The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘HR’ Category


All of our actions have an effect. Often we don’t know how strong the effect will be until the action has been taken for the first time: whether it will be a small pebble, slipping almost unnoticed into the water’s smooth surface, whether it will be a stone skimming across a lake creating a series of ripples, or whether the ripples gather momentum to form a wave, shifting the landscape around us and our sense of what impact our actions can have.

The beginning of this story is known to most of you. I published a guest blog in January last year, we held an HR for Mental Health event. For me, it has always been not so much those early actions which matter, the short-term reaction to the events that unfolded, but whether and how I can use those actions and the experience to effect tangible change in the business that I work in, even in the smallest of ways. Pressing ‘publish’ on the original blog post was never going to be enough on its own.

We’re now a year on and I’m proud that there are some concrete things that I can report, some ripples that have been created. In early January, my learning and development team and I met with Jon Bartlett to discuss how we could include aspects of mental health and wellness into our management training. Early next month, they, I and another HR colleague are hosting and attending Jon and Charlotte Walker’s (@BipolarBlogger) first Mental Health First Aid training course across two days. Next week, there is a one day mental health awareness course being facilitated for the Heads of HR across my wider organisation, to open a dialogue about the topic, to demystify it and to start to plan what steps and actions we will take elsewhere in the business, however small. I have had some positive conversations about incorporating it into our overall corporate responsibility programme and have been asked to report on what we have done to date and what more is planned.

Ripples start small but they build up, have a cumulative effect. I have learned that if you want change to happen, if you care enough and are in a position to have some influence, sometimes you have to be the one to keep pushing the change, to embody the change and to be the one that continues to bring it up and find a way to make it work. It’s taken me much longer than I might have imagined a year ago, to start to make those ripples and work towards making a wave on my home territory. The important thing though is that it is happening now.

So that’s me, a year on. How about you? And if you are where I was for ages, starting to start conversations, or even just thinking about starting them, knowing that you want to do something more and that your organisation is potentially willing, or might be given the chance….how can I help?

Once you start to make a ripple, it can go a long way… :)


Last time I wrote about progress, having run 14 miles, further than I had ever run before. In my head, I know I am still making progress, even more so than previously, as my long run last Sunday reached the once unimaginable length of 17 miles and I felt OK afterwards. And yet, and yet….this marathon training is messing with my mind and sometimes it’s not the long runs, but the short ones that seem a struggle. Runs where I try and fail to match the pace of the group. Runs where I feel sluggish and slow and can’t seem to propel myself forwards fast enough. Runs where I feel like I am just getting slower, despite all of the hours and miles I am putting in. Runs that leave me feeling bruised and disheartened and inadequate.

Of course, there are a million different reasons for this. I was tired, I didn’t fuel myself up adequately, I’m running with a faster group. It doesn’t change the fact that it feels tough. I know progress isn’t always linear, that setbacks are inevitable in this journey to running a marathon. I also know that it doesn’t matter…to anyone but me…whether I fly round the course or plod at the pace of a tortoise. It’s the doing it that counts and the relentless, unforgiving preparation. But also not just this…it’s the fundraising for an amazing charity, the personal challenge and achievement of doing something I have too often dismissed as impossible, that is the real lasting jewel here, the sense in the apparently nonsensical. The thing that really matters.

So, I had a bad run today. But, no one died. No one would have cared, apart from me, were it not for the fact that it made me upset afterwards. It doesn’t matter, because I will run again another day and next time it will be different and better. Running and marathon training brings with it highs and lows…yet also great learnings in the power that the mind exerts over the body in what is and isn’t possible.

There are 52 days between now and the Brighton marathon on 6th April. I say bring it on!

If you would like to sponsor me in this crazy endeavour, the link is here

Alison Chisnell:

The lovely Flora has written an update on our marathon training progress. I will also write about how we are getting on…but for now, she’s done such a brilliant and articulate job, I thought I would share her post here. If you are able to sponsor either or both of us, we’d appreciate it hugely!

Originally posted on Floraworks:

The muddy duo

The muddy duo

In November, Alison Chisnell asked me to join her in running a marathon.  (The story is explained in my last blog post). We’re already well into our training and have another 3 months to go until the big day in Brighton on April 6th.   So far, I’ve learnt several lessons, which I’ll relate, just in case any of it is of use to others taking up a challenge such as a run or bike ride.

1. The major lesson I’ve learnt, and really it is one that first struck me on my long walk, is to focus on the present and the immediate future, not the ultimate goal.  The time that Alison and I spend running the Brighton Marathon will only constitute about 2% of the total time that we will have spent training during our 16 week build up.  Just 2%.  It isn’t…

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Alison Chisnell:

The wonderful Simon Heath (@SimonHeath1) has made a brilliant and very generous offer to create a bespoke piece of artwork by means of a blind auction in aid of Mind. Please have a read, take part in the auction and support this fantastic cause.

I will definitely be making a bid and keeping my fingers crossed…he’s one VERY talented man!

