Do you have a ‘sense of agency’? Use it!

Posted in Life and Learning, On Resilience, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2022 by racheljackson

One of the privileges of working with lots of different organisations is that I get to pick up subtle shifts in their conversational focus and thus build a picture of how the workplace is changing. As part of the increased attention to employee-wellbeing over the last decade, ‘Resilience’ has been hogging the limelight – and rightly so – just in time to deal with the onslaught of things that we have needed to be resilient about!

As the challenges continue to mount, there is growing recognition that we can’t just hunker down until the old world is restored. That’s not going to happen. I am hearing mutterings of concern mixed with impatience and frustration. Dare I say…it might be time to move beyond work/life balancing, being reflective and mindful, and come back to the reality that work is a significant, and necessary part of our lives. It is a major part of what it means to be us – giving meaning, purposeful activity, social interaction and fulfilment. We literally need it!

A ‘sense of agency’ is defined in the psychological literature as “a feeling of control over actions and their consequences” (Moore 2016). It is the sense that you are the author of your life, your actions, and your thoughts and that this enables you an impact on external events and people around you.

During the past 2 years our freedom and choices have been heavily restricted by COVID. At the same time there have been civil liberties incidents and debates, a rise in conspiracy theories about societal control, censorship and surveillance, and a reduction in freedom of movement and travel – with many even working in ‘touchfree’, access-controlled offices. The behavioural and psychological implications of perceived lack of choice and control are well documented – not least in the literature surrounding prisoner of war camps during the Second World War. It does not bode well for post-pandemic recovery – particularly if we don’t balance compassion with accountability.

I was coaching a client yesterday who had a serious road accident during the pandemic. We were talking about getting back on the bike and the sense of safety whose loss was inhibiting this.

Psychological safety has come up repeatedly during my work over the last two years – but generally with an onus on employers creating conditions of psychological safety for their staff. We need to be encouraging, enabling and at times cajoling individuals to re-take ownership and let’s face it, JOY in their own ability to influence the world around them. Whilst lockdown allowed (even forced) people to step back from accountability and to lead a more relaxed life, many are struggling with the desire to step back up and hold the reins….and many businesses desperately need them to! LIFE needs us all to. The recipe for long life is intertwined with purposeful engagement and interaction.

I encouraged my biking client to add a post-it to her laptop urging her, in her cycling and her work to “JFDI”. She didn’t need to reflect, consider, stay safe, ask permission. She could decide…and act. She sent me a photo later of her out on the bike and smiling from ear to ear ;-). “It wasn’t easy” …she tells me, “but I did it!”

How many of your people are waiting to be given permission, expecting to be asked, ready to be required to re-engage, to stretch themselves, to take action and agency once more?

I will be running a short, educational, interactive, exploratory, and most importantly FREE session on Building Agency in the next few weeks. If you would like to know more, to explore what it might mean for you and your business, or you’d simply like to be part of the discussion, please do get in touch.

The Inner Sense of Interoception

Posted in Life and Learning, Motivation, On Resilience, Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 27, 2021 by racheljackson

Every so often a piece of knowledge I have sought out to help me in my parenting becomes front of mind in my work. In August, it was an article in the Guardian by David Robson entitled “Interoception: the hidden sense that shapes wellbeing”.

I found out about interoception (which my spellcheck is determined to reset to ‘interception‘) whilst trying to understand my son’s struggles to regulate his behaviour at school. Bright, sociable and empathetic, his autism shows up in his frustrations with others, his aggressive outbursts and his continual distraction from task.

As a baby I would have to remove anything from his immediate vicinity that could be in any way interesting in order for him to submit to sleep and even in near clinical conditions he would still struggle to drift off. It was when he was a toddler that we started to notice that his behaviour would worsen significantly when he needed to go to the loo, or was hot…or cold…or hungry – and it wasn’t until he was 8 and I was reading furiously to try to understand how to help him socially, that I came across the term interoception and things started to click into place.

Interoception is the perception of the internal state of one’s body – awareness of heartbeat, balance, blood pressure, breathing, digestion, muscle tension. It is gathered by tiny sensors throughout the body and sent to the brain to enable us to regulate our bodies effectively. There is increasing evidence to suggest impairment in this network of sensors, or in it’s communication with the brain, in those on the spectrum.

Where it gets even more interesting is when you read on to find that the sensors picking up temperature, heartbeat, muscle tension etc etc…are also clues to how we perceive emotion. We recognise, identify and even differentiate our emotional experiences based on these interoceptive messages coming from our bodies. When our heartbeat races, we feel anxiety. When our skin tingles we might feel fear, or excitement. Interoception has a huge part to play in our ability to identify, regulate and manage our emotional state. In fact impairments in interoception are one of the fundamental mechanisms implicated in Alexithymia – a disorder characterised by difficulties in recognising and reporting on one’s own emotions.

For my son, this means that the end of almost every movie is characterised by rolling around, kicking out and constant movement. The muscle tension we feel in the emotional climax of the story – which we might call sadness, or excitement, or fear, he experiences as a desire to move – something he calls “fidgetysilly” – and it makes him intensely anxious because he knows his behaviour is potentially inappropriate, especially in a cinema!

Interoception is now one of the fastest moving research areas in neuroscience. Prof Manos Tsakiris, a psychologist at Royal Holloway, University of London talks of “a constant communication dialogue between the brain and the viscera”.

The vast majority of this dialogue occurs at a physiological level – not only below conscious awareness but in advance of any sense of emotion – essentially a pre-cognitive awareness. It’s only as the brain begins to interpret these messages into emotional signals that we experience what we might call a ‘feeling’ which may then inform our choices and behaviours.

Scientists are now recognising how interoception underpins our ability to problem solve effectively, to intuit and empathise, to plan and to think creatively. Within that continual chatter between body and brain are vital clues to help us monitor both our mental and physical wellbeing – from maintaining our focus and motivation, to responding appropriately to challenges from our colleagues; from building confidence to take risks, to managing stress and anxiety at work; from the amount of water we drink daily, to the number of breaks we take or the way we sit at our desks.

So paying attention to message from our inner sensors is critical – research on depression suggests that those suffering from low mood are poorer at detecting changes to their own heartbeat, perhaps explaining that sense of emotional numbness and de-personalisation associated with the condition. But alas it’s not quite as simple as that; patients identified with anxiety are fully aware of their own heartbeat changes – but where tuning in should support their mental health, they often amplify these changes and ‘catastrophise’ their significance – seeing a small change in heartbeat as bigger than it is.

So how do we flex our ‘interoceptive muscles’ and increase our effective use of this constant dialogue?
So far, research does suggest positive results from ‘interoceptive therapies” including heartbeat detection tasks, interpreting emotions in speech and mindful attention to internal sensations – but there is perhaps an easier way to build your muscle…

Researchers have found that maintaining physical fitness (particularly srength based training) can help effective interoception. When we lose fitness through lack of exercise, we experience higher heart rates (and more post exercise pain like DOMS) following any form of physical or emotional challenges than we might if we maintain physical fitness. The brain is prone to interpret these sensations as being due to anxiety – rather than to physical movement – with a resulting impact on mental health. Essentially by building a body that can cope with strain…we begin to build a mind that can do the same. The more in tune we become with our physical movement, sensations, balance and bodily needs, the more we are able to feel in charge of our emotions, behaviours and social interactions.

My son is 11 now and we are increasingly aware of how intensely he experiences physical sensations from both the external and internal environment. If we can help him to interpret and respond to these effectively I am confident he will continue to grow in his ability to manage the emotions and behaviours they give rise to. In the meantime, I’m going to go and lift some weights in readiness for helping my clients navigate their own emotional journeys.

Quick tips to improve your Interoception:

  • Pay attention to how your body feels. Before you get up in the morning, notice your breathing. Notice where there is muscle tension or pressure in any organs or tissue. Develop a habit of tuning into your body regularly throughout the day – perhaps in each transition between activities.
  • Develop a habit of regular exercise – weight or strength training is not just for body builders. It is for any age or ability. Pick up a 2l bottle of water, push an old tyre, pull a chair or heavy cushion – better still join a gym or a yoga/pilates class. At the very least start walking, cycling, moving more!
  • Notice your emotions more – do some journalling of how your feelings changes over time. It doesn’t have to be an essay every day. 5 minutes of easy reflection can be a really powerful way to get better acquainted with how, when and why your emotional states fluctuate.

