Doing Good Business with Dragons

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Standing room only at the Evening Standard SME-XPO yesterday where our co-founder Jeannette Pearce MBE kicked off the day with a reading from our best-selling book, Better Off Working Wild.  JP then invited Dragon’s Den Investor Deborah Meaden to join her for a discussion on planet positive business. They then compared ideas, stories and encouragement from Deborah’s vast career and portfolio as sustainable business leader. 

Meanwhile our co-founder Sara Turnbull was across the hall moderating a session on Inflation Mania that gave an insight on how smart SMEs are getting forensic on costs and productivity to give them flexibility to be able to support staff through the affordability crisis. That built on the raucous and high energy panel on Diversity and Inclusion Sara led on day one where the audience took the mic to share real life experience and guidance on building inclusive cultures that attract and retain high quality teams.

Finally JP & Sara were invited by Google to join their fireside chat on green computing and all things sustainable for future business. They spoke about the potential for rapidly decarbonising small businesses and shared the #airplanemode tool from the book to help business leaders get into deep focus.

The agenda for both days was ram-packed full of good business topics and huge thanks to the Evening Standard team for inviting our authors and coaches Sara & JP back to speak next year. 

TfL clock

Why full-time work doesn’t add up

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We all need to work – not just to meet our economic needs or to look after ourselves, but to contribute to and engage with society. Thing is that the work we all need to do isn’t just the paid kind.  

There are plenty of things most of us aren’t paid to do that still really need to be done, whether that’s food shopping, housework, raising children, caring for parents or the sick or doing voluntary work. Unfortunately, little of this is recognised as work because there’s no financial value assigned to it. It’s what we do when we’re not making money. It’s what we’re driven or expected to do and, although everyone kicks off when it’s not done, we’re expected to do it quietly, without payment and without any reward beyond the sense of a job well done.

We certainly aren’t against unpaid work and nor do we find it boring. In fact we find lots of joy in washing-up, tending to plants and caring for children. Work in and of itself can bring great delight and pleasure. The thing is that the maths just doesn’t stack-up in the 21st century. 

The richer that you are the more likely you are to be working too many hours to earn money to keep up a busy lifestyle and the poorer you are the more likely to be underemployed and overworking to keep up. None of us are average and not all of us fit into a gender binary but bear with us as we do the maths using data on the average man and average woman.

By our maths the average man in the UK is doing 73 hours a week of work (82 if he is parenting) and the average woman 83 hours a week (101 if she is parenting). When you allow 8 hours sleep a night that leaves the average person with just 3 hours free time a day (4 if he is a man and 2 if she is a woman). That is including the weekends. 

If you were trying to fit all of the work into the so-called work week it just wouldn’t fit!

No wonder that finding time to rest, to mess about to exercise or even think straight feels impossible. You aren’t failing to be organised – you’ve just been served a very difficult task by the way that work is structured at present. You aren’t failing to do anything well – you are just working almost three full-time jobs on average.

No wonder we feel like we are left only with the scraps of our time.

Things could and should have changed some 50 years ago when women entered the job market en masse, transforming the heteronormative culture in which the man worked outside the home to earn money while the woman worked inside the house to raise a family in a happy home. 

Here was an opportunity to change not just where we worked but the way in which we worked (paid versus unpaid work, how work is valued), with positive implications not just for gender and equality but also for workers’ rights. With the advent of automation, followed by the invention of labour-saving white goods, computers and now AI has so far proved to be another false dawn.

While any or all of these should have reduced the amount of paid and unpaid work any of us has to do, it seems that most of us (especially women and particularly those from BAME and/or working-class backgrounds) are now working more, not less. Even those lucky enough to work a four-day week, work and life admin often spill over and there still doesn’t seem to be enough time for the ‘good life’. We are all trying to do too much.

JP in her work habitat

Work your habitat!

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For all of us the very first habitat we had was a womb – we were inside and part of someone else. Then we were outside and apart and dependent on those around us and our new habitat for food, shelter, warmth, companionship. This first outside habitat of the home then expanded to include school, parks, cafes and then the workplace. And then in early 2020 for so many of us it all collapsed back into the home. 

Hunched over on makeshift desks, in our beds, or even stood up at the ironing board work slowly colonised the home. With colleagues, children and pets sharing screens, affection, time and space. Few of us were left with the delineation that kept things apart and ourselves together. 

With the shock of many changed holiday plans and a re-tightening of the covid controls, 2021 starts with many of us feeling frayed, questioning the way that work works and hankering for connection, solitude and sacred space and time. 

Quite simply, we need to be alone and with ourselves. By creating a work habitat that allows us time to be still, quiet and think we can allow ourselves to connect deeply with all aspects of ourselves and bring our concentrated effort to our work. Whether we do this first at home, in the prayer room or on a long mountain trek, rewilding the self is about reconnecting to the wild in you. 

For many of us, that may mean using nature and time outdoors to refresh ourselves with a change of scenery. Most of us need to get outdoors in the elements – and in our element – to truly feel ourselves. (For us it’s water, mountains and forests.) It is here that things are stripped back to the essentials so we can hear our true selves; not our panicked, stressed or striving selves. It is here that we can meet the wild within. We can connect again to our true selves by reconnecting to the natural world and our place in it. 

What impact has Covid had on your habitat? Can you make changes to your work-from-home habitat and take time outdoors to reconnect and recharge you to be really present with yourself, your loved ones and of course your work?

Common Work Disorders

Is work breaking you?