Originally posted on Work Musing:


This blogpost has been written to draw your attention to a blind auction of a bespoke piece of artwork. But first I want to give you some background. I urge you to follow the links so you can understand why this important effort deserves your support.

A few months ago, a very brave friend of mine, Jon Bartlett (@Projectlibero over on Twitter), took to the floor at an event under the banner HR For Mental Health (@HRforMH on Twitter) and talked candidly about his struggle with his condition. More recently he has guest blogged for Mind, a leading mental health charity. It’s worth stating here their vision and mission:

Mind’s vision
They won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect.

Mind’s mission
They provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise…

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The CIPD’s HRD conference seems a long time ago already. However, there is much on the session I attended on Senior Female Leadership Talent that I have not yet written about and much of the content has continued to percolate around my brain long after the conference finished and initial blogs were shared. The topic matter isn’t easy, but that’s never a good reason in itself not to share the content and reflect further on it…far from it!

Catherine Sandler of Sandler Consulting was the second speaker of this session and she shared her research, experience and insight on the topic of senior female executives, which was fascinating and could easily have filled a session in its own right…if not several. I hope to do it…and her…justice, in the overview I have pulled together below.

Catherine posed the question of what motivates women and asserted that any discussion around enabling more women to perform at senior executive levels has to delve into this. Whilst motivation is of course individual, the most common themes for women are working on something that they care about, feeling valued and feeling that they can make a difference.  This is markedly different from the answers that men typically give to the same question.

Catherine described a flip-side to what women at their best can deliver, which is that relatively few women are comfortable with leadership and the concept of power. Women often want to be liked and therefore may feel that there is a trade-off that they have to make to become successful, which can set up an inner conflict and potential for guilt or insecurity.  Harmony tends to be important to women and there can be a real fear of how they are perceived by others, particularly if they believe they are seen as arrogant, bossy or selfish.

As a consequence to this, women can have a tendency to avoid conflict, which at a senior level manifests itself with how they interact with their peers, their ability to hold team members to account, and the way in which they interface with their boss. Catherine’s findings indicated that women find it hard to be assertive in these situations, which is reflected in the use of language.  Women are apparently four times more likely than men to start a boardroom contribution with an apology (e.g. “I’m sorry if this has already been covered”) or a modifier (e.g. “it may be that I have misunderstood what you are saying, but…”). I found the issue of language as it relates to women in the workplace a fascinating one and I have already found myself paying greater attention to it, both for myself and those around me.

From language, we moved onto the issue of delegation, why it is often so difficult to do effectively, yet is crucial for career progression and can be seen as real limitation if an individual is not perceived to be good at it. Men and women both expressed a fear failure in their reluctance to delegate; however after this, the reasons for not delegating became markedly different by gender. For women, the other reasons they resisted delegating tended to be a sense of perfectionism, an excessive sense of high personal standards and a wish to protect their team. For men, it was typically because they felt they could do the task much better and faster than anyone in their team below them and often also a wish to retain control.

Linked to this issue of delegation, Catherine also asserted that in her experience, women tend not to be as good at managing their own careers and that one of the key elements of doing this is for the female leader to hold their existing team to account, which in turn creates more time for an individual to focus on their own self and aspirations and how to fulfil them. Apparently this applies to surprisingly senior women and she painted a powerful picture of some of the limitations that women can inadvertently place on themselves and their progression.

Catherine shared some interesting insights in terms of work that she had done with women through coaching and impact programmes to provide support and help them to overcome some of their inherent disadvantages in the senior management teams they work in. As an exercise around leadership brand, she asked each woman to identify three qualities that set them apart as a leader. What was interesting was that words such as supportive, compassionate and kind are frequently used in the early stages of this exercise: all of which are undoubtedly true for the individuals as personality traits and personal values, but as leaders the individuals are much more than this.  Catherine described her role as help each woman to turn their leadership brand into something that inspires both them and others around them and remarked that almost always the senior women she works with are far better than they think they are.  In many ways it is a mental and psychological journey for each woman, to own a description that does them justice. This has a huge confidence building impact and Catherine was passionate about the fact that this should be done at the most junior levels of any organisation.

Another exercise that Catherine described was asking the women to bring along a situation that they find difficult and provide an opportunity to role play and practice in a safe environment. The issue of language is key and she helps women to develop assertive techniques in the words and phrases that they use and to ensure that their own objectives and the core message are well prepared and clearly defined. Follow-up sessions after a three-month period and support from peers are helpful in identifying, using and developing their assertive voice. Self-insight is very important in order to shift some of the inherent gender disadvantages to a more positive stance.

This brought Catherine’s part of the session to an end and there followed a lot of interesting questions and engaged debate. I think it’s important to note that there was no suggestion that the above applies to all women and clearly generalisations have to be treated with caution. What was fascinating to me though, was that the content of the session was not merely about flexible working, equal pay and childcare, but that it moved beyond into some really thought-provoking ideas about how talent and diversity can be nurtured within organisations paying attention to some of the less obvious issues around language, motivation, delegation and core values. That can only be a good thing.