Setting Intents (not in tents!)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2021 by racheljackson

I’m sitting by the fire with a large glass of mulled wine warming my soul. The kids go back to school tomorrow. The Christmas decorations are down. There is only one pack of pigs in blankets between me and my new year dietary plans. It’s over. And as is always the case, I start thinking about what this year will look like – and more importantly given our current trajectory, what degree of control I can, or wish to assert over it. 

I am not a “resolution” kind of girl (and I suspect I should probably stop using the term ‘girl’ these days). Each year, I spend one or two of these ‘mulled’ moments to set an intent, a direction of flow for my year. It’s usually a few “less of that and more of this” reflections and perhaps some key milestones or projects I’d like to make happen. They would absolutely not qualify as SMART goals. But they keep me moving and flowing in the direction I want to travel in, and largely they cope with the knocks and diversions of everyday life – although not always with COVID sized detours!

My husband is sat next to me doing a similar piece of thinking but I don’t think it’s going so well. He’s been working on writing a blog. He writes beautifully – but it doesn’t come easily to him and there are a lot of edits and rewrites and I feel he comes out of the process exhausted. Ironically he is writing about goal setting and procrastination and aligning values and beliefs in the process – things he is grappling with in his own journey. The rawness of the struggle is something I’ve encouraged him to share in his writing but I think he finds it hard as there is a competing desire to sound measured and informed – both of which he is. It’s made me contemplate how many roles we are playing in this life and how hard it is to concurrently be the coach and the coachee.

I read an amazing blog on LinkedIn the other day from an executive coach who felt lost and purposeless – and had the courage to share this without fear of the impact it might have on others’ perceptions of his coaching credentials. I was humbled – having felt some of the same feelings over the past few weeks.

You see I’ve been learning on the job…I’ve been running huge workshops using technology I only half understand. I’ve been helping organisations to release and explore emotions that, as a self employed limited company owner, I am simply not part of. I’ve been supporting others to travel journeys that neither one of us has ever travelled before. I am in some ways as lost as they are. But it’s been amazing… and we all reached the destination intact and invigorated with new energy.

We are all human. We are all travelling difficult paths. Part of the wonder and privilege in guiding and supporting others as a coach and facilitator is the recognition that we often step only a few paces ahead of our client in the journey, and our own journey can only ever give us a small insight into theirs . The skill is perhaps in combining and conveying the confidence and credibility of a professional, alongside the humility and essential vulnerability of another human traveller.

I think I might add that to my list for this year…

Parenting Later – The Headlines

Posted in atavist-organization-192257 on May 9, 2018 by racheljackson

Parenting Later – the Headlines

Headline findings:

– In contemplating maternity, the key concerns that mothers reported were the potential impact on their salary and career progression – this was particularly true for lower earners.  Higher earners were more concerned about the impact on their reputation and the potential that they wouldn’t want to come back to work.

– Interestingly this does not line up with the concerns expressed by staff to HR or line managers pre-maternity  Only 10-15% mentioned salary concerns as being a key issue discussed with staff planning their career break.

– All pre-maternity groups rated flexible and part time working and childcare vouchers or facilities as valuable to them (these were also the most common benefits taken up during time off.

– Older mothers (30+) had far lower pre-maternity expectations of what might be valuable but took up more benefits post maternity – with a particular penchant for Keeping in Touch days.

– All the mothers surveyed had a heavy reliance on friends and family in their post maternity period – but availability of family support and thus the reliance on friends and specialist maternity groups was higher over 30 and showed a dramatic shift over 45 with some mothers also seeking the support of a counsellor.

– On return to work, over 60% of respondents over 30 reported frequent or constant work/life balance issues, stress and exhaustion (these issues were only rated as ‘sometimes’ in the under 30 age bracket).

– The 30-44 age-group also reported the highest levels of depression and confidence/ influence issues.

– The pressure to be both at work and at home increases amongst mothers from 30 onwards and at 45+ twenty percent of respondents report a constant need to work beyond contracted hours as well as a constant pressure to be at home more.

– Training and support was most often provided to exec/c-level staff on their return from maternity – which may account for their lower levels of reported stress as compared to entry, intermediate and middle managers.

– In homes with a household income above £100k, mothers who earned half the household income or more prior to having children continued to do so after their first child.  This was not the case below the £100k mark where mothers shifted to earning less than half the household income.

– After a second child, mothers who began on an equal footing with their partner in terms of household income generally now earned the minority, with many now contributing under 10% – even in the higher earning groups. This was less true of self-employed mothers.

– Mothers in entry-level roles were more likely to recover their contribution to household income after their second child than higher level roles.

– Private sector firms were the only organisations surveyed who offered additional training to returning mums. The third sector lead the way in offering keeping in touch days and coaching/mentoring.

– Financial Services and Insurance had the broadest range of benefits on offer…with the most restrictive offers coming from Logistics and HR

– 15% of the organisations surveyed reported a loss of over 40% of staff after a maternity break.

– 62% of employees considering a maternity break would value a structured ‘return to work programme’ and 45% of those returning echo this interest.  51% of HR and 35% of line managers believe such a programme would be worthwhile.

For the full report contact

Parenting Later

Posted in atavist-organization-192257 on March 26, 2018 by racheljackson

The changing nature of parenthood

In 2015 the Office for National Statistics released a paper entitled ‘Births by parents’ characteristics in England and Wales’.  It revealed some rather interesting facts about the nature of parenthood in the UK over the past four decades – and added further fuel to the ongoing discussion about how effectively employers are supporting maternity, motherhood and professional women in general.

“The average age of mums and dads in England and Wales has increased by almost 4 years over the last 4 decades. Falling birth rates among the under-30s and rising birth rates at older ages reflect trends evident since the mid-1970s to delay childbearing”

“In 2015, over half (53%) of all live births in England and Wales were to mothers aged 30 and over and two-thirds (68%) of fathers were aged 30 and over.”

Nicola Haines, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics.

15.6% rise in births to over 40s
15.6% rise in births to over 40s

In 2012 figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre 2012 revealed a 15.6 per cent rise in births to women in their 40s since 2006/7 – the biggest in any age group. Interestingly this trend was particularly true in London where one in twenty of all births were to women in their 40s

Whilst the figures appear to speak for themselves, opinions about why these trends are shifting are less decisive.  Whilst factors such as increased participation in higher education, the desire to establish a career or get on the housing ladder and the desire to achieve  financial stability before starting a family have been cited there is also a view that women are not ‘putting off’ having children – but merely choosing to have them later in recognition of the huge emotional and psychological commitment that having a child entails.

In late 2016, Changing Dialogues approached over 150 women who were either planning for, or returning from maternity to gauge how these women thought and felt about the support available to them, what they made use of in terms of that support, and how they were affected by their break on return to work.

In addition we approached more than 40 managers in both line and HR roles, both to get a sense of the impact of maternity on employers and to understand what organisations are doing to avoid the loss of often highly qualified and experienced resources post maternity.

The questions we sought to answer are as follows:

  • Do older mothers differ from younger mothers in their expectations and experience of employment pre and post maternity?
  • What is the impact of maternity on earnings/financial contribution and is this greater for older mothers, higher household incomes or at particular points in a career journey?
  • Do the measures put in place by employers to support women in maternity match up with the needs and expectations of older mothers?

After an expansive review of the literature and continued discussions with employers and employees, this paper sets out our findings and suggestions for further work.

