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ABP Manchester 29th January 2020

Eversheds Sutherland Event.

Following on from a similar event in January 2019, the ABP and Engage4Success collaborated in promoting a highly successful and well attended event supported by Eversheds Sutherland Solciitors in January 2020. The theme of the event was “Resilience and Wellbeing, making your organisations fit for purpose”.  There were four presentations, three of which are highlighted here and one which will feature in next month’s newsletter.  ABP should like to thank Eversheds Sutherland for extending such a warm welcome and providing us with excellent refreshment.


Lee Ashwood, Principal Associate, Eversheds Sutherland

Lee Ashwood of Eversheds Sutherland introduced the event and set the scene by exploring some of the legal issues around Resilience and Wellbeing and providing pointers to future legislation in this area.   Lee then linked his presentation into his experiences as  a solicitor advising clients on employment law issues including disability.

Based on his work with organisations, his experience is that Human Resources at a senior level are these days often focussed the health and wellbeing of employees. However, it is not uncommon for the day-to-day managers of employees to be output-focussed and overlook the health and wellbeing of their staff. Lee suggested that this may leave such organisations open to Employment Tribunal claims under the Equality Act 2010.

Lee explained that the Equality Act defines a disability as:

  • a physical or mental impairment;
  • that has a long-term and not less than minor or trivial adverse effect;
  • on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities such as concentration or conversation.

Lee explained that ‘long-term’ can be described as ‘likely to last 12 months or more’. He gave the example that organisations sometimes fail to spot that mental health issue, such as stress or anxiety, can quickly become long-term when, after three months away from work due to stress, an employee at that stage is prescribed with six months’ counselling. At the point, whilst it is easy to assume, therefore, that the employee’s stress is ‘likely to last 12 months or more’ and so be a disability, organisations often do not realise as they think of the employee as simply having been off work for only three months.

An employee who meets the definition of having a disability is afforded protection from discrimination and the right to have adjustments, within reason, made to their work in order that their disability does not disadvantage them.

Expressed in the context of an average claim for disability discrimination being £28,371 in 2018/2019, the need for HR directors and managers to focus and provide more direction in managing the health and wellbeing of employees has never been greater.

Many organisations find that having a Diversity and Inclusion Policy addressing the requirements of the Equality Act demonstrates a legally-based commitment which, should they be unfortunate enough to have to face an Employment Tribunal claim, may have a mitigating effect. However, there is no substitute for constant proactive monitoring of employees in increasingly high pressured working environments.


Janice McNamara

Janice is a vastly experienced trainer and coach and produced a powerful presentation that drew into stark relief how vulnerable we can be in different ways at work.
But by using such an approach, we had a lesson on how to help ourselves towards being more resilient in stressful environments.

Having worked in different parts of the world in some of the most difficult conditions, she is uniquely qualified to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of training and coaching.

She has a simple construct for wellbeing:

  • Are you able to face life’s challenges
  • Can you identify when you are feeling good and hence performing well and what were the circumstances which drove you to this state of mind

She presented two case studies which were addressed by different groups in the audience:

Case Study A: Situation – A Drug Rehabilitation Centre staffed by six colleagues

One of the colleagues gradually becomes more and more detached, fidgety and eventually starts to leave the room during meetings.
What do colleagues think of the individuals behaviour?
Many words are used but misunderstandings and poor communication can lead to intolerance.

Case Study B: Situation – A large manufacturing company led by a local manager

One of the shop floor managers is respected and works productively with their own team. However, in dialogue with specialists in the company, they can become frustrated and can get angry and confrontational. So, they tend to avoid and communicate on a perfunctory level when the situation demands it.

These two case studies have one thing in common: they both involve people who find aspects of their working environment challenging and stressful.  They have a condition that can lead to mental health problems.  However, the approach to an attempt at a solution is identical.

The conclusion is that mental health can manifest itself in different ways depending on the trigger which can initiate adverse behaviours at work, resulting in poor work performance, be it dyslexia, a more overt disability, or another condition.  A trusting and respectful culture in which work colleagues offer a positive response by attempting to understand the issues can have a remarkable effect on resilience and performance.  For the individual, hard though it may be, try to focus and communicate: identify the individual elements which trigger the reactions, share the issues, discuss them with colleagues in an objective way and it can be amazing within the right culture how supportive and positive colleagues can be.