Before I attended this session, I was definitely not in favour of women only groups and leadership and impact training targeted specifically to certain genders. I’m not sure I have been completely won over, but I am certainly more open-minded now that there can be some benefits. I do have a remaining niggle though that we shouldn’t get too caught up with gender per se, but that we should ensure that the relevant development is available to all who need it, and that the prevailing culture of an organisation will make a huge difference to the ability of women to progress within it.

I’d love to know what you think!


Session two that I attended at the CIPD HRD conference was around developing high performing and high potential employees. I rarely use sporting analogies, but this session was very much a game of two halves. Two presenters from different organisations, forming a huge contrast to each other in their approach, presenting style and ability to engage the audience. For me, this session also formed a reminder that when individuals represent their company at events, present their journeys and share their learnings, the audience of professionals are inevitably evaluating (consciously or otherwise) whether they would like to work for or with this organisation, whether they would wish to work alongside or for the individual and perhaps what they might have done differently in the presenter’s shoes.

The first presentation was from Mercedes Benz and their Organisational Development Manager, Karl White. Prefacing his talk by explaining that he disliked using PowerPoint and liked to interact with an audience, my expectations were immediately set…and then substantially lowered, as Karl proceeded to display very plain bullet pointed slides interspersed with technical models and graphs, making no real attempt to engage the audience. The unconscious “would I like to work there?” question was brought to the forefront of my mind and firmly answered when his first slide showed a signpost denoting the choice between being a victim and taking responsibility and Karl announced that he had achieved 100% turnover in the team he had inherited in the first three months of his arrival. I found myself hoping for their sake that the team had been small and wondering about the human impact alongside the business changes. Who knows what the background or individual circumstances were; but rather like badmouthing your former boss or colleagues in a job interview, it just felt inappropriate to present such a negative picture in a public forum, where they had no right of reply.

Ironically, Mercedes should be a great case study of developing high performance and potential, yet all too often I found myself unable to see past the various theoretical models presented and understand what had actually been done, why it mattered and how it had helped individual employees and the overall business. There were some interesting points, for example developing talent with the end in mind, the idea that real talent are ‘sponges’ with a thirst for learning and the identification of business partners as a key training group – those with no direct management responsibility but significant matrix influence across the company. Their e-learning portal, which involved partnerships with Rosetta Stone, Henley, Ashridge and others was made accessible not only to employees but also their families via iPads, which seemed genuinely forward thinking and inclusive.

Yet, my overall response was one of discomfort and lingering doubts – can it really be true that Mercedes Benz have a 100% positive response to the statement that people are proud to work for the company? How would a small organisaton without big budgets learn and implement from this case study? And just how does it translate into the culture of a business when the Organisation Development Manager publicly states ”L&D manages those who can and those who can’t” and “we don’t let them loose in the business until we’re 100% confident that they are capable”. To me it created the impression of a culture of command and control with little opportunity of learning from mistakes and fulfilling one’s full potential, squarely at odds with the qualities that one usually identifies with the learning and development function of a business. I hope very much that I am wrong about that and that these comments merely demonstrated a lack of presenting experience, or nerves on the day.

The second half of the session was delivered by Amanda Whiteford, Head of Learning and Development at Tube Lines Ltd. She opened her talk by showing a video of employees’ ideas that had been put into practice and described how her organisation is 80% male and comprises of 70% engineers, which presented some challenges in learning and development. In sharp contrast to Karl, Amanda spoke warmly of the team that she had inherited and referenced the fact that some good work had taken place before she had joined. She explained that their primary objective of the programme she introduced was retention of talented people within Tube Lines and highlighted the importance of talking about the potential of staff, not just their current performance, which really resonated with me. Amanda described how leaders underwent a 360 feedback process each year as an ongoing reminder and commitment to the fact that it is not just what you do that is important, but how you do it.

Amanda used visual and engaging slides to complement the messages that she delivered around how the development programme was designed and implemented. Three bespoke development strands were created to make it as inclusive as possible: business leaders with the ability to run part of the organisation and move away from their technical background, aspiring leaders and technical masters. The development template was intentionally simple: coaching conversations to talk about the individual’s aspirations, explore the gaps and what opportunities existed to fill them. One aspect that I really liked is that Tube Lines made it mandatory for anyone entering the leadership programme to focus on succession planning and development for their own team and demonstrate what progress that they were making in this area. It was also made clear to potential delegates upfront that there would be honest feedback during and at the end of the year-long programme and that not every one who participated would automatically progress to a bigger role or increased remuneration.

The types of development options that were made available for those on the programme varied from attending exec committees, working on a project of embedding an innovation into the organisation, shadowing a Director, taking part in an audit activity (which Amanda attested that she herself had done and was a great learning experience to find out about a different part of the business…who knew?!), access to a career management programme and participation in a leadership development programme. What was also great was her description of the personal budget that they made available to participants, for them to invest in something that was pertinent to their own development. Interestingly, they had 50% take up of this.

