Boost productivity by encouraging lunch breaks

Ipswich Building Society have bucked the trend of many financial institutions, in fact many businesses, by expanding and growing during the economic downturn.

Part of their success is their investment in their people – investment in their wellbeing. Chief executive, Paul Winter, says that an employee wellbeing programme does not need a lot of time and money.

Over the last four years they have been incredibly successful at reducing employee sickness absence and staff turnover which, naturally, increases productivity and leads to improved bottom-line results.

My conversations with Paul began when I saw him interviewed on BBC Breakfast as part of a report on the importance of taking a lunch break. I was curious to see how they encourage this at the Building Society and how this impacts on performance.

Paul began by telling me that the first step for them was to give people permission to take a break. That permission is not just about having a policy but about actively encouraging it, walking the talk by ensuring that he takes a break himself and questioning colleagues who are not stopping for lunch.

But lunch breaks are only part of their wellbeing programme. This also includes:

  • Focus on fitness including lunchtime walking groups and encouragement to get involved in physical challenges such as their month-long pedometer initiative.
  • Relaxation – A Wii console with Wii fit is available along with various activities such as desk yoga, board games and puzzles.
  • Nutrition – nutrition advice is available on their intranet and on posters around the office.
  • External speakers on relevant topics including one recently about cancer.
  • Tapping into NHS services offering wellbeing check-ups for the over 40s
  • Paying particular attention to signs of stress and other emotional and mental health challenges
  • Working hours – a culture that demonstrates that long working hours are not acceptable. If someone is working longer hours than they should, it is their manager’s responsibility to investigate and find a solution.

These are just a flavour of the recipe for success that Paul and the rest of the society have created. All of these mixed together with a big dollop of fun. The employees are encouraged to have a laugh together during the working day and also get involved in a lot of fun fund-raising activities.

To find out more take a look at these two articles and .

Take a walk

Take a walk


Prioritising and Christmas


The build up to Christmas is a busy time in a world where we seem to be becoming busier and busier every year.

In our personal lives we are writing cards buying, wrapping and distributing presents, attending school performances and Christmas parties. We attempt to see a multitude of friends and family in our “we must catch up before Christmas” mode. And that is all before the big day itself.

Then along comes the snow or a bout of illness and we suddenly can’t do everything. So how do we choose what is really important? How much do we do because we have always done it or we feel we “ought to” rather than we “want to”? There is a danger that we slip into task focus rather than people focus.

Take a moment to think – what is really important to me? Then what is really, really important?

The same is often the case in business particularly if you are closing off one year and planning and budgeting for the next. With just a few days before the Christmas break, or until the start of the New Year if you are working during the Christmas break, what is really important?

By remembering what is really important you will be guided in how to prioritise what you are doing.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas doing and being what is really important to you.

Precious Time

Do you waste time? Time is very precious and do we take it for granted or perhaps even waste it?

Chris, my husband, had major eye surgery last week and for 5 days after the operation he had to spend 50 minutes in every hour with his face down, parallel to the floor. For the remaining 10 minutes he had to fit in eating, drinking, washing, dressing and anything else that he needed to do.

This created such a focus on those precious 10 minutes . He looked forward to the break and we would plan what had to be done as well as what he wanted to do. It was such a great lesson in prioritising and making the most of every minute.

During this regime I appreciated my ability to plan down to the smallest detail such as when to boil the kettle so that a cup of tea would be at perfect drinking temperature for those 10 minutes.

Events like this place a spotlight on our normal lives and mine is now on how we use every moment of every day. How we make the most of them and appreciate them.

What if I could do anything I want for 10 minutes of every hour, what would I do? And how much can I achieve? What is the most important thing?

It was also appropriate that during this period we were listening to the radio and heard Pause for Thought on Chris Evan’s Breakfast Show. The key message that day was that you cannot choose how or when you will die; you can choose how you will live.

You can choose how you spend your time when you are alive.

What will you choose to do in the next 10 minutes?

Do you have a Performance Director in your business?

The London Olympics 2012 have been an outstanding success and, in addition to the amazing performance of the athletes, this has been down to:

  • The organising committee – LOCOG
  • The games makers
  • The British public attending the events
  • The teams supporting the Olympians including the Performance Directors and Coaches

We talk about the legacy of the games and inspiring a generation. I believe that the legacy extends way beyond sport, health and wellbeing.