Lessons from Organisational Cultures detached from Individual Wellbeing

Sarah-Jane Lennie, ex-Police Detective Inspector, mental health supremo, lecturer and researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University, gave us an incisive, heart warming and uplifting presentation on how mental health can affect any of us and, through the lens of the police force, how it can be magnified several times to the point of trauma and then to PTSD when an organisational culture bases itself on denial with the result of, in some cases, individual devastation.

The key message from this presentation is: who is responsible for employee resilience? Often the burden is placed upon the individual, however it is difficult to maintain positive mental health in an organisational culture that actively works against it.  After 18 years serving in both Hampshire and Greater Manchester Police and seeing mental health issues at first hand including examining her own mental health, she decided to have a fresh start and research what emerged as “emotional labour” of police officers, and work on her Thesis ” Emotional (In) Authenticity – the Psychological Impact for Police Officers”.  This topic has caused a great deal of interest as emotional theory can be applied to labour in any context and its effect on associated mental health issues.

The approach has had a different flavour: rather than crunching a lot of data, it has been based on qualitative research and in particular what can trigger or prevent the onset of mental health illness. Quite quickly into the project, she came across burnout and low levels of wellbeing at work.  While the reality of the organisation is in the rhetoric, individual employees can be stigmatised simply by not demonstrating the perceived “resilience” deemed appropriate for the organisation and its image.

The concept of “emotional labour” was first conceptualised in 1983 when Hochschild studied air stewardesses involved in what he described as “Surface Acting” and “Deep Acting”.  What was discovered was that emotional incongruity or inauthenticity led to burnout and stress, regardless of the emotion, and when associated with exposure to trauma, PTSD symptomology was increased.  And this could occur quite simply from extreme discrepancies between authentic emotions (internal) and display emotions (external).

In its crudest sense, emotional labour is exchange of work for a wage: this is a normal return for human endeavour where natural emotions align with organisational needs but the line is crossed when employees are expected to fake emotions, alienating themselves from their own emotions.    Job stereotyping exacerbates the problem: women get pushed into nursing, teaching and secretarial roles, whereas men are expected to perform “macho” roles in professions such as the police, where emotions are viewed as a weakness and “feminine”, which can result in silent suffering or, on the other side of the spectrum, anger which in a professional context should be suppressed.  However, results can be the same: trauma resulting from the alienation of their own emotions.  While these reactions are extreme in the police, examples abound in other professions: in academia alienation can occur where as an educator you are unable to deliver the education you believe suitable for the young people you are working with, whilst at the same time having to ‘toe the company line’.

Other roles require “Deep Acting”, where you expected to empathise with others’ points of view as part of a cohesive organisational culture or where for deep personal reasons or difficulties such as financial or family issues information can not be shared or discussed.  In these situations the effect on mental health can just as acute as Surface Acting.

In short, these hostile environments are the result of “societal expectations” which do not permit authentic expressions of emotions, exposing people to risk of trauma and more serious longer term PTSD.   It follows that the recent rise of mental heath problems has run in parallel with an increase in service sector jobs which require more “customer” facing inauthentic activity where inadequate understanding of roles is rife and where there is insufficient support.


What outcomes can be expected from Emotional Labour?

*           Positive emotions need to be expressed and suppression can lead to mental health issues

*           If emotions are hidden or harnessed, this can lead to emotional dissonance (c.f cognitive dissonance in a consumer context) which is known to lead to stress, burnout and depression

*           Burnout.  This was researched by New York Police in as far back as1979 by Maslach and Jackson with certain outcomes and has been the subject of ongoing work:

–           Overextension, resulting in emotional exhaustion

–           Distance between work colleagues, resulting from depersonalisation

–           Ineffective performance, resulting from a lack of professional efficacy


The key ingredient missing from discussions about emotional labour and authenticity is trust.  In “emotion” terms, trust can provide essential support in the treatment of mental health.  It can build resilience and is at the foundation of the hierarchy of needs and it is the key ingredient which is sacrificed in any surface or deep acting situations.



29 Jan 2020

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