I really liked Amanda’s authenticity and honesty in describing the successes and challenges of the leadership programme, which is about to enter into its second year. Importantly in this second tranche the exec board can still choose individuals, but the programme is also opened up for applications, to enable anyone to express an interest in taking part. In the first group one person became Exec Director, there were 9 promotions and 3 others moved from the aspiring leaders programme to the business development programme, comprising 40% of participants. A further 40% of participant were identified as key contributors but not necessarily future leaders and 20% of participants either didn’t engage with the programme or left the business. Given that the exec team had nominated the first tranche, Amanda described the results as valuable feedback, that some individuals are incredibly good at managing upwards but did not necessarily have the potential at this stage to go forward and develop as leaders in her organisation.

What Amanda felt had worked well was that there was now an established programme in place with genuine exec buy-in, it had stimulated the business and led to real development for individuals, who themselves felt the importance of being noticed and their contribution acknowledged. To have achieved this amidst the challenges she had faced was remarkable: the organisation had had 6 CEOs in the 5 years that she had been there and as in so many other businesses, organisational change and uncertainty had become a constant. She also admitted that the technical masters remained a weak strand in the development programme and that to some degree it was really the usual suspects that had been included in the first cohort. Amanda had a clear view of next steps for the programme and is aiming to introduce a career paths framework to the business, although given that Tube Lines Ltd will shortly be integrated with TfL, she recognises that the organisational sands will continue to shift and change.

For me, this session demonstrated as much learning about how you can use the potential of an opportunity of presenting your organisation’s journey and hard work to professional peers and colleagues, as it did about sharing knowledge about what has worked or not worked in different organisations. In many ways, organisations are not so very different from each other in the strategies and theories that they experiment with and the programmes that they devise and implement. What makes the real difference and always has done is the people: their passion, their commitment, their authenticity, their loyalty and their ability to connect and make a difference.

It seems to me that the secret ingredient to performance and potential can be found right there. It’s the people, stupid!

What do you think? I’d love to know.


So, it’s been a little while…hello again! As an irregular blogger, I have been very fortunate to be invited to the CIPD’s HRD Conference and Exhibition today with my very own press pass and a remit to blog about any and all of the sessions that I have attended. I won’t literally be singing for my supper…your ears might not ever be the same again!…but I will be writing a series of posts about the event as a fair quid pro quo for the kind invite.

The first session I attended this morning was on mentoring in the workplace and it was predominantly based on the experience of St Mungo’s of setting up a scheme in their workplace, with Jordana Ramalho, the Head of Inclusion and Diversity as the main speaker. What I liked about it was the practical and hands-on nature of the learning that was shared – I think Jordana would be the first to admit that none of it was necessarily rocket science or revolutionary in its content, but her insight was shared with enthusiasm, authenticity and integrity, whilst engaging the audience and encouraging questions, input and challenges. All of those things go a long way in any presentation and it was great to hear genuine passion, pride and commitment to the business she worked in.

After covering the difference between coaching and mentoring and briefly discussing the different types of mentoring styles (imparting of wisdom and sharing advice “when I was a lad…”, compared to a more consultative stance based on finding solutions to problems, and a more laissez-faire stance of letting the individual drive the approach), Jordana emphasised the importance of identifying a mentoring style which suited the organisation, or specific groups within it. Within St Mungo’s, the mentoring programme that they developed for their apprentices favoured a directive or advisory approach, whilst the wider scheme they developed for other more experienced  members of staff was more based on active listening, reflection and motivational interviewing, perhaps requiring more action from the individuals themselves. From my perspective, I have a lingering doubt whether mentoring styles should be tailored to an individual rather than an organisation, as we are all different and respond accordingly, but perhaps I am splitting hairs.

There was a great point made by the speaker, which is that mentoring already takes place in all organisations, regardless of whether HR or management have set up  formal scheme. The key is to get under the skin of the organisation, find out what is happening first and what works well informally, before launching any formal scheme. I loved the reminder that mentoring is essentially so organic and will take place in any organisation where people with differing levels of experience and skills work alongside each other.