Headline research findings

Headline findings:

  • Over half of full time employed respondents to the survey had worked for over 10 years prior to their first child.
  • In contemplating maternity, the key concerns that mothers reported were the potential impact on their salary and career progression – this was particularly true for lower earners.  Higher earners were more concerned about the impact on their reputation and the potential that they wouldn’t want to come back to work.
  • Interestingly this does not line up with the concern around getting back up to speed on return that both HR and line management said were key worries expressed by staff pre-maternity.  Only 10-15% mentioned salary concerns as being a key issue discussed with staff planning their career break.
  • While all groups rated flexible and part time working and childcare vouchers or facilities as likely to be valuable, as seen from the run up to maternity – and these were the most common benefits taken up during time off – older mothers (30+) had far lower pre-maternity expectations of what might be valuable but took up more benefits post maternity – with a particular penchant for Keeping in Touch days.
  • All the mothers surveyed had a heavy reliance on friends and family in their post maternity period – but availability of family support and thus the reliance on friends and specialist maternity groups was higher over 30 and showed a dramatic shift over 45 with some mothers also seeking the support of a counsellor.
  • On return to work over 60% of respondents over 30 reported frequent or constant work/life balance issues, stress and exhaustion.  These issues were only rated as ‘sometimes’ in the under 30 age bracket.
  • The 30-44 age-group also reported the highest levels of depression and confidence/ influence issues.
  • The pressure to be both at work and at home increases amongst mothers from 30 onwards and at 45+ 20% of respondents report a constant need to work beyond contracted hours as well as a constant pressure to be at home more.
  • Against that background, mothers over 30 face frequent concerns expressed to them about their commitment despite the number of work related deadlines being missed reducing dramatically from 30 onwards.
  • Again – the view from HR and line managers differs – with few mothers reporting significant confidence and influence issues to them – but more presenting with work/life balance concerns.
  • Additional training and support was most often provided to exec/c-level staff on their return from maternity – which may account for their lower levels of reported stress as compared to entry, intermediate and middle managers.
  • In terms of earnings, mothers who earned the minority of the household income prior to the birth of their first child continued to do so post first and second maternity.
  • In homes with a household income above £100k, mothers who earned half the household income or more prior to having children continued to do so after their first child.  This was not the case below the £100k mark where mothers shifted to earning less than half the household income.
  • 57% of women earning the majority of the household income did not go on to have a second child compared with 40% of those earning the minority and 31% of those earning around half.
  • After a second child, mothers who began on an equal footing with their partner in terms of household income generally now earned the minority many now contributing under 10% – even in the higher earning groups. This was less true of self-employed mothers.
  • Mothers in entry-level roles were more likely to recover their contribution to household income after their second child than higher level roles.
  • 70-85% of the firms surveyed across public, private and third sector offered the key benefits of flexible or part-time working and 30-40% offered home working or childcare vouchers.
  • In recognition of this, 70% of mothers felt they were offered benefits above and beyond statutory requirements.
  • Private sector firms were the only ones offering additional training, and interestingly the third sector lead the way in offering keeping in touch days and coaching/mentoring for returning mums.
  • Financial Services and Insurance had the broadest range of benefits on offer…with the most restrictive offers coming from Logistics and HR
  • In terms of paid leave – which makes up the majority of benefits, the most commonly offered levels were 3-6mths full pay with some companies extending this for an additional 3mths at anything between statutory and full pay.
  • 70% of the organisations surveyed reported that 80% of their staff did return to work fully after maternity – but 15% reported a loss of over 40% of staff after a maternity break.
  • 62% of employees considering a maternity break would value a structured ‘return to work programme’ and 45% of those returning echo this interest.  51% of HR and 35% of line managers believe such a programme would be worthwhile.

What’s going on?

So what is going on?

60% of mums over 30s report frequent or constant work/life balance issues
60% of mums over 30s report frequent or constant work/life balance issues

Why are mothers – particularly the higher earners – being so negatively impacted by having children? – and is it the reason behind their delayed start to parenting?

What are the implications for  our workforce and organisational diversity?

What must employers do about it?

A review of the literature provides some interesting clues to the state of the nation.

Changes in Family Planning

Are we planning to parent later?
Are we planning to parent later?

We begin by testing the assumption that, between them, women and men make and carry out family planning rationally and with regard to all other factors – and thus the decision to start a family is made with logical antecedents that we can study and understand.

Anecdotally, the increase in professional singles and dating networks, the higher divorce rates in the first few years of marriage and the increased financial pressures on families unable to get on the housing ladder all lead to a far more complex family planning environment than was faced in previous generations.  

Interestingly, those who appear to be most likely to delay parenting are also those with the highest education levels and from the more privileged backgrounds.  Lower economic status seems to correlate with earlier conception rates.  Are more educated women becoming choosier about with whom and at what point they have children – or are they experiencing greater opportunities for (or pressure for) personal and career growth – leading them to delay parenting?

Using unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates as a loose measure of the degree of rationale behind family planning, the abortion rate for over 40’s in 2008 was the same as that for under16s. In 2014 the conception rate for over 40s had doubled from levels in 1990, coupled with a far higher proportion of births occurring to non-married mothers.  Is this more evidence to suggest that women are not actively choosing to delay parenting but are finding parenting opportunities make rational (or even irrational) sense later in their lives/careers?

Employment factors

Employment factors

Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970 prohibiting  ‘any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment’, in November 2006 the term “gender wage gap” got it’s first entry on Wikipedia and there has been increasing focus on the disparity between male and female incomes ever since (if not well before).  Whilst the debate continues to rage about whether this gap is real or an illusion caused by other factors, in 2010 the Equality Act reinforced the commitment to parity by giving ‘women (and men) a right to equal pay for equal work.’

When a woman takes time off to have a baby, her employment rights are protected while on Statutory Maternity leave including the right to return to work, pay rises, holiday entitlement etc. And yet…according to the Office of National Statistics 2015 the pay gap between men and women who don’t have children is 8%…but after 4 children that gap rockets to 35.5%.  In the US, research in 2001 concluded that for women under 35 the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is larger than the pay gap between men and women. In fact in 2004, Jennifer Glass wrote in Work and Occupations that employed mothers now accounted for most of the ‘gender gap’ in wages.

progression for female workers.  The pay difference is virtually eliminated if you control for job levels and complexity.

Does the pay gap reflect deeper trends in society and employment?
Does the pay gap reflect deeper trends in society and employment?

According to research published by Korn Ferry Haygroup in 2016 there is a view that pay gaps aren’t so much about employers underpaying female workers per se – but more about there being a distinct lack of progression for female workers.  The pay difference is virtually eliminated if you control for job levels and complexity.

Whilst this research relates to women in general rather than mothers, in 2007, research by Shelley Correll at Cornell found that women who noted that they had children on their CV were 50% less likely to get a response from a potential employer than women who did not.  So again – is a problem lack of female progression…or lack of mother progression?  It seems that both may be true.

If women are slowed down in their careers by parenthood – we would expect to see the same effect in men – fathers must surely spend more time on childcare than non fathers??  And yet we do not see this in the literature. In Correll’s studies, men who referenced that they were parents in applying for a role received a slightly higher response rate than those who did not! (Correll, Bernard & Paik, 2007).  On continuing on with her research in the lab, Correll discovered that when they were offered jobs, mothers were offered on average £9k less than even the female counterparts who had not mentioned children on their CV…whilst fathers were offered just over £1500 more than non-fathers!  And it goes on…

In a white paper issued by the Spanish Government in 2011, men with at least one child were 1.7 times more likely to be promoted to a full academic professorship than men with no children.

In 2004 a group of researchers published an article in the Journal of Social Issues reporting that fathers were held to lower standards than non fathers and could effectively get hired and promoted even when their performance was worse than that of men without children.

These findings have since been replicated a number of times – including by Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years. Ms. Budig found that on average, men’s earnings increased more than 6 percent when they had children (if they lived with them), while women’s decreased 4 percent for each child they had. In the UK in 2018, The Institute for Fiscal Studies reported figures in line with our own findings suggesting that by the time their first child reaches the age of 20, working mothers earn an average of 30% less per hour than working fathers from a similar educational background – a steep rise from the 10% gap before having children.

Also in line with our own research, there was one exception in Ms. Budig’s US study:

“Women in the top 10 percent of earners lost no income when they had children, and those in the top 5 percent received bonuses, similar to men.”

Budig & England -American Sociological Review Apr 2001

Budig speculates that in these “rarefied jobs”, employers see high-performing women as more similar to men, and that women might work more and negotiate for higher pay in order to afford household and child care help.

This leads to perhaps a deeper concern regarding imbalances in our parenting situation.

Societal Factors

Societal Factors

In 2014 research a piece of work by Harvard Business School graduates and sociologist Pamela Stone into why high achieving women are not meeting the career goals they set for themselves in their twenties, revealed that it was not because they had ‘opted out’ of the workforce when they had children (among Gen X mums interviewed 74% were working full time) …but because they allowed their partners careers to take precedence over their own.

Despite over half of females stating when interviewed at graduation that they were expecting ‘egalitarian marriages’ (over half of the males expected their career to take precedence) a lot of these women were wrong! When interviewed decades after graduation, 70 of men were saying their careers took precedence and 86% said their wives had primary childcare responsibility…remember we are talking HBS graduates here – highly educated women…and 74% of these women are also working full time!

Worryingly, the authors of the study note that while millennial graduates are a little more egalitarian, half of these younger men surveyed still assumed that their career would take precedence and two thirds assumed their spouse would do the majority of the childcare.

Although attitudes to equality have shifted dramatically over the past 30 or so years, we still live in a society that is attempting to support some highly contradictory values around parenting.

