

We all deserve a DUVET DAY sometimes! So next time you’re really not OK – how about you treat yourself to a movie and a duvet day? Get out into nature and lose yourself in a local wood. Go to the sea and watch the waves as they come into the beach (a lovely metaphor for our own emotional ups and downs) Or maybe you’d like to clear out the garage or the loft? Nothing like a good clear out of clutter and a clean-up to shift your mood! Or maybe just spend time on YouTube watching videos of your favourite comedians and laugh your way to feeling a bit better.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling out of sorts, under the weather (even when it’s warm and sunny) and indeed it’s important that we’re honest with ourselves and to those around us when we’re NOT feeling OK. That way those around us can give us a bit of space or a bit of loving up (nothing like a big CUDDLE from your kids or your partner when you’re not feeling OK) AND they can bring the popcorn and the treats to make your duvet day a real fuel tank filling experience.

I want to make another pact with you, and that’s that when you ARE having an especially NOT OK day, that you can always call on us here at Meta (in between popcorn and films), and we’d like to feel that we can do the same with you. Indeed, I’d like to personally thank so many of you who have offered support and help in this lockdown period to me and to Di. It’s so lovely to know that this Meta family will come out stronger from this time, and we want to say a BIG THANK YOU for cheering us up on our down days and celebrating our up days with us.

So whatever is to come, the ups and downs and all arounds, we’re in this together – we hope this blog has been useful for you, and we hope that we’ll get to see you all again soon – be that virtually or hopefully in the not too distant future in the flesh!

In peace and love,

Jo & Di xx

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TIGGER’S BOUNCE – IN WHICH POOH LEARNS FROM TIGGER THE VALUE OF FRIENDSHIP (AND BOUNCING)

Pooh was wondering what to do. All this self-isolation was beginning to get to him and, even though he had stocked up his store-cupboard of honey last time he’d been to the supermarket at Hundred-Acre Wood, he still felt unsettled and ill at ease.

It reminded him of another time when he’d been ill at ease – when he’d nearly caught the heffalump with Piglet. That was a scary adventure! But he’d done it with Piglet and it reminded him of how much he missed his friends.

“Oh bother!” said Pooh “I don’t like not seeing my friends – seeing them on Zoom is just not the same.” Just then Tigger called…

“Hello old friend!” said Tigger, as he bounced to and fro across the screen. “Hee hee hee! HOW ARE YOUUUUUU?” he said, as he bounced off his head and perfectly landed on his tail in his armchair. Tigger always had a big broad smile on his face and was perennially cheery – laughing and giggling and ho-ho-ho-ing!

Tigger really was a positive ripple in Hundred-Acre Wood. Getting a call from Tigger was always a highlight of anyone’s day.

“Well, to be honest…” said Pooh “I’ve been a little down on things these last few days, so I’m delighted to hear from you Tigger. Could you perhaps share how you keep so positive and happy in these challenging self-isolating times?”

Just then Piglet joined the call…

“He… he… hellooo??” Piglet sounded frail, and he struggled to get his video working, but finally he was there with his two best friends.

“Did I m-m-miss anything?” he asked bravely, whilst sipping his tea in front of the fire.

“Hallo Piglet!” said Pooh, “Oh gosh my little friend, it is SO GOOD to see you!”

“And you,” replied Piglet. “I was getting rather lonely and scared here by myself, but seeing your face has cheered me up no end!”

“Tigger was about to share how he keeps happy in these challenging times,” said Pooh to Piglet

“Oooh!” squeaked Piglet in excitement, “Please DO carry on and let us know Tigger, I’d love to find a way to keep positive, I do so struggle.”

“Helloooo Piglet!” said Tigger, as he bounced across the screen again, before sitting zen-like cross-legged on his sofa.

“Well, if you gather in, I shall begin…” said Tigger in his trademark lisp and fun-filled voice, “I find that when I’m not sure of things, there’s one thing I can always rely on…”

“Yeeess?” said Pooh, wondering what it could possibly be and wishing that Tigger would get on and share whatever it was.