Jordana described 7 steps to setting up a mentoring scheme, as follows -

  • Establish the need, through doing mix of qualitative and quantitive evidence, understand the potential barriers and how you believe mentoring will help. St Mungo’s did this through staff surveys and focus groups.
  • Define the aim – is it professional development or something different? How does it fit with the organisational business objectives? Who will be your target group?
  • Consultation – identify an appropriate mechanism to consult with staff and test your proposal, potentially through focus groups
  • Decide on approach. I was interested to learn that St Mungos chose to run their mentoring scheme for the defined period of one year, rather than leaving it open-ended. They specifically targeted the focus groups and launched it to people who had expressed an interest in being mentored, before opening it up to everyone. It was specifically linked it to the existing apprentice programme rather than being entirely stand-alone. They gave real thought to how they were going to evaluate the program upfront and decided to it by means of testimonials and feedback
  • Secure the buy-in. St Mungos had developed lots of this through the consultation process. They formulated and delivered a one day training programme for mentors, as well as drafting guidelines on the process and the benefits of taking part in a mentoring scheme, for example sharpening up coaching skills, as well as being good for an individual’s professional development. Interestingly, there was no specific mention of training for mentees and this may be a gap in the current process.
  • Time to launch it. St Mungo’s asked mentees to complete a short application form to ascertain the level of motivation and they encouraged their high performers to be mentors and take part in the one-day training, focussed on active listening skills and the ability to give feedback
  • Match making. Identifying similar interests/objectives and matching across departments where possible
  • Monitoring and evaluation. St Mungo’s made sure they checked in regularly with the mentors and the mentees, both formally and informally, particularly at the 3 month point. Both the mentors and mentees were asked to fill out a short feedback survey on what has been learned and achieved, what they might have done differently etc.

There followed some interesting questions and challenges from the audience, for example from a larger organisation where they felt that their mentoring scheme had died, as it was too targeted to newcomers and existing staff were increasingly unwilling to take on the extra responsibilities of becoming a mentor. Other organisations shared that being mentored can be seen as a weakness or can work well initially in the induction phase but tends to peter out. There were no silver bullets of answers from the panel, although there were sensible suggestions and solid advice offered, for example on reselling the benefits of the scheme, making sure individuals take responsibility, focussing not just on soft skills but on hard technical skills too and highlighting the personal and organisational benefits. Inevitably, culture plays a key role and one insight that I really valued from St Mungo’s was that in their business, one of the clear objectives in considering managers for senior positions is whether they have they undertaken mentoring and demonstrated that they can develop staff. Now, there is an incentive to take part, right there!

Other learnings that were shared were reminders not to underestimate the importance of sideways moves, the fantastic opportunity for networking that mentoring creates, the power of sharing case-studies of individuals who have benefited from a good mentoring relationship and the requirement to combine a strong mentoring scheme with other means of development. There was also some brief discussion of upward and peer mentoring, both of which I would have liked to hear more about. Interestingly, in the context of a charity who sourced mentors externally because there were insufficient people available internally, the strong advice was given to never compromise on the matching process of mentor and mentee. Whilst this advice was in response to a very specific set of circumstances, it also provided valuable food for thought in the importance of the matching process within all organisations.

And that was it for the first session! Informative, helpful, engaging, valuable reminders and pointers on an important topic that would be possible to implement in an organisation even on the most limited of budgets. I found it helpful and hope you will do too…let me know if you think that anything important has been missed!


This post is part of the 25% club series dealing with the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. Some of the posts, like today’s, will be accredited, others will be anonymous – all have a powerful impact and help to shine a light on a topic that we need to talk about so much more than we currently do. Today’s post is written by Hayley Brown, who you can find over on her blog or on Twitter @HaylsBrown.


When I first saw Alison’s 25% club, I knew that it was something I wanted to get involved with. I have battled with mental ill-health for over 10 years now and know a lot of people who are in the same position that have felt ashamed, worried or alone and not able to talk about it. But the first few times I put pen to paper, it was hard! So, I have decided to write my contribution like a story, because it’s easier that way for me.

I want to introduce myself, my name is Hayley and I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. If people want to make a negative judgement about me, that’s their choice. I have made mistakes in my life; I have achieved great things, I am sure I will experience many more of both. Mental ill-health has been a part of these experiences and sometimes it has driven them, but not all of them. I will not allow a negative opinion, or judgement, to shake my perception of who I am. It has taken me 10 years to get to this point.

So, onto the story.

Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom far away, there was a little princess. The little princess was a clever young girl, with lots of wonderful friends, she lived in a big white castle with sparkling turrets and vast gardens along with her parents the king and queen, who adored her. Every day, the princess would wake up and look out of her window across the vast and beautiful kingdom, after eating her breakfast she would meet her friends to start their schooling and play together until it was time for supper.

From the outside, her life was perfect and untroubled. She was well liked, excelled at her studies; she had plenty of interesting past-times and a family who loved her.

However, little did they know of the great storm, which had brought rise to her troubles.

It had happened a few months ago. One dark night there was a great thunderstorm, lightning flashed and struck the sparkling turrets, heavy droplets of rain fell and stained the castle grey, wind shook and battered the perfectly manicured gardens and, in the midst of all this, the little princess was visited by an evil wizard.

The wizard was well-known throughout the realm, but no one dared speak his name, he had no rhyme or reason to his vengeance; he was an angry and cruel man, specialising in torturous spells, which were difficult to shake.

He appeared in front of her as she was daydreaming and raised his arms in spiteful glee, wielding powerful magic.

And then he was gone.

Days, then weeks, then months passed and nothing happened. Slowly, the princess began to think of herself as lucky, she had survived and after a few months, the wizard’s visit was forgotten.

Until tonight.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

The little princess was woken from her sleep, in the dead of night.

Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap.

What was that?

She opened her eyes and leapt across the room screaming! A swarm of bees! A Smeagol! A shadowy figure! This was repeated many nights in the week, until she was scared to go to sleep.

The princess became exhausted as these ghouls visited her night after night. Each targeted to her deepest fears and worries.

Worse, she began to question her relationships: ‘they don’t really like me’ she mused, ‘they are only nice because they think I am a princess.’ She faced tests with a new sense of fear ‘I can’t do this’, she continued to visit her friends after school and try out her hobbies but when she got home, she locked herself away and cried inexplicably. She became worried about almost everything: ‘what if this carriage overturns?’, ‘what if the sun should explode’, ‘what if I am attacked’. Over time this became: ‘this carriage will overturn’, ‘this sun will explode’, ‘I will be attacked’.

She was determined to stay ahead and spent twice as long scrutinising and creating her work. So that no one could know. Apart from the people she lived with, from whom it was difficult to hide.

The king and queen became worried and encouraged the princess to visit the learned owl who knew about these things. 

 So, one bright, crisp morning she set out alone to see the owl. She did not tell her friends.

She arrived at his premises and entered through the front door. She saw an odd collection of creatures arranged in the owl’s old fashioned sitting room. An elephant sneezing vigorously, people with limbs bundled up in swathes of white, a cat with an eyepatch and a baby crying. The princess felt guilty.

‘Hello my dear’, said the owl ‘How may I help you’. ‘Well’, began the princess, going on to explain her troubles, talking as quickly as she could, for she knew the owl was busy.

The owl listened, and once he was satisfied that he had heard enough, reached into his drawer and pulled out a magic capsule.

‘Swallow one per day, it will give you temporary reprieve and also you should see the giraffe, she knows more about these things – but her time is short, you may wait for a number of weeks’ he said.

The princess took the capsule and placed it into her pocket, pleased that she would be allowed some relief from the evil spell, and started back to the castle.

When she returned the queen asked, ‘what advice did the wise owl give you’?

The princess explained her journey and showed the queen her magic capsule.

‘Pooh!’ said the queen, ‘that owl is clearly busy and foolish. You must not take the magic capsule; I have read it in the news, go and see the giraffe’.

Months passed and the princess battled to hide the effects of the spell and carry on, whilst the capsule sat untouched, inviting, on her dresser.

Until finally the morning came, she travelled to see the giraffe, who lived far, far away from the castle. No carriages went that way, and all of the castle’s horsemen were busy, so she walked.

When she got to the giraffe’s house, a bluebird met her ‘Hello’, it twittered, ‘are you here to see the giraffe?’

‘Yes’ she answered

‘I’m sorry, the giraffe is not well today, you will have to make another appointment, we can fit you in, in about 6 week’s time’.

The princess left, disheartened.

She found a place to sit, and mulled.

‘When will this torture end?’ she thought ‘and what is so bad about the magic capsule’?

She travelled home and consulted the magic mirror.

‘The capsule will provide you relief’ it said ‘but at this cost – ‘

The princess sighed:

‘Would not anyone in pain, accept some form of relief for these trade offs’

She could take no more, she walked into the chambers, up to the dresser and swallowed the capsule and waited……………………

 Nothing happened.

‘This was the way with the spell’ she thought.

So she kept taking the capsules. She did not tell the queen.

Slowly but surely, the ghouls did not visit, her worrying became less, and the appointment with the giraffe drew near. She stopped crying. She forgot about the wizard.

On the morning of the appointment the princess felt almost like her normal self.

‘I will go to see the giraffe’, she thought ‘as I have the appointment anyway’.

‘How are you?’ asked the giraffe

‘Well I feel fine now, but…’ she started.

They talked and talked for what felt like hours, until the little princess was exhausted.

The giraffe told her to keep taking the magic capsules and they made another appointment, and then another, and then another until the little princess felt that she could talk no more.

They kept diaries, monitored and developed strategies to beat the spell.

‘It’s a strong one’ the giraffe thought, ‘that might not ever go away’.

After a few visits, the giraffe and the princess decided they did not need to meet anymore.

Then, after some time, she revisited the owl, and asked for a smaller magic capsule. He agreed.

Then, after more time still, she began to look at others, in the same way she looked at herself and she found the courage to talk about that fateful night, when the evil wizard came.

She found that they too, had been visited, by the wizard.

And they talked and talked, and they understood and they vowed that they would talk to others and spread the word of the magic capsule and the giraffe, and their power when used together, in harmony so that no one would ever need to suffer in silence again.


If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do

  • visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources
  • take the ‘time to change’ pledge
  • share your story and read those of others as part of this blog series. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with me on Twitter (@AlisonChisnell) or through the comments section of this blog
  • we are forming an #HRforMentalHealth team to fundraise for Mind by running the Royal Parks half marathon in October. Register here if you’d like to join us – we’re a friendly bunch with some first-time half-marathon runners joining us :)


This post is part of the 25% club series dealing with the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. Some of the posts, like today’s, will be accredited, others will be anonymous – all have a powerful impact and help to shine a light on a topic that we need to talk about so much more than we currently do. Todays’s post is written by Wayne Singleton, who can be found on Twitter @SingletonWayne. 