At the positive end:

the proportion of women who thought it was ‘a man’s job is to earn money and a woman’s job is to look after the home’ decreased from 46% in 1986 to 15% in 2006

British Social Attitudes survey (Dench 2010).

Girls are now outperforming boys at school and university and the opportunities for women in work mean that the younger generation perceives far fewer barriers to building a successful career than their mothers or grandmothers before them – ‘the gender pay gap has almost disappeared for women in their 20s’ according to Institute for Public Policy research (2013).

And yet…there is considerable evidence that contemporary cultural beliefs include assumptions that employed mothers are less committed to work than non-mothers and, consequently put less effort into it (for a detailed review see Ridgeway and Correll 2004).

These beliefs also increasingly include an expectation that mothers will and should prioritise intensive care giving and responsiveness to their children –  in direct conflict with another widely held belief that the ideal worker is unencumbered and able to focus 110% on career and professional goals and the requirements placed upon them by their employer.

In short the old adage that “you can’t have your cake and eat it” seems to remain at the heart of societal beliefs about motherhood.  Whilst the role of father seems to enhance the status of ‘dedicated worker’ for men – for women the role of mother implies distraction, lack of priority, emotionality and reduced career effort…and the physiological evidence does not run in women’s favour:

“Even before a woman gives birth pregnancy tinkers with the very structure of her brain…grey matter becomes more concentrated. Activity increased in regions that control empathy, anxiety and social interaction…the amygdala actually grows in the weeks after birth.

The greatest brain changes occur with a mother’s first child, though its not clear whether a mother’s brain ever goes back to what it was like before childbirth…the act of caring for one’s baby forges new neural pathways”

Adrienna LaFrance – senior editor at The Atlantic

As arguably the least parented and most educated in history, women born into the Generation X demographic will have experienced high rates of divorce, ‘latchkey’ childcare and increased maternal employment. Gen X mums have perhaps for some of these reasons approached marriage and parenthood ‘with a higher degree of caution and pragmatism than their parents demonstrated’ (IPPR 2013) and many have delayed both life choices well into their thirties.

The 1950's housewife
The 1950’s housewife

Having their children now between the fifties values of their elderly parents (“mother’s place is in the home”), the intensive ‘attachment focused’ views which followed the latchkey generation they grew up in, and the career focused “you can have it all” views often prevalent in the younger generation….the critique comes from all angles and they are destined to underperform against all expectations!

Working mothers spend 25% of their waking hours worrying (five hours more than working fathers).

Shira Offer – Bar-Ilan University Israel

Despite being ostensibly part of a generation of successful working women, these mums feel these conflicting values in their own upbringing, in the media, in the faces (and comments) of grandparents looking after their children, in the playground as they run to drop off or pick up around business meetings, even in the home as their husbands ask yet again where the kids are today as they dash off to the office.

“despite all of the changes that have occurred, women’s increased participation in the labour market has not necessarily reduced either their caring responsibilities
 or the amount of work they do outside of employment. Women put in more hours of housework than men even as their share of household earnings increase – evidence from the Understanding Society study shows that when women earn more than 65 per cent of family income, the time that they spend on housework actually increases (Yee Kan 2012), and recent IPPR research found that eight out of 10 married women do more housework than their husbands (Lanning 2013).”

Institute for Public Policy Research (2013)

Mothers are quite literally trying to be all things to all men
Mothers are quite literally trying to be all things to all men

In 2014 the Telegraph quoted research from Loughborough University to suggest that ‘Middle Class mothers are driving themselves to exhaustion trying to hold down jobs while facing a growing obligation to ensure their children attend extra-curricular activities every day of the week.’  – mothers are quite literally trying to be all things to all men – dedicated, driven and professional in the workplace, attentive, responsive and organised in their childcare as well as trying to maintain their own health and interests to ensure they don’t become depressed!  

Lucy Mangan – Style magazine journalist in 2014 believes part of the problem is the emulation of high flying mums such as Nicola Horlick and Marissa Mayer – suggesting to mums that if they try hard enough they can have it all.  But these women often hire nannies, cooks and cleaners and are among the few – not the many. The rest of us live in an eternal state of guilt at failing our own expectations (let alone anyone else’s)…and then from the world of women who do appear to be doing it all they hear:

“I see guilt as one of the top limiters of success for women in any area..It’s like putting one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake and trying to drive’

Karen Wilhelm Buckley – co-author of Savvy Leadership Strategies for Women.

So what happened to the Shared Parental Leave policy brought into force in April 2015?  One would assume that this has balanced the scales somewhat as eager fathers take on their share of the burden of childcare allowing their partners to continue on their upward career paths?


Reports of Shared Parental leave uptake as low as 2% 
Reports of Shared Parental leave uptake as low as 2% 

In February 2018 the Department for Business in the UK stated that whilst 285k couple are eligible every year for shared parental leave, take up can be as low is 2%.  Almost three years after it’s introduction, half of the general public remain largely unaware of their options, employers appear to be limiting themselves to statutory offers for male applicants making the financial picture untenable, and stories abound of fathers who have failed to take up their paternity options when asked “What is your wife going to be doing?” by employers.

Review the new government campaign @

Physiological Factors

Physiological Factors

Later pregnancy carries higher risks for mother and baby
Later pregnancy carries higher risks for mother and baby

The debate and pressure on mums around delayed motherhood also rages at a physiological level – Concerns about the shift towards later pregnancies have been expressed amongst health professionals; the risk of complications is considered to be far higher in what are still referred to as  ‘elderly prima gravida‘ maternities (it used to be called ‘geriatric mother’ in the eighties!).  

In 2009 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists targeted increasing awareness amongst women over 30 of the ‘age-specific outcome data’ on reducing fertility – a publication which caused a storm in the UK press with the Daily Mail stating in a rather alarmist manner that

‘new evidence demonstrates that it is increasingly difficult for women to become pregnant after the age of 35… Women should have a baby before the age of 35 or ‘risk missing out on motherhood’.

Daily Mail, June 2009

It is true – there are altered implications to delayed parenting.  The medical professions list prenatal complications such as diabetes, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure among others.  At a practical level this is likely to mean a higher number of prenatal and post-natal health checks and appointments and a greater risk of birth complications impacting maternal health.

For the baby, there are higher risks of Down’s and Edward’s syndrome – and higher potential for stillbirth.  This may mean that the mother (or father) either delays or does not come back to work – or is more emotionally and physically fragile when she does.

So against this combination of employment, societal and physiological factors leading to parenting later, what are the implications for government, organisations, recruiters, HR people, and line managers?

Implications for Government and Employers

Governmental initiatives

Many of the mothers we surveyed cited the costs of childcare as one of the main blocks to returning to work. The Family and Childcare Trust (2018) puts the average cost of placing just one child into full-time nursery care as around £232.84 per week – rising to £284.21 in the London area.

Childcare costs act as a block
Childcare costs act as a block

The provision of 15hrs per week of free childcare (30 if both parents work) and the introduction of the Universal Credit system have attempted to take the edge off this discomfort but for many parents, 30hrs is simply not enough to satisfy an employer requiring a full-time commitment from staff. The varying quality and availability of nursery placements can also make finding full-time provision a challenge.

For older mothers in particular this can make it almost impossible to achieve similar earnings as were possible prior to maternity.

In Sweden each child is guaranteed a place at a public pre-school and no parent pays more than 3% of their salary for it. As a result over 78% of mothers with children under seven are at work…and three of the top five countries in the UN World Happiness report also have heavily subsidized childcare (Sweden, Denmark and Norway).  But childcare is only part of the problem.

Many of the older mothers we surveyed mentioned a lack of support from their partners in leading to challenges getting back to work.  For women over 30, the likelihood is that their partner too is in at least an intermediate or senior management role. We mentioned earlier the renewed campaign to encourage shared parental leave being undertaken by the UK government after an uptake reported as low as 2%. A Women and Equalities Committee paper published in March 2018 confirmed that current government policies supporting fathers in the workplace do not deliver what they promise, despite good intentions, and the recommendations of the report push for changes to statutory paternity pay, paternity leave and workplace rights.  

There are also suggests changes to the legal requirements for recruitment – including the advertisement of all jobs as flexible unless there are solid business reasons not to. But whilst the government can legislate and advise, the failure of the flagship shared parental leave scheme shows that a broader shift in culture and public thinking is needed to make those policies deliver a real sea-change.

So what contribution can organisations and recruiters make?

Employers’ contribution to a sea-change

What are the implications for employers?