“BOUNCING! Because that’s what Tigger’s do best!” And with that Tigger started bouncing, gently at first, encouraging Pooh and Piglet to join in with him, not in an exercising sort of way, but more a jolly dancing kind of way.

At first Pooh worried about his belly bouncing, but soon that turned into seeing how HIGH he could bounce, or how FAR across the room he could bounce and, before he knew it, he was smiling… and then that smile became wider and wider until he was laughing!

Piglet found it a struggle at first (him being a very small animal indeed), but soon he’d got the hang of it and was bouncing here and there and everywhere. Very soon he was feeling like he’d bounced himself out of his bad mood and was getting happier and smilier with every bounce

“Oh TIGGER, this bouncing is wonderful!” he exclaimed, whilst bouncing on and off his sofa and onto his bed.

“The secret is…” Tigger said mysteriously, “To keep bouncing until all you can think about is the next bounce… it’s meditat-tat-tat-tive. Just focus in on the bounce, and the ho-ho-ho and ha-ha-ha will surely come, because when you bounce there is only that bounce and the next bounce and the next – there’s no space for any negat-tat-ive thoughts.”

Pooh stopped bouncing and thought for a while… He found he had no thoughts, but a lot of happiness rushing around his body in ripples. He thought that what Tigger had said was probably very profound, very profound indeed – but all he could think of were the honey pots that were calling him from his store cupboard. His belly was rumbling in an ‘it’s nearly time for honey’ kind of way.

“Thank you Tigger. Next time I’m feeling down I shall remember to BOUNCE. But right now, if you don’t mind, my honey pots are calling me, and I’d like to fill my fuel tank (and my perfect bouncing belly) with delicious HONEY!”

“And I’m going to dig into my store of haycorns,” chuckled Piglet, whilst smiling and whistling a cheery tune to himself. “Goodbye dear friends!”

And with that they all left the Zoom meeting, Tigger bouncing off for his one-hour permitted exercise in the Hundred-Acre Wood, Pooh replenishing his fuel tank with much needed honey fuel and Piglet, well Piglet was just as cheered up and merry as he could be!

JC, after AA MILNE.

We’ve all got a friend who’s a bit of a Tigger and we all have good days and not so good days like Pooh and Piglet. I wanted to write something a bit different for this month’s blog, because extraordinary times call for different thinking and different approaches to this thing called life.

Am I advocating bouncing? Maybe… Give it a try (especially those of you who have young children) – you might find it makes you giggle and laugh like Pooh and Piglet. Mainly though, I’m reminding you that although we are self-isolating, we are not alone.

Now more than ever we should call on our friends and our support network. So who are your Pooh bears and Tiggers in your friends’ group? Who are the Piglets who perhaps need a bit of support in these trying times? Who are the Rabbits who are rushing around trying to get everything done and getting stressed in the meantime? Or the Eeyores who are feeling miserable and lonely but don’t dare ask for help?

We all need a pick me up and someone to talk to, it’s one of the keys to resilience and excellence – knowing WHEN to ask for help and when to reach out to support others and be supported ourselves.

The psychological effect of not being able to BE with people is a significant one too. We’re social animals, us human beings, and I’m sure like me you’re missing that social and physical contact side of your life right now.

So why not spend time in the coming month really re-connecting with your friends and support network? If you’re struggling, then reach out to the Tigger or Pooh Bear in your friends’ network. Or perhaps there’s a Piglet or Rabbit that needs a few calm and sage words of wisdom from you? We won’t know until we ask, and even if it’s been a while, most people will appreciate the fact that you’re checking in on them and that they were in your thoughts.

And remember that you’re absolutely a part of the META FAMILY too – and we’ll happily be your friend in your times of need – because that’s what family and friends are for!

Take care everyone!

We hope today’s blog has brought a smile to your face, I certainly enjoyed writing it!

