Today’s blogger and I were briefly part of the same HR team many years ago. Since then, Galia Barhava-Monteith has become a speaker and co-founder of the Professionelle Foundation (www.professionelle.co.nz). She is a highly experienced executive coach who combines her background in psychology, her PhD research on whole-person approach to healthcare and her management and board experiences to provide her clients with a highly tailored coaching experience. Follow her on Twitter @GaliaBM.
Health and wellbeing in the context of work
For years, I shied away from touching on health issues in my work as an executive coach and a professional facilitator. I never stopped to ask myself why that was, or explored the underlying assumptions that stopped me from raising this issue. No one else seemed to either, which reinforced my own approach. I touched on just about everything else: values, ethics, self-awareness, strengths, and toxic friendships. But for some reason I drew the line at talking about health.
After experiencing my own ill health and currently undertaking a PhD in this field, I realise the importance of these un-examined assumptions and the very real impact they have on others around us. I have also come to realise what a taboo topic health is in the context of professional careers. Perhaps this is because the sphere of work is the sphere of the ‘mind’, whereas health issues are very much seen as ‘body’ issues – and thinking about our bodies is something we really shouldn’t do at work.
I have been working hard to create the space for health issues to be seen as valid for my coaching clients and in workshops. I work to do so by explicitly acknowledging the importance of these for our professional lives. Once the ‘flood gates’ opened I saw how prevalent these are for so many people. Realising the amount of time and effort so many people spend on ignoring, hiding, and minimising them, often with severe consequences for themselves, was overwhelming. It was like I lifted a curtain on an aspect that was always there, but I, myself, was never brave enough to really see.
Now, in the run up for Xmas, where the pressure on us to deliver is high, demands are escalating and so many of us are feeling so inundated by it all, I feel that as HR professionals and allied professions we have a duty of care for those around us to create the space for health conversations to come up. We are in a unique and privileged position to really notice those around us who might be struggling with their health, and to mindfully create safe spaces for them to discuss these issues with us so that we can offer help, put referrals in place and a support systems around them.
We ought to do so because it is the humane and caring thing to do. Not because of legislation, policy compliance or codes of conduct. And not just because of the very real productivity gains that can result. In my experience, by turning our ‘professional gaze’ to include health issues which emerge for so many, we can make substantial and very real difference to others’ lives. We can offer fellow professionals around us with the empathy and understanding to legitimise what they might be feeling as a shameful experience. Because, in my experience, a lot of professionals feel a deep shame about their own ill health.
Creating this safe space is a deeply rewarding experience on a very human level. It is also a very powerful culture-building tool. We can create a culture where staff feels valued and empowered to take care of themselves, others and ultimately make the work environment one in which each and every one of us can bring our whole self into work.
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