Increasing focus on the positive impact of diversity in work has offered a clear ‘pull’ from employers to get mothers back into the workplace post maternity:

  • In 2013 the International Monetary Fund cited research suggesting that companies employing female managers were better positioned to serve consumer markets dominated by women (CED 2012, CAHRS 2011).
  • Research conducted in 2012-2015 independently by both Credit Suisse and McKinsey found that companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of she price performance.  Companies that retained female talent were better at retaining male talent, and these companies were also more likely to maintain stability and share price in falling markets.
  • ..and perhaps most intriguing of all, Professors Woolley and Malone (of Carnegie Mellon University and MIT respectively) published research in 2011 that they have replicated several times, to suggest that there is little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises…and that this effect continues almost up to the point of an all women group.

…and yet we are still not capitalising on this often under-challenged pool of resource.Why?

A survey conducted by Feel – a London based recruitment consultancy  showed that 64% of those currently looking for work would trade flexibility for a job that used their academic or professional experience.  50% of mothers over 30 and 28% of mothers over 45 in our survey rated flexibility as the support mechanism they most valued on return to work – as compared to under 30 year olds who saw onside childcare and part time hours as of greater value.

HR Review reported the Feel research in January 2018 commenting that highly qualified mothers in the UK were ‘increasingly let down because of a lack of creativity and understanding about parental flexibility’.

Flexibility - It doesn’t have to mean three days a week!
Flexibility – It doesn’t have to mean three days a week!

Whilst the majority of employers offer some degree of flexible working (in line with our own findings), more needs to be done to match the needs of working mothers.  The trade-off would be employers’ ability to select from a wider pool of applicants with higher levels of talent – rather than simply those who can commit to a particular number of working hours.

“We still have a labour market that is very inflexible in the type of jobs available – just 9% of full-time jobs earning more than £20,000 a year are advertised as flexible…part-time workers are often ending up in jobs below their skill level”

Jemima Olchawski, Head of Policy and Insight at the Fawcett Society

On top of the apparent flexibility issue, there is evidence that recruiters are hesitant to take risks on working mothers when there can be in excess of 200 applicants for every role advertised. The costs of recruitment are such that organisations are unwilling to take on any but the most committed and ambitious of applicants – and the assumption is that this does not include working mothers.

“I think there is an almost epidemic level of risk aversion in the UK employment market”

Cheney Hamilton, Founder and Director of

…and maybe this assumption is true in part. The overwhelming view from the literature is that “women’s career paths are complex and distinct from men’s” (Leimon 2011, O’Neil and Bilimoria 2005,  Mainiero & Sullivan 2005, Wittenberg & Cox 2010).  Where men’s careers are characterised by linear progression and continuity, women’s are often more fragmented and prone to lateral or even backwards movements to cater for others in their lives – both children and aging parents.

“Having a baby and becoming a mother typically recalibrates a woman’s relationship with her career”

Seignot & Clutterbuck 2016

These ‘disjoints’ in career progression and commitment can be cause for recruiters, employers and colleagues (as well as women themselves) to adjust their view of a woman’s role in joining or contributing to the workplace.

“There are a number of contributory factors in the pay gap.  An assumption by line managers that working mothers don’t want additional responsibility on top of their childcare commitments, benevolent sexism – where colleagues and managers try to look after working mothers by giving them easy tasks – and a belief that working mothers will prioritise their children over their career, although the same belief is rarely applied to working fathers. All contribute to working mothers being passed over for pay rises and promotions”

Denise Keating – CE of Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion – People Management Feb 2018

..and a period away from the workplace for maternity does make a difference.  It is estimated 20% of women experience some degree of post-natal depression or associated anxiety during early parenthood. Most mothers experience a level of social isolation, fear, stress and tiredness. The Association of Accounting Technicians reported research in 2013 which found that 57% of women on maternity leave said they no longer had the confidence to take up the same level of responsibility as they had before children and 40% felt they were no longer as ‘sharp’ as they had been.

According to our findings, exhaustion, stress, depression and concerns about confidence and influence were all significantly higher in the 30-45 age range than in other groups. But this does not infer irreparable damage to their ambition, competence or capacity to deliver at work.

So what can be done to help?

The challenge clearly begins way in advance of maternity leave itself.  Earlier we explored the increased risk of prenatal complications such as diabetes, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure among others for those choosing to parent later.  At a practical level this is likely to mean a higher number of prenatal and post-natal health checks and appointments and a greater risk of birth complications and problems with infants impacting maternal health.  From an employer perspective this may mean the mother either delays or does not come back to work…or is more emotionally and physically fragile when she does.

Many organisations are investing in Maternity Coaching or Mentoring to support particularly senior executives prior to, during and post their career break.  Sessions can range from five hours of group coaching to one to one sessions spanning a full 12 months and some companies even offer Birth Consultants who take both parents through the process of giving birth from a week prior to a week post the event itself. Research suggests that such interventions do improve career re-engagement (Filsinger 2012) and improve return and retention rates (Freeman 2008, Bussell 2008) – but it’s not simply about getting women back into the workplace – but about supporting them to recover the same levels of confidence and potential that they experienced prior to their break.  We need to do even more…

Recent findings from a Moment Health survey conducted in January 2018 suggest that a third of women on maternity leave would like to receive regular and more formal updates from their employer to stay up to speed and almost half of women believe that their employer ‘doesn’t care at all’ about about their wellbeing  whilst they are at home with their child..  This sits well alongside our own findings around the need to stay connected to the workplace during maternity and thus the perceived value of Keeping in Touch days – particularly valued by older mothers.

The survey also found that 52% of women would appreciate a ‘maternity buddy’ system, 49% an ‘app’ to support them during maternity and over a third would like specific counselling support.

In our own research, many women mentioned the paucity of positive post-maternity role models in their workplaces and the prevalence of women with more perceived masculine traits at senior levels (see research from Professor Nick Drydakis at Anglia Ruskin University recently on the success of women with ‘male traits’ in the workplace). Identifying and promoting women who have successfully navigated the route back into their careers on terms that suited them can be a powerful way to build paths for others to follow. Sharing experiences within women’s networking groups or events helps to build employer brand and ensure new returners are given an immediate connection to others who have travelled this path before them.

It is about pay!
It is about pay!

….and never forget pay…A recent global ICEDR study revealed that leaders believe that the majority of women around the age of 30 leave because they are struggling to balance work and life or planning to have children, whereas men leave because of compensation. However, according to women themselves (and in sharp contrast to the perceptions of their leaders), the primary factor influencing their decision to leave their organizations is pay.

In fact according to Christie Hunter Arscott (a leading expert on gender and generational strategies) writing in the HBR in March 2016, women are actually more likely to leave because of compensation than men – but perhaps as we found in our survey, they are less likely to speak to HR or their line managers about salary concerns before they leave!

In summary, there are powerful financial, economic, psychological and cultural reasons for a specific focus on supporting those who choose to parent later.  Employers and recruiters would do well do consider the following recommendations based on our study to improve the outcomes for older mums:

  • increase contact between the office and at-home mothers to avoid disconnect, loneliness and sense of ‘irrelevance’
  • avoid assumptions about the commitment of returning mothers, their desire for risk or their ability to contribute and take risks with recruitment and development of returning mothers
  • provide maternity coaching and mentoring opportunities for women prior to their career break
  • listen more to the practical constraints of working parents and go beyond standard ‘flexible working’ to craft tailored solutions to fit available hours. Encourage and support men into paternity.
  • address challenges beyond flexibility: whilst options for flexibility and work-life balance are important, pay, benefits and opportunities for development and growth remain as important to mothers as any other employers
  • identify and promote positive role models for women returning post maternity – role models who embody female traits, who retain both ambition and balance and who are prepared to share their own journey, vulnerabilities and challenges with others
  • proactively support womens’ confidence, influence and negotiating skills on return to work through coaching, mentoring development – and improve routes to picking up such issues through HR and line management conversation and women’s networks.

Rachel Jackson is a mother to two young boys, one with Autism.  She runs her own company – Changing Dialogues Ltd from her home in Suffolk and helps organisations and individuals in the fields of Emotional Intelligence, Resilience, Leadership and Organisational Effectiveness.  She is currently publishing a book on Aspergers Syndrome for her son.

If you would like to speak to Rachel further about her research, coaching and mentoring for mums and other execs, or about building broader effectiveness in your workplace for diversity, you can contact her at

Who is teaching who here?