Much love to you all,

Jo & Di xxx

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SMILE AND BE A POSITIVE RIPPLE

What unprecedented and challenging times we are living in – the Covid-19 pandemic is currently in full flow and we as a country are in lockdown. We’ve all heard the voice of fear in the last few weeks and I’m sure for many of you reading this, these are going to be a difficult few months – I know it certainly is going to be for us here at Meta – so we wanted to use this month’s blog to spread a little RIPPLE of META POSITIVITY.

In times such as these, there is no blueprint, no ‘way we did it last time’, as there has never been a time like this! We have seen the worst of behaviours and we’ve seen the best of behaviours. Sure we may all have got an extra toilet roll or can of beans when they finally came back in stock, and sure we all may have got caught up a little in the fear that job and financial uncertainty can bring us – but now as the dust settles and we hunker down to our new lives in lockdown, we need to make a conscious decision about how WE are going to be moving forwards.

There’s not much we can do when we’re being told to socially isolate ourselves. We’re (rightfully) deterred from leaving our homes only in the most essential of circumstances, and yet there is ONE thing that we can all do when we do have our morning exercise, walk our dog, or take an afternoon trip to get essentials at the supermarket – we can SMILE.

A SMILE is actually contagious (the best type of contagion) and we are neurologically designed to respond to a smile (and any facial expressions actually). So, when someone smiles at us we are automatically programmed to respond by our own mirror-neurons in our brain.

The mirror-neuron response is quicker than any social filter our brain may have to stop us smiling – and so, even if the person you are smiling at does not respond, your very act of smiling DOES stimulate their smile muscles. Did you know you had smile muscles?? You do! They are around your mouth and are called the zygomaticus major muscles.

Now what is brilliant is, because the mirror neurons are instinctive and instantaneously activated with a smile – whether or not the person you are smiling at ACTUALLY smiles, their zygomaticus major muscles are still being tweaked and stimulated, they are literally smiling on the inside. This might sound mad, but it’s actually true, and we’ll provide a link to one of our favourite authors, Dr.David Hamilton (a bio-chemist by trade), who talks more about the science and research behind this phenomenon in a brief YOUTUBE video HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHQBghevMLw

Isn’t it amazing that a smile can be so contagious? We might have instinctively thought as much, but it’s wonderful to know that the science is there behind it too.

Just as smiles are contagious, so are frowns… the mirror neurons don’t just reflect positive facial signals, but also negative ones. So, then the question becomes this, what do you want to be? A negative ripple out into the world or a positive ripple?

Being a positive ripple doesn’t just limit you to smiling of course, there is so much more we can do and that’s why in these times, we can all do our bit to be a positive ripple, be that through a SMILE (the simplest way to do it we think) or indeed through other positive gestures and kindnesses.

Here at Meta HQ (aka Jo’s house) we’ve dropped letters into our next-door neighbours, just checking to make sure (a) they’re OK and (b) they know they can ask us for help should they have to self-isolate as a family.

Talking of isolation, we must all be mindful of our own mental health too. Actually building our own social-networks in these times of self-isolation is important too. I’ve WhatsApp messaged all my friends – checked in with family around the world and have plans to have virtual meet ups both with customers, family and friends in the coming weeks and months. Once you start thinking about it and getting creative, it’s pretty amazing what you can do virtually. So, once you’ve got your head around the reality of the situation, how about getting together virtually with your friends and family?  And be creative! We’re going to be doing a virtual wine-tasting with a couple of our friends, for example, as part of our virtual social evening together (we bought the same wines to try together).

The thing is, strengthening your social network is not only good for your own mental health, it’s also being a positive ripple out to those that are in your social network too – and ripples go out and they come back. They’re metaphorical positivity boomerangs – as you put it out there, it will come back.

And of course, this is an opportunity for ALL of us to come TOGETHER – as partners, as family, as friends, as a community, as a team, as a workplace, as leaders, as an organisation, as a country and as a world.

Being a positive ripple, can be as simple as a SMILE.

So, when you next go out of your home, make sure at the very least, you are wearing YOUR SMILE, and when you’re at home, be a virtual positive ripple – and see what a difference it makes. Positivity makes us FEEL GOOD and others FEEL GOOD, and right now we all need to FEEL GOOD.