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‘Work puts food on the table  

Work puts a roof over your head

Work can change the world

But work can also change you’

For many people work just wasn’t (and shhh spoiler alert – still isn’t) working!

When we wrote this in our debut book, Better off Working Wild, how changing the way we work can make us all better off , there had been no pandemic and life looked very different – but the signs were none the less all there. 

People were feeling underpaid or overworked, undervalued or bored, purposeless, fractious and in some cases exploited – some were feeling a combination of many of these symptoms at once.

For so many, work just wasn’t working.

So how’s it been working for you?

To help with this question – Take a look at our List of common work disorders and give yourself a self diagnostic check up – ask yourself – Why do you work? And How do you do your best work? What do you love about your working life and which parts simply aren’t working for you? 

Although your answers to these questions can, of course, be deeply personal, we can guarantee you will recognise yourself in at least one entry (if not more). And, if that is the case,  it might be comforting to know you wouldn’t be alone. It’s been insightful to hear in many of our recent discussions, insight interviews and workshops how people are struggling to find the conditions on the list of work disorders that ‘don’t’ relate to them, rather than the ones that ‘do’.

So it’s clear, we are no longer the only ones who believe work is broken. It might be equally comforting to hear we’ve always believed that it can be fixed. Work is broken and we offer Working Wild as the antidote.

Working Wild is for everyone who has finished a day exhausted, frustrated and feeling poorer for it. It’s for anyone with an inkling that working life just doesn’t have to be this way. And for anyone that doesn’t want work to estrange themselves from their better selves, from others and from nature.

After all – It’s one thing diagnosing the problem, it’s another thing being prepared to be your own medicine. 

Swap Powercock for Gentle Warrior

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If you haven’t experienced bullying directly then the messages of anti-bullying week will have put the onus on business leaders to address toxic work cultures. Our authors JP & Sara have experienced first hand how destructive bullying can be in the workplace. They have learned through experience to be charmingly disruptive, to take on the fight but able to look after themselves and others with kindness. In their book Better Off Working Wild they’ve set out the tools and attitudes to help business leaders build a better way of working. Here are their top five approaches to create anti-bullying organisations and improve work for everyone as shared with @beyourown.

  1. Recognise that everyone’s got a bit of Powercock in them

You’re in danger of becoming a first-class Powercock when you get the increasing sense that everything hangs on you and that, without you, the business will crumble. So in giving too much, you feel both angry at the opportunity cost and also justified in being upset and feeling let down by everyone. Ultimately, this leaves you conducting your work as though you’re living in a state of war, armed with the misconception that it’s perfectly all right to behave like an ass to anyone not feeding your war effort. Naturally, this is going to be as bad for you as it is unbearable for everyone around you, so how can you be gentler while still being a warrior? 

2. Choose to join the Gentle Warriors

To be a Gentle Warrior is to lead with love, bring people to a better place,fight fair and with principles. As a leader this means doing the battle of business with kindness, humility and compassion. To understand this, think about the warrior in yoga – open poses with arms outstretched. It takes greater courage and strength than Powercocking and requires guidance, nurturing and respect for others. It’s not about being aggressive but being brave. A call to be ‘brave and true’, has existed across human history in many if not all cultures. Models of gentle warriorship, such as the Samurai or the Knights of the Round Table, continue to have resonance today. As an entrepreneur you can help your team and clients to be Gentle Warriors by showing vulnerability and humility in your style of working and by celebrating the times when someone in your team spoke up, did the hard thing, channelled their Gentle Warrior.

3. Look in the Shadows

Managing immature emotions at work is exhausting. We’ve all come across toddlers in the workplace – not cute, real toddlers, of course, but the intrusive toddler-selves we revert to when the going gets tough. We were all toddlers (real ones) once, and all have shadow-selves, made of the parts of ourselves we have ignored or hidden in order to present a more pleasing ‘self ’ to the world. It’s down to us all, then, to seek our shadow-selves through self-development or therapy – to find, listen to and give comfort to our toddler-self. As the leader in your organisation, rethink training and send people on exploratory journeys that help them work on themselves and, in doing so, help your people to be their best – freed from their worst behaviours and destructive habits.

4. Put yourself to bed like you would a child

Sleep is an essential part of our natural rhythm – it reduces stress, increases creativity and contributes to a longer, fuller life. Take care to recharge your own battery the way you charge your phone. Don’t join the moody people (half of whom are moody from lack of sleep). Workplace harassment, bullying and unwanted sexual attention at work have been shown, across a range of studies, to be associated with poor sleep. So take sleep seriously. Really make a deal with yourself to get the right amount of quality sleep. Go to sleep, close your eyes. Wake up a lovelier version of yourself (and a much easier one to work with).

5. Get Out There

Get outside and into wild open spaces as often as you can to touch life and feel the elements. Finding a way to feel the power of the weather is sure to put your day (and the business) in perspective. Reports say that children should be outside for four to six hours a day. But what about the grown-ups? Most working environments make it di$cult, if not impossible, to experience nature in any form. The human need to go outside to reset ourselves is as old as time. Author and therapist LR Heartsong describes his compulsion to follow his wild soul ‘back out into the trees … where I wake up again and remember.’ Try this – walk away from your desk and away from the screen and meet yourself outdoors. Be connected to nature and the natural world. Be wild of heart and wild of mind. Get Out There also in your thinking. Get Out There to shake off that Powercock, remember your place in the world and be humbled. You are the universe and the universe is in you.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

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