I’ve read the other blogs about mental health that Alison has posted and feel that my story can’t really add a great deal to what’s already been said.  I was off work for a while due to many things that happened in my life that happened at the same time which ended in me suffering from a period of stress/anxiety.  This was around five years ago, and, honestly, I’m probably only just recovering fully now.

I knew it probably wasnt right to throw up every morning after brushing my teeth, but I carried on.  Then one day, I threw up, and carried on, and couldn’t stop.  Then I sat down on the bathroom floor, I realised I couldn’t go into work and the shutters came down…

I don’t want to focus on what happened or why, but to focus on what I believe helped me, some of the tools and techniques that I really found useful and helped me recover much quicker than I probably would have done without them.  I thought myself as a bit of a stress expert before I became ill, and enjoyed reading about it as a pet subject, so I was well versed in the symptoms.  This also helped when I went to the doctor and he reached for the prescription pad while saying ‘I’ll just arrange for you to have some drugs’….  No, no you won’t thanks very much Doctor.

A couple of the keys for me were rehabilitation and exercise.  I knew that, despite being in a shocker of a state, I needed to get back to work as soon as possible, even though this put a bit of extra pressure on me at a time when I needed to rest.  I think that this was a bit of anchor for me and proved to be something to work towards.  I eventually returned a matter of weeks after I’d been signed off, and thanks to an understanding line manager and supportive department, I returned on a rehabilitation programme in a different job, building my hours up over a few months.  I think that, if I had gone back to work full-time straight away, I would have ended up truly broken and probably wouldn’t have returned to my employer at the time.  I’d seen this rehab approach work incredibly well before my issues, and can vouch for it wholeheartedly now.

Within the rehab aspect is also sleep.  I think that all of us fret about work and have sleepless nights, and I think that this contributed to my illness significantly.  I LOVE sleep at the best of times and can generally snatch a snooze whenever and wherever (when I was a child I ‘famously’ fell asleep between leaving the top of a slide and reaching the bottom!), but this definitely hadn’t been the case in the months leading up to me being off.  I found myself sleeping for hours during the day, and in some circumstances zoning out for long periods while I was awake.  The latter was particularly frightening when I was out running on the fells, which brings me on to exercise…

I’d started running after giving up smoking a number of years ago, and had worked my way up from 10k to marathon distances.  For various reasons, I hadn’t been doing enough of this hobby/pastime/love and realise now that this is essential to bring a bit of balance and stability to my life.  I’m fortunate to live in the South Lakes so have access to an incredible playground to exercise in, and spending anything up to eight hours trotting round the fells leaves me feeling exhilarated and my head ‘empty’ as far as worries and work thoughts are concerned.  Running gives me time to work through the anger and frustrations that we each experience in day-to-day life, and I’m a big advocate of supporting people in discovering a sport/exercise that they can enjoy.  I think it’s really important that in times when we’re struggling, we need to be a bit selfish and take time out to reset and ponder things – exercise can be a good way of having some ‘time off’.

I think that all of the ‘normal’ recommendations also apply when looking at stress/anxiety in particular are also helpful – less booze, less caffeine, eat more healthily, all have their place and I guess all contribute to leading a more balanced lifestyle.

I’m not sure that my ‘story’ is groundbreaking, or innovative, but I promised myself that I’d always try to share what worked for me in an effort to prevent anyone else suffering what was a pretty horrendous period in my life.  I’d urge anyone working in HR to do a bit of research on mental health and the wide spectrum of illness/affliction that this covers, in an effort to understand it for all number of reasons.  Not least of which is to help ourselves should it happen to us.


If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do

  • visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources
  • take the ‘time to change’ pledge
  • share your story and read those of others as part of this blog series. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with me on Twitter (@AlisonChisnell) or through the comments section of this blog
  • we are forming an #HRforMentalHealth team to fundraise for Mind by running the Royal Parks half marathon in October. Register here if you’d like to join us – we’re a friendly bunch with some first-time half-marathon runners joining us :)



On Tuesday 5th February we held the HR for Mental Health evening with Mind. So many people have asked me how it went and what was discussed, that I thought it would be helpful if I pulled something together for those who were not able to attend.

The agenda and speakers for the event were organised by Jon Bartlett (@Projectlibero) in less than three weeks since the Courage post first appeared on my blog. Someone asked me the other day, whether either he or I had any idea of the response that would be generated from posting this: the honest answer is no, not at all! But, once it was clear that so many people were affected by the post and keen to do something tangible to try to make a difference, Jon and I discussed what we could do to maintain some momentum. I offered to post a series of guest posts by anyone who wanted to share their experience of dealing with a mental health issue (cue the 25% Club series); Jon had the great idea of creating and hosting an event with Mind.