Me and Di want you all to know, that we’re always just a phone call or email away. You’re a part of our Meta family and as such we’d like you to know that we’re here to help and support you in any way we can. So please do call on us – we’ll do what we can to be a positive ripple for you.

Take care of yourselves and each other,

In peace and love

Jo & Di xxx

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AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM DI & JO RE: COVID-19 – META IS HERE FOR YOU

META – YOUR SUPPORT FOR LIFE

At Meta we have been wondering how best to respond to the current extraordinary situation we are all facing. It’s easy when watching the constant news updates to get caught in fear, to worry about uncertain times ahead, to isolate oneself and go into protective lockdown – but fear is never a good voice to listen to, let alone follow its advice.

It’s love and kindness, generosity and compassion that will get us through this period. It’s a time to put aside difference and come together as a larger community. It’s at times like these that you go back to your core-values, what are you HERE FOR? What is your real PURPOSE? And that’s what we’ve been doing here at Meta.

I’m going to be honest here: I’d been caught by fear and I’m sure I’m not the only one. With a small business consultancy like Meta it can go from everything is good to everything is gone very quickly! But there’s only so long that you can listen to fear and this morning I decided to have a stern word with myself whilst looking in the bathroom mirror:

‘Jo, it’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get yourself out there. Meta is a company here to help change the world – get back out there and do what you can to help – that’s your purpose, that’s your mission! Go and do what you are here to do, go do what you can to make a difference and support those in your Meta family’

So here we are with this very simple message to every single one of you reading this:

“WE ARE HERE TO SUPPORT YOU ANYWAY WE CAN – PLEASE CALL ON US.”

Meta has always talked of giving ‘support for life’ to anyone who has been on a programme or part of a group that we have run.

Yes we will be exploring ways of making Meta virtual (please stay tuned for video tool-kit exercises and invites to virtual Meta sessions and more) but first and foremost we, Me and Di, wanted to say that we are here to support and help YOU, your leaders, people and organisations in ANY WAY we can.

In the challenging days and months ahead, it’s useful to know that you can talk to someone, that you can get some guidance and support in the extraordinary times we are facing from someone independent but understanding of your world. We will all need to talk to someone, we will all need a ‘rant buddy’ – and we are GREAT rant buddies!

Meta is in business to support people like you. Now more than ever it’s time to be there for your family and YOU are OUR FAMILY.

So please do call on us. We are always just an email or phone call away.
We love what we do, and we love you, our Meta family – so let us help you, that’s what the Meta family is for.

We wish you all the very best in the coming weeks,

Be safe, be healthy & please take good care of yourselves.

Now more than ever we need to be filling our fuel tanks and looking after ourselves as well as being a positive ripple in the world.

Please keep an eye out for further Meta announcements in the coming weeks & for direct emails from Jo + Di – we’ll be reaching out – and if you’re no longer on your work email address, then get in touch and we’ll find a way to get the Meta announcements to you!

All our love,

Jo  jo@metapositive.com

& Di – di@metapositive.com

xxx

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RUNNING ON EMPTY? – How to re-build your resilience in six easy steps

Resilience is an interesting word that’s being used a lot right now in the world of work – it comes originally from the latin word ‘resiliens’ which means ‘to rebound’ – and in modern usage it means ‘to bounce back after adversity or difficulties or challenges’. 

I like to think of resilience as like your emergency power source, it’s what keeps you going when everything is falling apart around you, it’s the back-up battery that allows you to come back after a knock back, or run that bit longer even though your actual internal fuel tank has run out.

We’ve all seen the scenario in your favourite medical drama. The operation is in full swing, the surgeon is about to complete a complicated procedure, and then ‘poof’ the lights go out. The room is plunged into darkness for a few seconds, you can sense the panic rising, but then the emergency generator kicks in with an audible ‘click and whirr’ of power and calm returns, the operation can continue.

