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When the pace has been picked up and everyday life spins at its highest pace the increase of sick leave caused by stress will increase. And those affected are your most valuable loyal employees that turn themselves inside out to deliver at work and in their private lives.

Sick leave due to stress of unhealthy work environments has increased to the double in the past ten years and is now the most common reason for sick leave in Sweden, and women are overrepresented in the statistics.

Facts from Försäkringskassan:

  • Sick leave due to stress has increased by 359% in the years 2010-2017
  • 25% of those that have been burned out is at risk of relapse, which means that 1 in 4 people fall back into sick leave
  • 10% of elite athletes are on sick leave due to stress
  • Stress-related illness costs Sweden 70 billion in socio-economic losses every year
Isabelle Svärd talking at Agila Sverige about her own signs of stress in 2017 and how she used agile tools as a tactics when returning to work life.
Video can be found here. (In swedish)

Once a person has been burned out, it can take up to 10 years to recover, it is one of the longest recovery periods, even longer than some cancer diagnoses. Therefore, it is extremely important to detect and slow down this development in time. As a fellow human being and as a leader, it is important that you see signs of unhealthy stress.

These are some examples of signs of unhealthy stress.

Aggressive tone and behavior
Aggressiveness and short tone are signs that the brain has turned on its flight and fight behavior, to protect against dangers, and should be taken seriously. Sit down in a quiet room alone with the person and describe how you experience their behavior, without judging it, and then ask how the person is feeling.

Sleep problems
If a person repeatedly shares that they have slept poorly, have difficulty falling asleep or wake up very early in the morning and cannot fall back asleep, these are signs that the stress has gone way to far. When a person doesn’t sleep, it  means our natural recovery system has stopped working.

Stomach problems, weight gain or weight loss
When flight and figh behavior is activated, several of our physical functions are turned off. Including the stomach and metabolism. If a person complains of stomach problems or has increased or decreased weight quickly, it may be due to prolonged stress.

Concentration problems
Just like above, the brain’s capacity will be gradually reduced. One behavior that can be noticed is if someone starts to forget about meetings, tasks or doesn’t contribute in the same way as before.

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Our health is the most important thing we have. Our health is something that we as people, leaders, colleagues, employees and employers should hold as our highest priority. It is not enough to offer a wellness allowance, there must be room for wellness, reflection and recovery during work hours.

My work causes me both stress, anxiety and feelings of not being enough. And how is it right that I need my private time to compensate for that? I believe that my work hours should include everything I need to be able to do my job in the best possible way. For me, this means that I need space between meetings to process what has been said and time to prepare for the next meeting. I need time alone for my thoughts and reflections to be able to work out the best solution to a problem, create a good setup for the next meeting, or think about how to handle a situation.

As a leader, I owe those that follow me to think before I act. I owe them to be prepared for a meeting, to reflect on situations before I make decisions and think trough how I will handle a conflict. I also need space to learn new things, to read about research and new methods of leadership, team and psychological safety. This is important for me to be able to do my job, in the way that I want to do it.

I also need time when the brain can recover and turn off all impressions and thoughts. Where I have the opportunity to connect to my body that carries me through my work day. For me, it is yoga, which I often practice at lunchtime or before I go home. For you it might be a walk in the park, a horse back ride, a run around the nearby lake or to walk your dog. The important thing is that you know exactly what you need to have a sustainable work situation. Regardless, we all need recovery as part of our work day to be able to get through it, and the next day, and the next.

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Agility is about adapting and delivering value. More and more organisations are discovering that they either need to get on the agile train or fall hopelessly behind. 

Many of them turn to frameworks to adapt agile ways of  working. But what they get is another framework that will sit  on top of  the others and cause more confusion and frustration. What they need is to focus on the real problems like organisation, leadership  and culture. I’m going to use SAFe as an example in this text (there are other frameworks trying to solve this out there but I know more about SAFe).

A framework with a clear hierarchical role chart, process arrows, planning cycles and new roles is a way of satisfying the controlling part of an organisation. And it is exactly this part that we need to remove, if we want to be truly agile. To dare go down the agile road you need trust from leaders and in many organisations that is the exact thing they are lacking. So their own fear of losing control drives them to turn to things their recognize, roles and hierarchy, processes and planning, things that are feeding the controlling needs and is satisfying their own fears.

When introducing a framework like SAFe you are forced to focus on roles and planning cycles instead of culture, organisation and leadership. To get the right people in these roles is not an easy task an one that is impossible if there are no people with an agile mindset in the organisation. When people without agile mindset take on these roles what we get is another gant chart and detailed planning that will not adapt to the changing needs of the customer.

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When using the word resources, what do you think of? I think of nature’s resources and the money I have in the bank. Resources is by definition: means, a stock or supply of money, materials and other assets. How in any aspekt can people be considered resources?

The allocation of resources is a key element in traditional project management.  Resource allocation takes no considerations to human needs or changes. For that you will require a separate risk analysis and change management process. I think you understand where I’m going with this.

One of my agile coach friends started repeating to the managers in the organisation we were coaching ”People are not resources” ”People are people that have capacity to do things”. And this stuck.

We can not continue treating humans as numbers in a excel sheet if we want to accelerate our businesses. We have to start talking about them as people, humans, employees.  Today I correct and repeat. And I use the words that the organisation often have as well, the co-worker, the clients, the employees. It just has to be a word that describes the people for all our qualities and not just the number of hours we can produce.

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We are exposed to an incredible number of impressions in one day. We are met by advertising on the way to work, pictures on instagrams and ads on facebook, emails about fantastic offers and news from all over the world. At work, we are often met by policies, attitudes, expectations of others and performance reviews. Not being able to sort in this and finding your own meaning and purpose can create stress, uncertainty and a feeling of being overwhelmed. The importance of being able to lead yourself, and others, to create a sustainable lifestyle has never been as big as now.

 

Your values ​​and your why

I see the personal leadership as something that needs to grow when you find your own values ​​and purpose. “Start with why” was founded by Simon Sinek, he says that organizations need to start by establishing why they exist before they can start talking about how and what they do. It is fully applicable to the personal leadership as well,  you need to find your own “WHY” before you know what to do and how.

To find your own WHY, you first need to know your values. What is most important to me? You can do this by listening inwards, by turning off all impressions and expectations from the outside world. To ignore the template that society is trying to put us all into and listen to yourself. There is much talk about meditation and that it is the only way to listen inward, but I think that when you do something that you love, whether it is to meditate, yoga, paint, walk your dog, ride or run, it is your opportunity to hear your inner voice . The one who says what you really like and value. The key is to listen and above all to trust what that voice is saying. Trust yourself, that you know best what is right for you.

Based on your values, the why is easier to find. My WHY statement is:
“I empower myself and the people around me so we can become the best people that we can be”.

Exercise WHY statement

To write your WHY statement, follow these guidelines:

  • Simple and clear
  • Only one sentence
  • Language you use yourself
  • Work both at work and in private
  • Write several until you find the right one

Safety and learning

To feel that your purpose is being fulfilled and developed, our sense of security and learning is important. The human instincts are the same today as they were in the stone-age and our brain is divided into three motivational systems. The model created by Paul Gilbert consists of the red threat system, the blue drive system and the green soothing system.

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