Well-being at work

Hidden among the many technological parts of a plant, the precision engineered components, and the weight of stock are the elements of a manufacturing enterprise that make the entire place work: the people. Marcia Ryan explains the value of people to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

As automation makes its way along the production line of manufacturing businesses, it absorbs a greater number of more complex tasks, and plants are structured around the needs of its machines. However, creating an environment that also invests in its people to ensure they are motivated and able to collaborate effectively ensures that the entire system functions smoothly. Investment in human capital is an investment that creates returns.

The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) is committed to achieving operational excellence across all aspects of a manufacturing enterprise. While also engaged in the principles of lean manufacturing and Industry 4.0, the AME has incorporated the workings of positive psychology into its training and workshops for leaders in the manufacturing sector. Marcia Ryan, of consultancy Wellbeing Works, has led these sessions at AME’s conference and standalone workshop days. Ryan approaches teaching leaders and teams from the field of positive psychology.

“My background is the learning and development of employees in organisations. So, helping people build their confidence, competence and their capability to not only
do their job well, but to feel more engaged at work and to enjoy their work,” said Ryan.

While many hours are spent on learning applied skills and competencies, without a positive environment in which to apply these skills, the value of this knowledge can be lost.

“Developing staff to do their job well might not just be the technical capability to do your job well, it’s the way you turn up to work and have conversations with people. It’s also the way you collaborate with others, how open you are to new ideas and innovation,” said Ryan.

The sessions which Ryan and AME run, the next of which will occur on Friday, August 2, can be for individuals at the leadership level, teams, or an entire organisation. When focussed towards leaders of an organisation, however, Ryan gives participants skills that can then be taken back to the workplace.

“Leaders are in particular looking for ideas of how to create an environment that will help individuals and teams perform at their peak and remain resilient,” said Ryan.

In applying the principles of positive psychology, a field developed by US psychologist Martin Seligman, Ryan seeks to take what she calls a “strength-based” approach to
help organisations shift from fixing problems and weaknesses to building strengths and identifying opportunities to leverage them.

“Quite often, we use a deficit model; what’s going wrong at work and what we need to fix: We may focus on people’s weaknesses and say ‘Well, these things are going ok, but these are the areas you need to focus on working on and improving’,” said Ryan. “It’s important to manage weaknesses and also identify ways to leverage talents. What would be a bigger bang for your buck would be if you identified what you’re naturally talented at, what you find enjoyable and engaging. If we harness those strengths at work and we look at finding ways for you to apply them in the workforce and to amplify them, then you will reach your peak a lot faster than if you just focus on fixing your weaknesses.”

Ryan breaks this down into six parts, taking Seligman’s original Positivity, Engaged, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement (PERMA) framework and adding a “H”, to acknowledge the role that physical health plays in promoting a positive workplace.

The first step is to tackle the “P”, the positive emotions that make work enjoyable. By way of example, Ryan highlights how breaking apart a stressful work day can increase one’s enjoyment of a tricky or complex process.

“If you work on something that’s really difficult and challenging, find an opportunity in your day to make a call to someone that gives you a positive lift or do something fun over lunch time. It could be as simple as going for a walk outside and getting some fresh air, or it could be talking to your neighbour about your dogs because that’s what you’ve got in common and that gives you a little spark of joy in your day,” said Ryan.

The next step, encapsulated under “E”, is to find a tactic to remain engaged throughout the day, finding what you find interesting and satisfying at work.

For “R”, Ryan cites the importance of cohesive relationships at work between colleagues. Particularly for manufacturing enterprises where team-work is critical to the successful creation or application of a product, relationships are the core of the communication that ensure a success. Ryan notes that, however, this benefit does not come instantaneously.

“I teach that you do that one interaction at a time. When you’re in teams that are very agile or organisations where maybe you’re in virtual teams, what’s a way that you can better connect and build relationships in brief moments during your working day? Find ways to help other people in your team, whether that’s by sharing information or by giving them five-minute favours,” said Ryan.

The “M” in PERMAH stands for making work meaningful. According to Ryan, this can be identifying one person’s contribution to the entire organisation’s functioning, or finding a way for teams to give back to their community which sustains them, both at work and outside of it. The outcomes of such a focus can be increased workplace satisfaction.

“If you find that your work is purposeful and meaningful, then you’re more likely to dig in deep and put the extra effort in because you’ll see the bigger picture. You’re more likely to overcome hurdles and challenges along the way,” said Ryan.

While engaged in work, Ryan highlights that it is important to mark out when a team or individual has a significant achievement, and this is where the “A” in the framework comes in. Stopping to acknowledge wins allows individuals to reflect on the effort that went into achieving that milestone, positively reinforcing that value.

The final component of the PERMAH framework is health. As Ryan takes a holistic approach to workplace well-being, understanding how one’s motivation or enjoyment of being at work comes partly down to their physical well-being is a significant part of the overall goal.

“A lot of people don’t have this element of health in place very well, and yet, they’re wanting to perform well, have great cognitive functioning and energy to do really difficult, challenging, complex tasks; still, they’re not sleeping well or they’re not eating well,” said Ryan.

The benefits of positive psychology have been studied and quantified since Seligman announced his research into the field in 1998. More recently, studies have looked into the connection between well- being, the outcome of successful positive psychology practices
and workplace outcomes. Ryan highlighted that higher levels of well- being are leading to more creative workplaces, greater job satisfaction and higher amounts of engagement.

From her experience with manufacturing enterprises, Ryan found that safety was a key outcome of greater workplace engagement.

“Employees that have high levels of well-being are more likely to take action and seek help earlier. From a cognitive point of view, they’re not fully focussed, so when you turn up to work and you’re not feeling great, you become distracted or make poor decisions, so there’s an increased risk of safety risks occurring,” said Ryan. These strength-based strategies will result in different solutions depending upon the needs of the business.

“Once you understand the framework, then it is really important to contextualise it,” said Ryan.

Working with each company, Ryan identifies techniques for each individual. These techniques focus on the well-being of the team as a whole. Individuals learn ways to proactively manage their wellbeing, and leaders are able to create an environment that supports teams to cope, connect and create positive change. This produces a workplace where collaboration is cultivated.

Ryan will be presenting the Workplace Wellbeing & Resilience workshop on Friday, August 2 for AME. For more information on AME Australia membership and events visit www.ame.org.au or call 1300 AME AUS or email ame@ame.org.au.