It’s just the same with us, it’s our internal resilience battery that enables us to bounce back after the metaphorical energy blackout, it’s what allows us to deal with the unexpected, the unforeseen, the almost impossible task, and finish what needs to be done even though we’ve run out of energy. It’s also what allows us to bounce back time after time when we’re faced with another shortened deadline, another project to add to our already burgeoning portfolio of projects, the next round of budget cuts, or the next knock back in our career prospects.

Over the last 18 years of being in business, we’ve seen a change in the patterns of working that have led to most leaders in our extended network working longer hours, having greater responsibilities, and managing almost impossible workloads.

Then there is the constancy of change within organisations – change is important and necessary, but it’s non-stop in many workplaces, just as one change is implemented so the next one begins, as one structure is beginning to be imbedded so the next restructure is announced. Can you remember the last time there wasn’t a restructure or cost-saving exercise going on somewhere in your organisation?

It’s that CONSTANCY that is the issue – a constant pressure to perform and adapt as leaders to the next structure, the next process improvement, the new system implementation, the budget review, the reduction in headcount etc.

It’s never-ending. And that’s the problem.

Our resilience battery has run out, the constant draw on our resources over the last 10 years or so has has meant that we’ve never been able to plug in and properly re-charge our back-up battery. It means that no longer do we have that reserve energy that we can pull on when we need to. When we switch the power supply to ‘back-up’ the red light is on, and there’s not much left to use before we completely run out.

When the emergency back-up is gone… then what?

Well, that’s when the stress hormones kick in and take over, that’s when our body starts to rebel and shouts at us to stop. I have seen far too many leaders in my network have serious health problems in the last few years and that’s why I’m writing this article, it’s why I get up on stages around the world and talk about stress and resilience – it’s personal, and it’s time to put a stop to it.

It is essential for the modern-day leader and worker to focus on their resilience as a top priority, to make time to re-charge, and re-build their resilience.

I know, I know, all very well for me to say, but what does that mean in practice? Well, here are a few practical suggestions that should help you to get your resilience back, a few tools for your leadership resilience toolkit:

  1. TAKE YOUR BREAKS AND REFILL YOUR FUEL TANKS

Our own empirical research at Meta has seen a marked change over the years in people’s relationship to breaks. When we first started 18 years ago, most leaders and workers we came across understood the value of breaks and took at least a 30-minute lunch break every single day. Now we find that in a group of 20 leaders and staff, maybe three or four might take a lunch break away from their desk every day. That’s a huge shift away from taking breaks and trying to work through so as to get more done.

Now what’s very interesting (and counter intuitive I’ll grant you) is that when you work through your breaks and are not re-fuelling, your brain hits its operational capacity point and that means that it cannot process or perform at a high level. This means that although you are working for longer, you may well get less done and the quality will most definitely suffer. The latest research on brain and working performance suggests that working 50-55 minutes and taking a five minute break each hour (along with a more substantial break at the middle of the day) is the most effective and efficient use of your brain’s processing power – it essentially is the secret to getting the most out of your working day.

  1. ANALYSE WHAT TAKES UP YOUR TIME AND CAPACITY

How often do we truly stop to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it? We’re so busy trying to get everything done that we rarely analyse what is taking up our time or our capacity, and whether it’s at a level in keeping with our leadership role within the organisation.

What we suggest is that you analyse your next two weeks of work. Be honest with yourself and get everything down. How much time does it take and how much of your internal capacity does it use up? Remember some things disproportionately drain us and some things we really shouldn’t be doing at our level at all! Look carefully into what you should and shouldn’t be doing, in some instances it’s a case of delegation, in some cases training others to do the tasks, and sometimes it’s just a case of saying no. Also look at what you don’t currently have time and capacity for, and make sure you make time for the things that are really important to you as a leader.