The games were also an opportunity to attract international investment for business in the UK. David Cameron is quoted as saying ‘Over a decade we can use the Olympics to bring home business worth £13 billion.’

So does this all happen on a global scale and out of the hands of the majority of UK businesses?

One lesson that I believe we can learn from the Olympics, as part of the legacy, is that of achieving medal-winning performance. This was the first time that I had come across the role of Performance Director. Here is an extract from a job advert I discovered for the role of Performance Director for British Triathlon

“We are seeking a leader who has the creativity, passion and the vision to develop the strategic direction, inspire and engage and drive the shared vision to achieve sustainable, world-leading performance at all levels. Your experience in delivering excellence will build confidence that this vision can be delivered, enhancing performance throughout our GB Triathlon teams….

You will be a leader with the ability to develop a shared vision and build a strategy around that vision. You will have the skills to build, manage, inspire and engage the teams to deliver that vision. Strong interpersonal and communication skills and the proven ability to lead a diverse, highly skilled team are essential.”

These Performance Directors seem to work at a strategic level with Performance Coaches working with individual athletes. Together they bring the best out of people to help them perform at their absolute best.

Who is The Performance Director in your business and who are the coaches? If you are a medium-sized or larger business then these roles are probably picked up by Directors, Senior Managers and your HR or training manager.

What are their skills and capabilities in these roles and how much time do they devote to this?

I do not consider that, in most organisations, we pay as much attention to this or do as much of this as we do in sport and yet the success and posterity of this country and our economy relies more on how we perform in business than how we perform in sport.

Focus on the performance of our people has also probably weakened/lessened during the recession as it is seen as a ‘luxury’ and something that is easily removed from the budget.

Let’s take the lessons that we can from Team GB’s sports performance and translate it into the business environment. The legacy of the Olympics will then be economic recovery and economic prosperity.

Leadership and Trust

Trust has been a key theme in my world over the last week – like a sun at the centre of my universe or the north that guides my compass.

Last week I travelled to Beirut to work with a client. It was my first trip to the Middle East and my first time of working with this client. I have been reflecting on the role that trust played in that adventure.

How much did I trust the information that I read before travelling about the security situation in Lebanon? How much did I trust that the taxi would be waiting for me at the airport? How much did I trust that the taxi driver would take me safely to the hotel especially when we were driving across the city past midnight and encountered a ‘disturbance’ en route? How much did I trust my hosts when they took me out for the evening to see some of the local sights and how much did I trust the briefing that I had about the clients and their requirements (I was working through a third-party?)

Without trust I would not have embarked on that journey, I would not have thrown off the comfortable blanket of my world and exposed myself to the rich colours of life and of growth.

I realise now that the biggest element of trust for me was trust in myself and that for all leaders we have to trust ourselves before others will trust us.

My project in Beirut was to facilitate a workshop for the board of a client company about managing people and particularly about the quality of performance management conversations. One manager was particularly concerned about how much his team trust him and the impact this has on his relationship with them. So building trust became a theme of the training too.

Returning safely home and feeling grateful for the stability and safety of our lives in the UK, I turned on the news to find out what had been happening while I was away. It was at that point that the story about Barclays fixing the inter-bank interest rate was just breaking. I believe that public confidence in the banking industry is already low and this will have seriously overdrawn their trust bank account. There is a huge need for the leaders to work on rebuilding trust.

Why is trust so important? Here is a quote from an article by Steven Covey:

My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust experience the opposite of a tax — a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!

So as leaders how do we build trust? How do we develop our trustworthiness – someone’s assessment of how trustworthy another is?

Steven Covey talks about a combination of character and competence. Character is about your integrity, motive and intent with people and competence is about your skills, capabilities and results.

These elements will make you trustworthy but will not help others to trust you unless they are visible to others through your behaviours.

Sue Knight says that “Trust is the consequence of reliability and consistency in performance.” This is the competence element which, for me, needs to be combined with knowing the person. The more I know about the person, the easier it is for me to decide whether I can trust them.

