Staying Afloat at times of crisis

Last summer The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) produced a video designed to cut risks from drowning. It introduced the key survival skill of floating.



They explained that on falling into cold water our instinct is to swim hard to fight the cold water. However the average temperature of British and Irish waters is 12-15°C – cold enough to cause cold water shock. Cold water shock makes you gasp uncontrollably and breathe in water, which quickly leads to drowning. It is really important to fight this instinct to swim and instead pause, float on our back until you are able to catch your breath. If you just float until the cold water shock has passed and control your breathing you have a far better chance of staying alive.



What can we learn from this in our personal and professional lives?


How many of us, when confronted with a crisis situation have panic as an immediate response and immediately go into a flurry of activity.
How much more effective to do the equivalent of floating in water . Sit down, get your breath and think through what to do first. This will enable you to think clearly and encourages those around you to stay calm as well. Your calmness, followed by thought-through action will show others that you will find a way to get the situation under control.

This year at least seven people were sure that remembering to float first when falling into water saved their life. They had a plan of action ahead of time for dealing with such an emergency . Similarly in the work environment it is useful to have a plan of action for dealing with emergencies and criteria in place for distinguishing between a real emergency and an unwanted event. The former is best tackled by having a clear list of actions, people to contact etc that is decided before the emergency takes place. The latter may prove quite manageable once you have thought it through.

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Moment captured through bubble with a man

Holding on to the moment

Moment captured through bubble with a man

 Holding on to the moment

“For oft, when on my couch I lie. In vacant or in pensive mood…” Wordsworth

We can become so embroiled in work that we rush from one task to another. Our bodies and brains are running on adrenalin as if we were under attack. We may feel virtuously busy and that this is an effective use of time but, if unchecked, such frenetic activity can wear us down physically, emotionally and mentally. The logical part of the brain switches off so we cannot find solutions easily. Clear thinking and creativity are compromised.

Deeply beneficial is to find ways of stopping and pausing even when we are busy. One way that can help us pace ourselves and draw breath is by holding on to key moments in the day and drinking them in by way of sustenance.

Moments of Celebration

Spending a few moments last thing at night or when we first wake up to celebrate what is going well and what we have recently achieved can help lighten the weight of expectations and obligations we envisage for the day. So, too, can duly acknowledging those moments in the day when we complete a task successfully rather than hurtling past them.

Moments of Recalibration

Unless responding to immediate demands or an unexpected emergency, it is beneficial to recalibrate when shifting from one task to another by pausing to take stock and recoup, exploring possible options for our next move and then prioritising as best suits the situation we find ourselves in. This helps us feel in control while staying flexible and open to possibilities.

Moments of Insight:

Finding moments in the day when our body rhythms are in a relaxed state is another important way of allaying overload and stress. These can fall in easily with our normal routine as, for example, when we are having a bath or walking. Our thoughts and emotions are able to unravel, gradually reconfiguring to reach a point of clarity and revelation. It is often then that up it comes, the gem of a thought and the answer to what previously puzzled us. Such moments of insight are precious and it is important to cherish and hold on to them.



Quality in the Workplace: The Highly Pressurised Working Environment

When is high pressure too much pressure?

Often a certain amount of pressure in a work environment can be motivating and encourage good quality work. However, a point may be reached where the pressure is so great that quality suffers as you struggle to find equilibrium and a sense of well-being.

Warning Signs


  • Expectations exceed your capacity to fulfil them

A key warning sign for this is when demands made of you exceed your capacity to fulfil them. You may work in an environment where workloads, targets, recruitment issues or staff cuts are such that you feel overwhelmed: however hard you work, you are pressed to meet the expectations of the different stakeholders to whom you are accountable. You find yourself fire-fighting for most of the time in order to stay afloat from day to day, juggling tasks so as to “keep all the balls in the air” as far as you can.


  • Working long hours

Often linked with this are expectations that you work long hours over a protracted length of time. Indeed, there may be an assumption that you will show up early, leave late and take work away with you as a badge of honour. You may not have much opportunity to take breaks during the working day either.Whether you are productive and fully able to focus on task during these hours is not always taken into consideration.