Posted in Life and Learning, On Resilience with tags , , on May 24, 2017 by racheljackson

You couldn’t make this up – but bear with me whilst I unfold the tale…

Last week a friend of ours bought a gift for our boys – a Star Wars construction kit to make a U-Wing. My eldest (6.6 – and yes the 0.6 is important) claimed this prize and between us we carefully inserted tabs and bent pieces until the model was complete…and I have to say pretty impressive.

Alas my youngest (nearly 5 – the ‘nearly’ is equally important) was upset – where was his model? I dutifully went onto Amazon and found the same brand but this time a model AT-AT. It arrived the next day – thanks Amazon – and whilst my eldest was in the bath, my youngest opened the package and filled with smiles. I suggested he keep it to himself until the morning as Leo would only want to play with it and he reluctantly agreed…only to sneak into the bathroom and wave it in front of his bathing brother with glee.
I put Ben to bed gripping his model-book ready for the morning….and went to put Leo to bed…who was now sad. “Why can’t I have an AT-AT?” comes the standard parental nightmare. “Do you think Ben would swap with me?”

Bedtime complete, I go downstairs and attend to my evening – helping my husband evaluate an umbrella (don’t ask) and watching the repeat Planet Earth II offered (the one with the snakes) to replace the Broken series we had planned to watch. We hear a few toilet trips upstairs but nothing really worth a walk up the stairs…until 10.15 when we are turning lights off to go to bed. I hear Benjamin’s door close, a quick dash across the landing and a hastily turned out light.

I find Leo with a fully completed AT-AT model in his hand sneaking into his brothers room to put it by his bed! It appears he has spent the last 2+hrs in his ‘bat cave’ with an angle poise lamp painstaking constructing what was in fact quite a tricky model. His eyes tell me he knows this may not have been the right choice…”I’m sorry – Ben wouldn’t have been able to make this so I did it for him…” he offers hopefully.
I do the necessary chat about “you’re going to be so tired for school” and “you should have asked first” but with secret pride in my heart I go downstairs to discuss how we should best handle this parenting dilemma. Between myself, my partner and two fellow mums over Messenger we agree that it could be an incredible act of love…or a devious lack of resistance to an envied toy. Either way it was clear that believing the former made us all feel better…and we went to bed – gently placing the completed AT-AT outside Ben’s door.

My youngest wakes at about 5.30 every day…and this morning comes into my room to update me on his wee colour (again – don’t ask!). Nothing is said about Star Wars or model making….

At 7am Ben comes downstairs and asks his dad whether he can help him to make his Star Wars model. Confused, dad reviews the presented model book – complete with all the pieces in their places as new….

It turns out that Ben had spent his morning carefully deconstructing the whole kit and painstakingly placing all the individual pieces back into their allotted places in the model book so that he could make it himself. There was no question about how it came to be made and outside his door – no complaints, no arguments, no pointy fingers or tears…he had simply fixed the problem…

…and we think we need to teach our children….

On a day where we are still reeling from a young person’s apparent decision to eliminate a number of other young people from this world at the Manchester Apollo please feel free to share this simple act of brotherly love with friends and colleagues.

Our children are born with the capacity for immense love, resilience and creativity…we need only nurture it.

Will it ever be like this again?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 14, 2021 by racheljackson

Somebody said to me in a coaching discussion recently “It will never be like this again”…
I was curious about what they meant by this and we opened it up to explore. It was my coachee’s view that the lockdown has created conditions which have allowed us to disconnect temporarily from the drive to be visible and performing constantly in our working lives whilst possibly being absent from our homes and from the things that bring us joy in life. It has afforded us a chance to reconnect with who we are outside work.

This isn’t a new sentiment. I’ve been running sessions with many clients in teams or individually to explore their experiences of lockdown, and all talk of the shifting balance of their lives in some form or other – but in this case it was positioned as a reason to hold back…even alongside the recognition that the workplace held rich sources of motivation and fulfilment…do we stand to lose something by re-engaging?

With many employers building plans for people to start coming back into the office and with Boris on the brink of opening society up to largely mask-free living, it strikes me that there is potential for more people than we might think to be (much like our football heroes) ‘coming back to earth with a bump’. For those who have felt free to get up, work out, and sit down to the first Zoom call in gym gear or pyjamas…getting back into high heels and office wear on commuter and traffic light timings is going to lead to some early morning struggles…but the more subtle strain I suspect will be as we let go a little of the sense of freedom that comes with working remotely.

As a self employed consultant/ coach for the last 15 years, I am well used to my blended world of work and home. Every so often I toy with the idea of getting what I still refer to as “a proper job” and going back into London. It’s tempting to imagine the social contact, the shared objectives and teamwork, even the structure and policy guidelines! But each time I dip my toe into this water, the thing that stops me taking the plunge is that perceived loss of freedom. There is a feeling somehow that if I am employed by someone else, I won’t be able to structure my days according to the flow of my family, or my need for movement, or my energy levels. I’ll have to be online, delivering, visible, contactable at all times. I’m sure it shouldn’t be that way…and I’m sure there is far more flex in the workplace of today that perhaps I perceive – and yet I’m actually coaching a number of people who are experiencing just this feeling right now – struggling to give themselves permission to step back into off-line thinking, to take breaks and leave their desks (let alone their houses) and to take ownership of their work patterns and energy to deliver their best selves to work.

If we are to make hybrid/remote/distance working a reality; if we are going to successfully bring people back into the workplace, we surely need to take time to incorporate some of the adjustments our people have made during lockdown; to listen to our workforce about what they have learned, gained and missed during remote working – and what they fear losing again as they return to the office…

Iceland have recently been in the press sharing the success of their 4 day working week – same pay for fewer hours achieving similar productivity to a five day working but with higher levels of wellbeing and reductions in burnout. Is this our answer? Well it’s slightly more complex than Iceland’s headlines at first suggest. The data around productivity clearly show that working less does not negatively impact productivity (in fact in many cases the reverse was true). But the trial also showed that simply closing offices on Fridays was not the solution – particularly in areas such as healthcare and education. Instead there was a focus on reducing working hours over the full course of a week – whether that be by shifting meeting schedules and timing, leaving off early on certain days – or in some cases shuffling hours across four days rather than five. The real shift was a psychological shift whereby employers fully recognised and trusted the increased engagement and productivity that their workforce would bring to them if they were able to balance home life more effectively. At present 85% of Icelandic workers are well on their way to 35hrs/wk work patterns (down from an average of 40hrs) – in the UK its currently averaging more like 42hrs/wk and from what I am hearing from my clients, that sense of trust to manage your hours doesn’t seem to have established itself as well as we need it to…either the employers don’t quite trust, or the employees don’t yet fully believe they are trusted!

So how do we echo the gains that Iceland seem to have made – as it would seem at least part of the solution we are seeking around hybrid working into the future? Well perhaps instead of trying to come up with the plan internally, we need to start by asking our people…by trusting them to engage in an honest exchange of learning and ideas and contributing to reasonable and workable solutions. Are you truly listening to your people?

Are you taking time to bring your people together to share their experience of lockdown in an open and curious environment? Are you asking them what they missed, learned…and gained?
Are you helping co-workers to understand the diversity of experiences – so they can reconnect with empathy and patience for each other and find solutions that work across diverse contexts?
Are you co-designing solutions for hybrid working with the very people you hope to make use of it?

If you would like support in exploring any of these questions, get in touch!

Three Core Resilience

Posted in atavist-organization-192257 on March 2, 2017 by racheljackson

A few words on resilience…

There are many who believe that the behaviours and attitudes that demonstrate resilience come from a trait-like place and are inborn – you are either resilient or you’re not. There are those who think that to be resilient you must have experienced and survived adversity in the extreme.

I believe that resilience is something unique to every individual. No two people have the exact same response to adversity and thus resilience is likely to look different for different people.

This brief e-book cannot hope to cover the breadth of resilience development and tools. It will however:

  • provide you with an introduction to what (over years of reading, training and research) I see as the three core elements of resilient behaviour: Connection, Balance and Control
  • open up a dialogue of these elements across the field of relationships with self, others and the environment to bring greater insight, new potential and deeper understanding
  • provide ideas and techniques that can start you on your journey to greater resilience.

If you have any comments or questions, please do get in touch.

Find out more about Changing Dialogues at:

What is Resilience?

When starting my programmes, I try to side step this question and instead ask people questions like “Who is resilient?” or “Give me an example of resilience?” – or even better, “What would being resilient mean to you?”.

Resilience is defined in a wider context of individual circumstance, personal characteristics and particular environment.