  1. CREATE SPACE AT HOME TO RE-CHARGE

As the tide of work has come in, one of the important parts of our day that has got squeezed out is our ‘unwind time’ – the time AFTER work when we get home, where we can download our day, re-set and switch off. For many of us now we come home and we’re immediately into doing our home chores, cooking, cleaning, taxi-ing the kids around. Recent research by the University of Surrey has shown that by re-introducing that 30-mins to one hour unwind time the body (and mind) can get back to normal after the stresses of the working day and, as a result, we have improved physical and mental health along with improved sleep.

  1. SLEEP – YOUR GREATEST RESILIENCE RESOURCE OF THEM ALL

Put simply, sleep is the most important thing you can do to build your own resilience. I’ve talked a lot about sleep in my LinkedIn articles. In a nutshell sleep is when your mind downloads the content from your day and frees up its internal capacity, it’s when your body rebuilds, regenerates and repairs at a cellular level. and it’s when we have a DEEP recharge of our batteries. Aim to get seven-to-eight hours a night. And for more info on how to improve your sleep, see my LinkedIn article on the nine principles for getting a good night’s sleep – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sleep-your-most-vital-leadership-resource-all-part-2-jo-clarkson

And if sleep is a particularly illusive thing for you, then please do get in touch we have a wealth of information that can help you.

  1. BUILD YOUR ALLIES NETWORK

When we are under stress we tend to isolate ourselves and try and get everything done ourselves. Whilst it’s admirable to be like superman or superwoman, even superman and superwoman eventually run out of juice. It’s important to build our social and support networks. Research has shown that the more social network connections someone has, the more likely they are to be positive, happier in life, more productive, less stressed and more resilient. It’s also important to build our support networks so that we’re not just relying on our partners or closest friends. At Meta we talk about your ‘allies’ network’, because with allies you don’t necessarily have to be best buddies, you just need to be able to ally and support one another in a particular area or for a specific thing. It might be that you have an ally at work who is someone you can go to for advice, or perhaps it’s an ally at home who takes you out for a drink and a good rant! So, who is in your allies’ network? And whom would you like to bring into your allies’ network that perhaps isn’t in there now?

  1. MAKE TIME TO STOP AND/OR DO SOMETHING SPECIAL AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK

Work and life can feel like it’s non-stop. As soon as one ends the next one takes the baton and it’s off rushing to the next appointment, to pick up the kids, to go do the shopping, to make that morning meeting. Every week it’s important that you either make time to stop, OR do something special. I say either/or because sometimes we just need to STOP, relax and recharge that way. And sometimes we need to do something special, something that will give us a real turbo-charge, a really deep re-fuelling. What’s important is that we create time in our diaries to do this – find a time slot in your week and stick to it, make it ‘your time’ and, by the way, it’s kind of fun to make a list in advance of all the ‘special things’ that you’d like to do, that way you’ll have a menu of turbo-charges to choose from that are guaranteed to fill your fuel tanks.

YOUR RESILIENCE TOOLKIT – A NEW OFFERING FROM META

At Meta we believe it’s important to be talking about our resilience and talking about the stresses we face, day-to-day, in work and in life. Right now, more than ever we need to be re-building our resilience and looking after ourselves and our staff.

We believe it’s time to work smarter not harder, and that’s why we have developed a programme we’ve called ‘your resilience toolkit’.

In this programme (suitable for anyone in your organisation from senior leaders to frontline staff) we explore the three key topics that affect our ability to be resilient and perform at our very best:

The Bio-Chemistry of Stress

The Science Behind Working Smarter Not Harder

#HAPPY SLEEPING

We combine latest research with practical, easily applied tools that will help you, your leaders and your staff to re-build your resilience, and improve your organisational well-being, mental health and performance.

If you’d like to talk to us more about how Meta can help you, your team or your organisation build a ‘resilience toolkit’ that really works (even on the most challenging work-days) then please do get in touch.

We’re passionate about helping leaders and their organisations to perform at their best and that’s why this year we’re focussing on helping organisations to build resilience and look after their greatest resource – their people!

We hope this blog has been useful to you and we have so much more to share, so do drop us a line to find out more.

Enjoy filling your fuel tank this month!

In peace,

Jo xxx

Jo Clarkson, CEO of Meta

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