  • Appearing infallible

In some instances, the pressure may be exacerbated because you are expected to cope and just get on with things. To show vulnerability, ask for support or admit you feel overwhelmed may be seen as a sign of weakness. You may feel you have to put across an image of infallibility in order to avoid being blamed for difficulties that arise.


Effects on well-being and quality

The effects of such pressure can be deeply wearing on your motivation and morale. The chances are that your sense of well-being will be put out of balance. You will start to experience reduced job satisfaction as conflicting demands prevent you from completing tasks in a thorough and meaningful way and you are unable to maintain the quality of work you would like. Frustration and disillusionment may build up if you feel there are no channels for sharing your concerns openly without the risk of being found wanting. It is also likely that you will put your own welfare on hold, becoming exhausted and devoting little time to matters outside work such as family and friends.


Time to reflect

Time seems to be at such a premium when under intense pressure and so it seems counter-intuitive actually to stop, pause and take time out to assess what is going and gain some perspective. This is exactly what is needed, however, as we will explore in future blogs.

Hands clasped

Quality in the Workplace: A Caring Organisation

What makes a Caring Organisation

Hands clasped

“The achievements of an organisation are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” Vince Lombardi

An important aspect of our role as coaches is to work with organisations so that they are able to provide an environment where the culture encourages staff to produce quality work. They can go about this in diverse ways, but certain characteristics tend to shine through.

Clear purpose, focus and direction

Staff are far more likely to feel committed and care about their work if the organisation has set out a clear purpose they can identify with. They need to know where the organisation is heading and that processes are in place to help them get there in an organised, well thought through way.

They also understand where they fit in, having roles and responsibilities that they can fulfill and knowing what is expected of them.

Valuing staff

A further characteristic is for organisations to value the contributions of staff by:  affirming what they do and recognising it as worthwhile and important to the organisation as a whole; building up on their strengths and supporting them with areas for improvement; giving them opportunities to develop and grow.

Learning from mistakes

For this to happen, the organisation adopts a caring rather than punitive attitude towards staff based on the premise that most of us are motivated to do a good job if we are afforded the scope and conditions to do so. This tends to mean a culture where mistakes and setbacks are not seen as failures but as part of an ongoing learning process.

In such an environment, the joy, pride and commitment needed for high quality to be attained and sustained can blossom as staff feel able to experiment, be open with others, admit vulnerability at times and share success at others. This allows for a creative atmosphere where knowledge and insights are used to improve how the organisation operates and adapt to change.

Quality in the Workplace: Can you care too little?

Can you Care too Little?

In our last blog, we highlighted the pitfalls of people caring too much in their work environment. But what happens when the reverse is true, when you find yourself caring too little about the quality of what you do? This is a situation we probably have all been in at least once in our lives even if we did not admit it at the time!

There may be many reasons for caring too little

– You used to enjoy the job but now you do not feel sufficiently challenged.

– There are limited opportunities for learning and development so you feel stuck in a rut.

– Aspects of the organisation you are working in could be de-motivating. You may feel unappreciated or unclear about your role and responsibilities. You may have struggled with an unmanageable job description and now you have lost heart as it seems impossible to do the job properly.

– You may be working to pay your bills or support your family or maintain certain life-style choices without identifying with the job you are doing and feeling committed to it.

The warning signs of caring too little

  • You are not that bothered about the quality of your work, which may be rushed or sloppy.
  • Everything seems to require an effort.
  • Time seems to pass slowly without the feeling of being in the flow.
  • You feel frustrated
  • You feel bored, indifferent or detached.
  • You might find yourself relating badly to some colleagues

Adverse Effects

The consequences on your health and well-being may be similar to when you care too much. You may be restless, have poor concentration, suffer from fatigue and a certain numbness. Lacking a sense of purpose may make you feel despondent, anxious or depressed. 

What can you do if you recognise these signs and want to change the situation?

Admit to yourself that the situation is counter-productive and something has to alter. Explore what is in your control and can be changed to give you a greater sense of purpose.

