I work with a tool, called PULSE, which measures the psycho-social mood of employees in organisations.  It’s not an employee survey which normally takes a long time to complete and focuses on all matters affecting employees, like their salary, conditions of employment etc.  In contrast this takes a snapshot of where the organization is regarding employee engagement.  As the name implies, just like a medical doctor takes a patient’s pulse to get a reading on the rate and rhythm of their hearts’ contractions, this acts as an indicator of their health so the pulse survey provides employers with a measure, in real time, of the psychological health of the organisation.

How I came to discover the tool is a funny story.  My own experience is that when I am feeling good for whatever reason (aka positive mental health) there is a lot that I can do because the lens through which I am looking at the world is different from the one I use on other days when I am not feeling good (poor mental health).  The lens affects everything = my confidence, decision making, risk taking, creativity, relationships, alcohol use, even my sex life!  There is nothing spared where poor mental health is concerned.

Through experience I have mastered self-management. So instead of merely being frustrated or angry with myself, I am kinder and more understanding.  With an attitude of surrender although not resignation, I bide my time until, like the end of a miserable spell of weather, it passes, and doom and gloom are replaced with positivity.  Then I can get on with being confident, making decisions, taking risks – all the stuff that takes me nearer to where I want to be in my life.  Goal activity when my mental health is poor is compromised because it’s as though I am paralysed with apathy, fear or whatever plethora of negative emotions that hang around when I’m in the doldrums.  These episodes don’t have to be long; sometimes it’s a few days or it can be weeks; but for others experiencing a more serious bout of depression it can be months.

My awareness of my lens and how it affects my world view and subsequent attitude, and behaviour allows me to navigate the territory better than when I was less aware of my mental health.  This insight made me think how much more empowered managers would be if they could ‘read’ the mental health of their employees but not in the sense of who is depressed, anxious or suicidal, but how their employees are viewing their world of work in a particular moment in time – in other words, their level of engagement.  The importance of this, bar the obvious benefits of knowing what you might be dealing with, is that such ‘market intelligence’ would enable you to determine the best time to communicate certain information, initiate action or even throw a staff party – and in each instance increase the chances of the initiative being successful.

To cut a long story short I set about to develop something for this purpose, only to discover that a Swedish company had developed such a tool more than a decade before.  When I reached out to them, I jokingly accused them of stealing my idea as I had developed such a prototype in my mind independently.  They had simply beat me to it, so I concluded that great minds must think alike, climbed into bed with them and developed a strategic partnership which has allowed me to work with their tool with many of my clients to take the pulse of their employees.  We are able to derive insight into the employees’ experience with what we call the ‘pillars of engagement’ – those factors such as Recognition and Appreciation, Meaningful Work and Development Opportunities, Effective Communication and Work-Life Balance and Well Being. And, that folks is all the stuff that determines whether you have a productive workforce or not!

And just as I have learnt how to work with my own state of inertia, my clients are learning how to work with theirs.  The fact that we learn all the time is what is so fascinating.  Recently we have discovered what a colleague calls “talking up the numbers”.   When clients receive a poor number rating for a specific dimension being measured, workload or co-operation for example, just talking about it seems to drive up the numbers within a few months.  Just by drawing attention to it, or creating awareness is enough to create a shift in the perception of the experience or the person’s level of engagement.  I find this extraordinary and exciting especially because most of my clients prefer a head-in-the-sand, ostrich mentality response to a poor result. And that’s not meant as a criticism because I get it – nobody feels like poking their finger in a sore because it’s unpleasant and painful;  and which manager do you know who feels they have space for another problem to solve or project to undertake?  Most managers I come across don’t feel that their challenge cup is empty and in need of filling, and have the capacity for another problem to solve, dragon to slay, or mountain to climb.

If you can “talk up the numbers”, knowing that just by raising awareness of what is not right can immediately improve the situation, has endless potential.  I know from practical experience that awareness causes action, not only intuitively but practically.  When conducting training sessions, I often invite trainees to become aware of how they are sitting.  No sooner than the suggestion is made, there is universal movement in the room, as some sit up, shift, and adjust their positions, despite there being no suggestion that any action is required or desired.  I think this is the power of awareness to create action. 

The irony is that as managers we don’t want to talk about things which we don’t have solutions for, as if we should have all the answers – imagine the arrogance!   Now it seems our discovery of “talking up the numbers”, with the PULSE feels like is a license to do less by becoming aware, talking about it, and allowing improvement almost organically.

Just like I accept my down days and talk about it, organisations should accept theirs too.   Solutions are usually simple, and awareness is more to do about subtraction than with addition or multiplication.   Seems that in business health, just as bodily health, the PULSE is a very vital statistic.