Here are a few of my tips on developing trust as a leader:

  1. Demonstrate your self-trust – in your confidence in your own abilities and your conviction in your vision, direction and purpose
  2. Deliver consistently – do what you say you are going to do
  3. Be open and personal – take an interest in others and allow them to see you as a person
  4. Be visible
  5. Take responsibility
  6. Communicate openly and directly
  7. Show trust in others

So to me trust is not a complex model, it is a combination of basic behaviours. For some these come naturally and for others it takes a bit more practise. We also need to appreciate that some people take longer to trust us than others – they have a low propensity to trust. So persevere and be consistent.

“When you have trust, you don’t have to see the whole staircase to set the first step.”

Martin Luther King

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining

ImageAfter such a wet Jubilee weekend, I heard on the news this morning that Thames water could lift their hosepipe ban soon as the risk of drought has been reduced.

This reminded me of the phrase ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and how by looking for the silver lining we can help ourselves to stay positive.

Another silver lining of the last weekend was that the Great British Weather brought out the Great British spirit. I particularly remember seeing the spirit of the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir on the final boat at the jubilee pageant.

For our own Diamond Jubilee Street Party, we had almost as much fun in the setting up of the party (in the dry) and the clearing up (in the wet) than during the party itself. I had a real sense of us all pulling together.

Where is there a cloud in your life at the moment and what could be the silver lining?

Wellbeing at Work – we are what we eat

Wellbeing is currently uppermost in my mind as the topic of our Spring Breath of Fresh Air® is Corporate Wellbeing – Healthy Mind, Healthy Body, Healthy Business. Like many things once they are on your radar you come across them all the time just like once you have bought a new car, you notice how many other people have exactly the same car as you.

I have been coming across a lot of references recently to healthy eating in, and for, the workplace.  These are different to articles on diets and eating for personal health as they focus on diet and nutrition for ensuring, not only that we take less days off sick, but that we perform at our best whilst at work.

It is about our capability to do our jobs at peak mental and physical performance for optimum productivity. By eating healthily we not only feed our bodies but also our minds. It is like putting premium oil and petrol into a prestige car for top performance or feeding your plants with the best balance of nutrients to bloom at their best at the Chelsea Flower Show.

One thing that I have discovered recently is the problem of undulating energy levels through the day. When we eat the wrong things we are prone to energy highs and lows which can be just like being on a rollercoaster. When we feel an energy slump we often reach for a coffee or a sugary snack. This gives us a boost but does not last for long and so we reach for another and another.

A key contributing factor to this, apart from it being too easy to drink a cup of coffee or eat a biscuit, is that we are not eating enough protein. Protein (meat, fish, nuts, eggs, seeds, beans, cheese, yoghourt etc.) provides a steady release of energy rather than the rollercoaster ride. One of the simple things we can do to help with our energy levels is to eat more protein at each meal and also as mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.

I have always thought that it is the employee’s responsibility to eat properly, which indeed it is. Now, though, I can also see that the employer has a part to play in helping employees to be at their best. So what can employers do?

Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Make healthy snacks and water and fruit juice easily available
  • Provide alternatives to tea, coffee and biscuits in meetings
  • Encourage mid-morning and mid-afternoon healthy snacks
  • Ask your canteen or lunch provider to offer protein heavy and easy/quick to eat healthy meals
  • Place bowls of fruit around the office
  • Encourage your employees to take a lunch break and provide somewhere to eat away from their desk

I saw how well this could work recently when I visited Fruit Towers, the home of Innocent Drinks. You would expect a company with the mission of making delicious, nourishing, natural drinks and food, universally available for all, to have their own healthy drinks available to their people. But it doesn’t stop there, they provide a free healthy breakfast (which often extends to lunch) to everyone and there are baskets of fruit everywhere.

Also, they provide a great public area for lunch breaks – complete with indoor picnic tables and astro turf. Most people take their full lunch break.

If we are what we eat then a healthy and productive business is as good as the food intake of all the employees working in the business. Wellbeing is not only part of the ‘soft stuff’ of running a business; it is also a contributing factor to bottom-line profits.

Want to know more, then come along to our Spring Workshop, let’s have a chat over a coffee (mine’s a decaffeinated soya latte), an herbal tea or fruit juice or join me for a walking meeting.