You may not be in your dream job or even close to it but looking for positive values in the work you do can help you feel more fulfilled. This will lead you to produce a higher quality of work, which will in itself give you a sense of pride and satisfaction.

If this fails, the only long-term solution may be to look for another job. In this case, it is helpful to make short-term adjustments that you can manage while waiting for the time when you can shift to a post that is suitable or take up training that will lead you in a direction that is more in tune with what really interests you.


Quality in the Workplace: Can you care too much?

The Quality of Caring

Caring too much

In our previous blog we provided an example of how quality of work can be attained thanks to a caring attitude of mind evidenced through thorough planning, relating sensitively to others, attention to detail and a pride and joy in what you do.

There is, however, a pre-condition: it is important that you are in a sufficiently healthy state both mentally and physically: caring about your work has to be balanced against caring for yourself and your own well-being if you are to navigate through the highs and lows of the workplace and sustain good quality.

As coaches, we often see how challenging it can be to arrive at such a balance for complex reasons that we will seek to unravel over the blogs to come. As a starting point, we would like to address the risk of caring too much. There are certain warning signs to look out for.


  • Never switching off

You seem endlessly to think and worry about work and, in particular, about what is not going well. You may feel so responsible and accountable that you work long hours over time and still feel you are not keeping up.


  • Becoming too involved

You may ruminate about issues you are having with colleagues in seemingly endless circles, or you carry the burden of those you are trying to support through your work so intensely that you feel overwhelmed.


  • Insisting on perfection

You may have a task to complete and are unwilling to let go, endlessly tweaking, adding and adjusting to it while feeling dissatisfied with the results. You may feel that your work will never be good enough.

Nearly everyone in the workplace falls into some of these patterns at peak moments in the year, for example, or at times of crisis. Indeed, it is what helps us keep going through difficult periods. Caring too much can become debilitating, however, when protracted without any respite in sight.

Adverse Effects

Adverse effects such as restlessness, poor concentration, lack of sleep, fatigue, insufficient exercise, irregular eating habits, stress, anxiety and depression can be the outcome. You may be irritable with colleagues or hold them up, putting a strain on how you work together. At the same time, relationships outside the workplace may suffer as you miss out on time spent with family, friends and other people who are important to you. All of this can have a damaging impact on quality, leading you to be less focused and motivated and liable to make flawed decisions.

Take Steps   

When such a spiral of adverse effects is beginning to take hold, it is invaluable to acknowledge the signs, step back and reflect, exploring what practical steps you might take to arrive at a more healthy approach to work. Coaching can provide a safe space for you to do this.

Quality in the Workplace: A Caring Attitude of Mind

A Caring Attitude of Mind

“Care and quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing”, Robert Pirsig

Thorough Planning

Over the holidays, I spent some three days at a guest house where a caring attitude of mind seemed to shine out. It was run by a wife and husband team who had previously owned a restaurant in Paris and could bring considerable experience and skills to bear. They had planned  and thought through all aspects of their service with a sense of mission and purpose. They identified profoundly with their role of caring hosts.

Relating to Others

This was evident in the way they related to me and my partner, welcoming us on arrival, introducing us to the setting, giving us individual attention, engaging in friendly conversation and checking our needs were met throughout our stay.  They showed courtesy and consideration when offering a refined, generous and mostly home-made breakfast and evening meal.

Care over Detail

Equally striking was the effort and attention they gave to ensuring our rooms were conveniently laid out, comfortable and clean and that we could enjoy the benefits of a well-maintained garden and swimming pool, all giving onto panoramic views of the local countryside. They brought in extra touches such as pastel drawings and paintings of local animals and birds that the wife had herself created.

Pride, Joy and Commitment

From our conversations with them, it became abundantly clear just how much joyful pride they took in their work so that the reward was not only external in terms of financial gain or meeting acceptable standards and customer expectations but also internal, giving them a deep sense of satisfaction. They felt in tune with what they were doing, confident in their own strengths to offer a high quality service and fulfilled as a result.