Around 60 people attended from a wide variety of organisations and sectors, many of whom I did not know personally, but all of whom without exception were engaged, interested to find out more and keen to be there. David Goddin did a wonderful job of explaining what would happen at the event, introducing each of the speakers, and expertly facilitating throughout.

The evening started with a number of speakers, all of whom were fascinating and compelling to listen to. First up, Jon stepped forward and introduced himself as the author of Courage. This was a huge deal: as he explains in this post which he published at the start of the event, he has never previously spoken about his bipolar disorder in public. He talked movingly and at times haltingly of the path that his life has taken and how difficult it has been to get to this point of disclosure. He will say that he stumbled over his words and was tongue-tied at times. For me, and for many in the audience, it was simply spellbinding to listen.

Charlotte (@BipolarBlogger), who is an Expert by Experience for Mind gave a fantastic talk about what it is like to live with an enduring mental health condition. I found her the most inspiring of all: she was so bright, impressive, insightful and articulate. She talked about her condition as being like living on a beach: it can be normal and lovely and enable you to build the constructs of a normal life, but every so often there is a tidal wave, which devastates everything. She has published a transcript of her talk on her blog, which I can’t recommend reading highly enough. I would also like to highlight the tweet that became most shared throughout the evening, by Charlotte herself, which sums up so much of how we still view the topic of mental health: “Very nice of people to say that I am brave to speak up about my mental health, but I live for the day when bravery is not required.”

Ruth Warden from the NHS gave an employer’s perspective and shared a lot of research they had undertaken in their organisation, which was fascinating and definitely relevant beyond her sector and organisation. She has kindly provided a copy of her detailed notes, which you can view here -



Emma Mamo from Mind talked about the great work that they do with businesses and the excellent resources that are available. She has provided a visual overview of her presentation here, as well as a detailed example of a workplace WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), which was discussed.





Following the speakers and a question and answer session with the panel, we separated into groups (thanks to Natasha Stallard and Julie Drybrough for their excellent work in facilitating us!) and brainstormed some answers to questions that had been set by Mind to help their research. These were –

  • What topics would be useful for Mind to produce information & guidance on?
  • What format would be most useful? E.g. short guides, Webinar events, check lists
  • What issues do HR Professionals find most challenging when it comes to managing Mental Health at work?

I know that Mind will be keen to continue to get feedback from HR professionals on these topics, so please do leave a comment or drop me an email if you have some views on the above points.

The evening wrapped up, we retired to the pub for drinks and a chat and my head was buzzing for hours, if not days afterwards with ideas for what I would do within in my organisation and a sense of huge pride and achievement for the success of the event.

Some food for thought that I have been reflecting on since the event and have shared with my HR and board colleagues is as follows –

  • line manager competency is, unsurprisingly, the single most important thing to how individuals with mental health issues experience support in the workplace
  • in order to create a more supportive environment, it helps to give people the tools to start a conversation. For example, for a manager to ask any individual who works for them, “how do you manage your own health and wellbeing? What can I do to support you with that?” Or even doing something as simple as regularly asking and properly listening to the answer of “how are you?” 
  • there is so much stigma still. Mind’s research shows that mental health illness has increased massively since the recession, but most people are too fearful to declare it and lie when they call in sick. This of course causes further problems and stress for the individual, as well as undermines the trust between the person and the organisation
  • it is important to integrate any mental health initiatives into wider support and training, not as a stand-alone activity. Also it’s helpful to talk about wellness as a whole, including mental wellness, versus illness which includes both mental and physical symptoms. We talked about how lots of managers and employers can be amazing if someone has cancer or diabetes, but terrible if the individual has a mental health issue. We also should be very mindful of the language we use
  • the employment rate for those with enduring mental health conditions is shockingly low.
  • it’s important to think about what the person can do, not just what they can’t. Often the individual themselves will know what will make a difference to them, for example flexibility in coming in slightly later, working from home, stepping out of conflict situations etc. Often continuing to work is vital to an individual’s ability to manage a mental health condition.
  • organisational restructures can be triggers for individuals – due to the increase in workload, the introduction of flatter, less defined structures, and a feeling of being out of control of their daily work. This is rarely taken into account in any change management programmes.

In terms of next steps, the most important thing is that we start to take action as a result of the evening event with Mind and our collective good intentions. For me, I will be getting a team together from across my business and agreeing our plans to improve the environment that we work in and are responsible for. Two particular possibilities that I am reflecting on are incorporating mental health into our management training at every level and also creating a strategic strand of wellness into our CSR strategy. In addition to this I will be making a case for bringing Mind in to upskill our HR and senior managers about mental health and helping us to deal with it more effectively. Watch this space for more details and I will update you on the actions that I take. I hope very much that there will be others doing the same.

Were you at the event? What points particularly resonated with you? If you weren’t there, what would you like to ask that I haven’t answered? And most importantly of all….what are you going to do to make a difference? I would love to know!

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