“Today it’s Practice 17, ‘I understand more about other people’s roles so together we can help more families’, which supports of our value of Tolerance. Does anyone want to share on this topic?”
This gambit resembles the opener at every LifeSearch meeting. One for each day, the LifeSearch 31Practices encourage discussion on topics that stem from the company’s five values: Honesty, Openness, Excellence, Care and Tolerance. We reflect on them daily.
For consultants, freelancers or new-starts joining our meetings, it’s probably a bit weird. It’s a culture shock, quite literally. Luckily, we have an award-winning culture.
In the 2017 report, Thriving at Work, Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer analysed the impact of poor mental health on UK business. For employers, the cost is measured in tens of millions. For the economy as a whole - tens of billions.
A 2014 NHS Digital survey, Mental Health and Wellbeing in England, stated that one in six working adults have symptoms associated with mental ill health at any given time. A few years later and some charities put the UK figure higher - as high as one in four.
Today, nearly 500 LifeSearchers comprise our business. Apply the formulae and we can calculate that between 85 and 125 people are, as we speak, battling varying degrees of mental poor health.
It’s only via the Workplace Wellness movement of the last few years that most businesses have woken up to the size of the problem - and their responsibility in promoting health and wellbeing at work.
In Thriving at Work, Stevenson and Farmer define six ‘mental health core standards’ to guide better mental health in the workplace. At their root, these six standards promote more openness, understanding and care. In effect, the report asked that businesses practice some very basic values.
What are values?
Company values are the beliefs upon which a business and its behaviour are based. Big or small, any organisation benefits from some guiding principles that define its internal affairs as well as customer and supplier relationships.
But in the course of codifying their brand, too many businesses pay the values section only lip-service. Instead of a deep-dive into the company’s soul, and laying the foundations to live values through every tentacle of the business, leaders simply jot down a handful of aspirational buzzwords.
Passionate, compassionate, pioneering - that kind of thing. With definition and some meat on the bone, any of these are laudable values. But lofty concepts are often left at the abstract: they aren’t communicated; broken down; put into practice. They aren’t exercised, scrutinised or refined. They aren’t built into daily processes - they exist in the heads of a few.
Consequently, opportunities to live those values – and build a culture that knows exactly what it stands for – go unrealised. The C-suite and the PR team may be able to state the business’s values eloquently, but they’re practically absent on the shop floor.
When values aren’t communicated to the front line, they don’t live on the front line. People don’t feel part of a bigger whole, they feel apart from it. Your greatest assets feel rudderless. When a company lacks a unifying value system it'll probably lack a cohesive company culture. With that, we've the perfect breeding ground for hostility, toxicity and recklessness.
Mental health crisis or not - none of this is conducive to workplace wellbeing. Values matter.
Values + practice = People & Culture
LifeSearch didn’t shore up its daily practice of our values on day one, or even day 1001. Like most businesses we learned by doing, often the hard way. Decades in, it still requires daily maintenance. At the abstract level, LifeSearch always knew what it was and stood for, but converting those values into tangible practice takes time and effort.
Some of the most logical – and most effective – things we do are to stop dehumanising terminology in our workplace. Many of us don’t stop to think about the ways in which common corporate language devalues who people are and why they come to work.
Where some businesses reduce prospects to leads and customers to sales, we don’t. LifeSearchers on the frontline are much more emotionally invested in unprotected families (leads) and protected families (sales). Our mission is in those two terms, they’re a simple and constant motivator. Why do we do what we do lives in how we talk, every day.
Speaking of tweaks to language, take Human Resources. In many workplaces, this department bears responsibility for overseeing employee wellbeing. But do frontliners really want to be represented as ‘human’… ‘resources’?
It’s so reductive and sterile. A synonym might be tools with brains, or flesh-coloured doers.
We have a People & Culture team and they’re a constant presence. Their work and initiatives keep the fires burning under our values. We always seek new ways to tighten and improve life at LifeSearch and there is a direct relationship between embracing LifeSearch values and career rewards.
At LifeSearch we’re yet to fully quantify our 2019 absence rates, but we already know we’re below national averages. Another area we buck the trend is retention. LifeSearch began in 1998 and several people have been with us since the start. When people start at LifeSearch they tend to stay.
In an era where people ask questions if we don’t move jobs every two years, our average length of service is four years … and that figure has been newly diluted by the scores of newbies who joined us in 2017 and 2018 recruitment drives.
This article doesn’t mean to make LifeSearch sound like a utopia. Values of Openness and Honesty ask that I speak in truths. And the truth is we’re not perfect, we get it wrong. Of course we do.
In a company of 500, things get missed and mistakes are made. But the way our culture and values are lived and represented means that constant feedback loops, checks and balances are in play to help us live up to Excellence. Openness, Honesty and Care inform the major responsibility we feel to our policies, people and processes.
LifeSearchers are empowered to speak up on any issue that affects them, colleagues or the way we do business. One team, our Listening Ears team, is built of LifeSearchers of all ages, stages and job titles. Should someone require a trained, sensitive, anonymous ear – to talk about financial difficulties, family troubles or mental health, for example – they can select a peer to confide in.
We have won scores of awards for our company culture. And for our customer service, which is a product of our unique culture. Last year we become the highest placing new entrant on the Sunday Times list of Best Places to Work - straight in at number #3.
Our business is protecting families. We want happy, motivated, valued LifeSearchers on board to help us do that and our values help us maintain and improve culture and standards for everyone. The results tell the story - values matter.
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