Quality in the Workplace – What to look out for and why

Quality in the Workplace – what to look out for and why

For some time now, I have had the privilege of visiting a range of colleges and training providers as an External Quality Assurer.  This has led me to wonder more and more about what is meant by quality in the workplace, why it matters and what characteristics and attitudes of mind to look out for that reflect its presence. In a series of blogs, I will be exploring these questions together with my associate colleague Jenny Laney.

In his seminal and deeply searching work “Zen and the Art of Motor-Cycle Maintenance”, Robert Pirsig arrived at the conclusion that quality relates to caring about what you do and doing it to the best of your ability. “Care and quality,” he asserted, “are internal and external aspects of the same thing.”  With this in mind, we are going to start out exploration with the importance of a caring attitude of mind.

Decluttering helps us stay healthy in body and mind

A space to think: spring-cleaning the mind

Do we make space to think? Do we allow ourselves time to take a break, a walk, just sit for a few moments?  This week is Mental Health Awareness week and the slogan is “thriving or surviving”.  The Mental Health foundation has produced a useful pamphlet with useful ideas on how to “thrive” called “How To Look After your Mental Health”.

It includes ideas such as talking about your feelings, keeping active, asking for help and taking a break. Taking a break might mean a change of scene or pace, simply making space in our crowded lives.

The importance of making space became very apparent to me recently.

Normally I’m someone who keeps up to date with de-cluttering but over the last ten months this has not been the case.  A shoulder operation, followed by a knee problem that made it difficult to stand for any length of time meant that things started to slide. I was concentrating on physio, getting fit again and that took time.

However I started to notice my energy sapping as I looked at unread magazines, piles of paper, an overcrowded wardrobe. What had been left on the back burner now became a priority. I set to work more ruthlessly than in a normal de-clutter.  This got me thinking about the importance of creating space.

After a few days I noticed that not only was my physical space less cluttered but:

– my energy levels had improved

– I felt lighter and freer

– I was able to think more clearly

– I was more focused on goals

– I could prioritise about current projects and open my mind to new ones

– I felt excitement and optimism reawaken

It may seem a daunting prospect, to clear and sort and discard what no longer resonates or is of use but it can make all the difference.

How to make walking part of your daily routine

Yet another report has appeared from the British Heart Foundation affirming that “more than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive”. This can lead to serious health risks affecting body and mind.

A way to counter some of the risks is to make walking a natural part of your daily routine. There are no extra costs involved while the benefits of regular walking are now undisputed in terms of both our physical and mental well-being.

You only need to make slight incremental changes in life-style and mind-set, gradually adapting to them over the long term.


Here are some ways you can do this in your working life:

1.       Blend walking into the routines you already have

This could be in terms of:

–          Travel:  You can walk part of the way to work rather than resort solely to a car or public transport. This can help you pace yourself and feel grounded, easing tension and anxiety. You may even do some useful thinking or planning.

–          Taking breaks: How much are you desk-bound? Getting up at regular intervals and walking a short stretch can help energise you over the day.

–          Lunch: This is a notorious time for counter-productive habits. You might consider that you need to work all through your lunch hour, having a sandwich at your desk, but you might well be more productive if you took a break and walked for a while, freeing and refreshing your mind. This could be in a quiet space where you can reflect and take stock.

–          Using the stairs: Why not walk up the stairs rather than resort to lifts and elevators unless your are having to climb a long way up?

2.       Build up your walking habit gradually rather than in a great rush

There is a current trend for you to walk a minimal number of steps today, using an app of some kind that helps you measure each step. You may find this useful, so long as you set yourself realistic targets that motivate rather than dishearten you.

3.       Walk in time-slots that you can manage as a regular rule

You may find it easier to build up your walking in terms of time-slots, allotting thirty minutes, let’s say, to walking to and from work, fifteen minutes for a walk at lunchtime and another fifteen minutes for other breaks. There is no right or wrong here.

4.        See walking as a good rather than wasteful use of time

We often tell ourselves that we cannot afford such precious time and effort, but is this really true?  Often a walk makes decision making easier as insights are gained when not thinking directly about a task. Time is saved not wasted both in the short and the long term.