To bring this to life with one of the bizarre analogies I find myself trying to justify later… in the arctic it would generally be considered un-resilient to wear wet clothes…yet in the heat of a forest fire…it makes perfect sense.

Likewise, if your organisation is facing hard economic times and risks of redundancies, making a management decision to down tools and run free training for large groups of staff may not seem wise or sustainable…

…yet when faced with just such conditions this is exactly what one client of mine did. As a result they allowed workers to enjoy flexible conditions over the summer period, offered them a chance to build new skills and avoided laying off highly qualified workers – who became more available loyal to the organisation when the economy picked up .

Resilience for me is about making the best choice available to you in a particular moment.  Whether that choice is about letting go, holding on, or standing taller depends on both your own capabilities and the environmental conditions.  Even more critical, is having the wherewithal to notice the choices available, the courage to reach for them, and the wisdom to know your own capacity to embrace them….I seem to recall the famous Reinhold Niebuhr Serenity Prayer heading out upon similar lines.

How do you develop Resilience?

In my experience there is no right answer. For myself I have begged, borrowed and stolen from my old psychology days, my NLP trainings, a bit of Myers Briggs here and a touch of CBT there. A dash of management training on the one hand, and a healthy dose of humour on the other. My answer – after 15 years of training in this field? Whatever works for you…

In this e-Book and the Three Core Resilience Programme to which it links, I present a selection of my own thoughts and techniques. Feel free to weave in a sprinkle of your own for good measure.

Who is Resilient?

Life is full of experiences of adversities.  Some of them are external such as fires, earthquakes, floods, wars, or violence.  Some of them are within the family, such as divorce, separation, abandonment, or loss of a job, home, or loved one.  And some of them are within the individual, such as fear of failure, loss of love, harm, or illness.

However there are differences in what is perceived as an adversity, particularly in personal experiences.  One person may perceive a divorce as an adversity, while another might perceive it as a new found freedom.  One person may see loss of a job as an adversity, while another may see it as an opportunity for escape to pursue travel, education or another, less unsatisfactory job.  When we experience stress, fear, a sense of vulnerability or alienation we are more likely to categorise it as an adversity.

Resilience is the human capacity to face, overcome, be strengthened by, and grow from our experiences of adversity.

Resilience is not magic; it is not found only in certain people, it isn’t inherited and it is not a gift from above.  All humans have the capacity to become resilient – everyone can learn how to face the inevitable adversities of life; everyone is able to overcome adversities and be strengthened by them.

Check out these great TED talks on Resilience

Why is Resilience important?

Resilience enables people to adapt successfully to prevailing conditions –

  • it enables people who have suffered heart attacks to adjust their lifestyle in order to recover successfully
  • it enables children born in poverty and isolation to thrive and flourish
  • it enables victims of abuse and mistreatment to bounce back and recover
  • it enables people to endure long-standing suffering and emerge healthily

In the corporate world, whilst the adversity may be less life threatening…

  • it enables sales teams to maintain focus and confidence despite continual knock backs from customers
  • it helps staff to avoid becoming stressed and unwell
  • it helps project teams persevere in creative problem solving
  • it enables employees to make healthy choices in their work-life balance
  • it promotes connection and collaboration in facing tough decisions
  • it reduces mistakes, accidents and risk
  • it provides a buffer and a safety net from external pressures and strain

Emotional resilience improves the health of both the organisation and the individual. It reduces sickness absences, enhances employee morale and engagement and raises performance, quality and productivity. More and more it is also seen to enhance the company reputation as a quality employer. Click the links below for some employer results from investing in employee health and wellbeing

AstraZeneca         EDF Energy         GlaxoSmithKline

Developing the Model

Resilience is not a new concept – but the increasing focus on it as a core characteristic for modern life is starting to demand greater definition and to shape the boundaries between Resilience and other concepts such as Emotional Intelligence.

Over the years that I have been working in this field there have been a wide range of influences on my own definition of Resilience – influences from the academic and theoretical work of Dan Goleman, Martin Seligman and David McClelland, from the practical observations of Salvatore Maddi, Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith and … and from the real life experience of consulting and coaching across Europe and the US. Particular credit for advancing my thinking has to be given to Andrew Shatté who spent two laughter packed weeks teaching me everything he knew one to one back in my HayGroup days. Following a prolonged review of the relevant literature completed over a period of 9 mths in 2010 (whilst simultaneously producing a baby and completing my NLP Master Practioner Certificate) the beginnings of a pattern emerged and the Three Core Resilience model began to form.

When you read about resilience there tend to be a few key characteristics that turn up over and over again:

  • There is generally something about the way a person thinks – how their brain responds to the external stimuli available to it and generates perceptions, forms judgements and makes decisions. In the original model created back in 2010 we called this quite simply Brain Resilience. It explores cognition, mental processing and thinking patterns and preferences.
  • There is also usually some mention of the way someone monitors and manages their own physiology – Body Resilience – which concerns arousal, stimulation, relaxation and activity.
  • Finally there is something about the individual’s interaction with the world and people around them – their support network, how they ask for and receive help and how they engage with the future and their part in it – we called this Beyond Resilience (don’t laugh – its amazing what seems a good idea when breastfeeding!)

The fact that this focus on internal, world and future has distinct echoes of the Cognitive Triad Beck identifies in explorations of depression felt right to me and the model became an outline questionnaire and feedback report used in designing my first independent client engagements on Resilience.

The Brain, Body and Beyond model hung around for a while but never really felt like it captured the field of Resilience in a way that fitted with the growing corporate focus on the subject. It was interesting yes – but it didn’t drive development in a focussed and productive way and the language showed distinct signs of the non-corporate world in which I was spending much of my maternity time!

The Three Core Resilience Model

In 2013 (after another child and another NLP Coaching Certification) work began again – and this time the three components of Resilience developed in a slightly different way – with two key dimensions of Focus and Engagement. The elements of Self, Others and Future remain – but they are now orientated in terms of what that focus is trying to achieve: Connection and awareness, Balance or Control.

Building Connectedness

The concept of Connectedness and its importance in developing and maintaining Resilience came to me whilst watching a talk years ago by a wonderful lady called Brené Brown. It was her assertion that the most important, beneficial and growth-stimulating moments in our lives are those where we connect at a deep and vulnerable level with ourselves and others around us.

My own personal experiences and my own journey to understand more about how and why we act, judge and choose simply underlined this belief.

Connectedness is first and foremost about knowing oneself and understanding how the raw, unfiltered you connects to the world around you.

Connectedness to Self – connectedness to your own emotions, your understanding of your strengths and challenges and your recognition of the impact of these on what you do.

Connectedness to Others – your connection to the people around you and your ability to build rapport and supportive relationships with them

Whilst these elements of connectedness align closely with the EI concepts of self and social awareness, I wanted to add in more – and thus Connectedness to Purpose is about that fundamental sense of direction that Resilient people often display – the commitment to a world and a future that they have envisaged. It picks up parts of values and motivations and has a flavour about it of vision and clarity.

Connectedness to Purpose – your sense of purpose and direction, your values and expectations for how the world works.

To develop your own Connectedness, try this:

  • Think back to your proudest moments – what is it about you that makes you just BRILLIANT! Reconnect with that sense of self-pride. Resilient people don’t brag or show off – but they have a firm sense of who they are at their best – it super-powers their resilience
  • When was the last time you revisited that personality test you did ages ago? Was it Strengthfinder? MBTI? Firo B? Insights? Dig out the report or ask for another one to be sent to you. Resilience people reflect on who they are and how they behave – it helps them to learn about and hone their relationships and choose their futures.
  • Who do you know? Resilient people don’t do that horrible false networking with a mass exchange of business cards – they meet people and make an effort to really connect. They keep in touch – often informally. As a result they have a wealth of resources to go to for help when they need it – and they broaden their own coping skills by helping others in need.
  • What do you want? Is what you are doing right now getting you closer to what you want? Resilient people are not blindly stepping on heads to get where and what they want – but they do know where that place is and what it will feel like to arrive. Do you?

Finding Balance

Balance came to me in my mid thirties – about the same time as marriage and children!  It encapsulates that part of our world in which we need to find space for both what we want and what we ‘must’.  To accommodate our own view of the world against that of others and to find time to think objectively and reflectively as well as acting impulsively and decisively.  Balance is about interacting with ourselves, the world and all the people in it with realism, compassion and curiosity.  It is rarely easy…but vital to a resilient way of being.

Balanced Thinking – your ability to think flexibly and adjust your perspective effectively.

Balanced Engagement – your ability to balance motivation and commitment with relaxation and the capacity to step back and take a breather.

Balanced Outlook – the balance between positivity and pessimism about the future and your role in it.

To develop your own Balance try these tips:

  • Do you notice how other people see the world…or how you see it?  Next time you disagree with a friend or colleague about why, how or even if something happened – get really curious. Flex your thinking muscles and build a new way of seeing the world.  Resilient people excel at perspective and getting another angle – it’s why they have so many options to choose from when responding to adversity.  Try if for yourself!
  • When did you last say ‘yes’ when you meant to say ‘no’? Resilient people do the same – but they do so in a measured way.  They take care to ensure that the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, demands and expectations that impact upon them are chosen and influenced by their own requirements – not driven by those of others.  They understand that psychological wellbeing involves taking personal responsibility for your own health needs and psychological pressures.  What boundaries are you letting others manage for you?
  • How do you spend your time?  Do you waste huge amounts of time on things that really don’t need doing – or that someone else could do more effectively than you?  Do you have an inflated sense of your own capabilities that leads you into trouble?  Resilient people are great at knowing where to best place their time and efforts – they dream and take a risk – but they know when to come back to earth and get on with it!  Do a quick analysis of your daily activities – does it look the way it should?  What needs to change?

Getting Control..and letting it go

As Balance came to me in my mid-thirties, Control is still developing for me as I embrace my forties – the drive and passion I had felt in my earlier career was now constrained and compromised by increasing complexities in my life and Resilience has come in the form of learning to hold back, take time, commit at the right moment.  My desire to impact the world and change it to my purposes has softened into a more measured engagement and the sense of being a part of rather than a driver of the future has grown.

The Control part of the Three Core Model is built on understanding yourself and the world around you.  It cannot exist successfully without a core level of Connectedness and a healthy dose of Balance – but it is equally the part that perhaps exerts the biggest influence out there into the world and future.  

Self Control – your ability to manage your own emotions, behaviours and actions effectively within your environment.

Impact on Others – your ability to influence, lead and persuade others

Control of Future – your confidence in the future and your ability to influence it and grow within it

To develop your own Control, explore these:

  • Open a packet of biscuits…do they mysteriously disappear as the day goes on without you really knowing where they are going?  Resilient people have a handle on their own little weaknesses and develop ways to work around them.  Research also suggests that those who can resist the urge are likely to be far more successful in other areas of life such as leadership and salary. What helps you to hold back?  Practicing resistance can build self control – try it yourself.
  • How do you bounce back from set backs?  Are you good at learning from mistakes?  Do you say sorry genuinely and easily? Resilient people minimise the impact of errors of judgement by using calming techniques, reflection and by reconnecting through apology as soon as possible.  Who do you need to apologise to in order to move on resiliently?
  • How do you influence? Do you find it easy to influence with authority but much harder when their is no positional power?  Do you influence emotively but struggle with facts?  Resilient people take time to broaden their influencing behaviours and flex their leadership styles.  Take a test to find out how you lead and influence others – or even better – ask for feedback!
  • When was the last time you truly stepped outside your comfort zone?  Tried something you weren’t sure you would like? Started a conversation you weren’t sure you could follow through on?  Resilient people take risks – not stupid and dangerous one – but ones that cause them to grow, to learn to expand their connection with the world and the people around them.  Take a chance…

In summary

As perhaps you can hear from reading my own journey in resilience, finding and developing your own version of resilience needs to be a unique, self-directed journey which you take by choice and take with full responsibility.  

For that reason, helping others to develop their resilience is not a one-track, chalk and talk type journey but a collation of various skills, experiences, tools and techniques and a preparedness to adapt, reframe and respond to every unique individual.

My own journey continues to evolve and I am constantly training, coaching, facilitating and writing to build better ways to connect with and support the journey of others

If you would like to find out more about the Three Core Resilience online learning experience, book corporate Resilience Development or generally explore how Changing Dialogues might be able to help you, click here

Who are we to talk about Resilience?

If you had searched for “Resilience” on Google 15 years ago when the search engine was in its infancy you’d probably have generated a very varied result – from mechanical models of engine strain, to financial and business disaster recovery to health and illness research.

Try the same search again today and your results will be dominated by words such as positivity, optimism, adversity and adaptability and almost all will be focused on human psychology.  Much like the route taken by Emotional Intelligence, Resilience has grown from academic research into what distinguishes those who succeed from the rest of us in the ‘norm’ group, into a multi-million pound industry encompassing a huge variety of elements such as mindfulness, hardiness, CBT techniques and NLP.  In fact it has so many ‘arms and legs’ that it remains difficult to pin down for many HR and H & WB professionals.

As trainers, coaches and facilitators in the field of Emotional Intelligence, leadership, resilience and individual performance, we have spent much of the 15 years of Google’s rise to internet fame in advising, coaching and developing people and organisations facing redundancies, reorganization, downsizing, increased delivery expectations, reduced resources and countless other challenges.

We have taken all this experience, combined it with expertise in consulting, NLP organisational effectiveness, engagement and a background in Psychology and counseling  – not to mention an ongoing fascination with communication and dialogue, and produced a suite of sessions designed to generate dialogue around the discomforts of the modern working life, stimulate commitment towards taking conscious choices about that life and begin to build the skills and capabilities necessary to put that commitment into action.

It’s “Derbyshire Rain”!

Posted in Life and Learning, On Resilience with tags , , , , on June 14, 2016 by racheljackson

Last weekend was spent in a small three man pop-up tent in a field with a four year old and a five year old…in Derbyshire.  If I wanted to study resilience in practice I could have looked no further – but in fact it was a last minute response to a clash between a car service which resulted in no car and a need to attend a dear friend’s 40th birthday party.

It rained….a lot.  It specifically rained in the vital hour between my children waking up and everyone else waking up and making breakfast together.  This meant explaining patiently to my son who is lying on one side of me that the reason we can’t go out yet is that the raincoats are in the car…with the umbrella.  Simultaneously explaining to the other son on the other side of me that no, we can’t lie together and watch a film on the iPod because the iPod is also in the car…and we can’t get to the car…because the raincoats are in the car…and its raining.

Donning shorts and t-shirt I ran through the torrential downpour and associated mud to retrieve said supplies – only to find both iPods depleted and both children disappointed.  Time for Plan B.

Having entered the sensible people’s accommodation choice, I found a large number of small children playing  a box of varied musical instruments with gusto…to the terrified faces of non-parent partygoers struggling with hangovers and headaches. We were saved!

Throughout the weekend the rain continued in true Derbyshire style to the absolute disinterest of everyone attending the party.  We made multiple bees from Lego, enjoyed a very impressive (and quite miraculous) campfire, watched children in varying states of undress make and shoot lego pistols, chased chickens round the yard and laughed at my friend’s son Sonny joyfully standing under torrents of water pouring off the marquee with his mouth open.

All kinds of alcohol were consumed in suitable (and to be fair unsuitable) quantities and the world, whilst damp, was well.

Yesterday my son sat beside me as we drove home from school watching the black sky finally dropping its payload over East Anglia.  He looked up with a smile and said “Look! It’s Derbyshire Rain!”.

I believe it is true to say that a memory has been made 😉

I did it again!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 5, 2016 by racheljackson

I enjoyed myself AGAIN at work.

I enjoyed listening to Radio Two announcing the sign up of Matt Le Blanc to co-host Top Gear with Chris Evans as I drove to just past Bury St Edmunds.  I enjoyed driving home listening to a debate about whether Sheffield trees should be cut down or whether butter is better. I enjoyed setting up my banner stand in the glorious lecture hall at Claas UK and chatting with Emma and Helen and the team from Waddington Brown…but most of all I enjoyed the company of 15 fabulous HR Directors from across the region as we explored the challenges to their resilience, the choices they are faced with to balance work and life and the pleasure they too feel when able to give their best work in the service of their organisations.

Having attended a brilliantly stimulating and inspiring day with Robertson Cooper a week or so ago up in Manchester learning about their passionate focus on A Great Day at Work, it made me once again reflect how much I love working in this field and how incredibly important it is that we continue with this drive to recognise our working days as not simply a means to an end – but an end in itself.

Most people spend most of 5 out of 7 days a week at work. If we want people, teams and organisations to thrive in an environment where there are so many more choices out there for every employee  – both in career terms and life choices – being at work HAS to be worth it at more than just a financial level. Meaning, and growth, and stimulation and satisfaction –  these are all part of building resilient people, in resilient teams, in resilient organisations – and I love being part of that.