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Happiness in the workplace matters for sustainable wellbeing, safety, productivity and business outcomes. It predicts if teams and organizations are building a better future. Today, our special guest Nick Marks shares his insights on psychological safety and mental-wellbeing, two critical drivers of safety outcomes. He also addresses skeptics by demonstrating how feelings connect to data.
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.
Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I am Eric Michrowski. Today I’m very excited to have with me Nick Marks. He’s a statistician with The Soul. He’s got 25 years working with organizations to improve happiness, quality, quality of life and organizations in general. A phenomenal speaker has also launched a tool called Friday Pulse. We’ll get into that very soon. But Nick, welcome to the show. And I’d love to hear from you a little bit about your passion, how you got into all of this, and how you became a statistician with a soul as a client once called you.
Yes, it’s one of my favorite client quotes. So, I think in some ways what it captures is I’ve got this slightly odd mix. And yes, I am a statistician, but my mother was a family therapist and I trained as a therapist when I was young. So, I sort of have these soft people skills as well. And it probably becomes inevitable that I become the guy that starts measuring people’s experience of life, their happiness, their well-being.
It took a long time to evolve into that. You know, I did a lot of work on sustainability, quality of life, health statistics first and then slowly moved into that area. And I used to work in think tanks. So, I used to advise the Tony Blair government and then the David Cameron government on how to measure well-being and let a lot of work there in a very exciting time in the 2000s where the British government started to take this very seriously.
And then about seven, eight years ago, I started to think about businesses and moved into that area. And so, I now have a business called Friday Pulse, which measures and improves employee experience. And that’s what I do now.
That’s phenomenal background. So, one of the themes that’s incredibly important when you’re trying to improve safety outcomes is that or even wellbeing and all of those components is this element of psychological safety within the business. Can you share a little bit about your thinking, your research and what you’ve seen around the importance of psychological safety and maybe some ideas on how to drive it forward within businesses?
Yeah, I mean, it’s a phrase I think coined by Amy Edmondson and certainly popularized by Google. And it’s really trust. It’s the it’s the you know; trust is really about consistency of behavior. And, you know, in a team when, you know, if you’re going to experiment, you’re going to be innovative, you’re going to collaborate, and you need to have the freedom to express yourself and the security that you will know that you won’t be that that that the spirit of your motivation for doing that will be recognized even if the outcome doesn’t show exactly where we are.
So, it becomes more about process and about how we do that. And I think that psychological safety and of course, you know, if you’re in certain parts of the world, physical safety, I mean, there’s still parts of the of the developing world where physical safety, workplace is not guaranteed, you know. So, but, you know, we’ve actually luckily got legislation in North America and Europe where those things are covered. But it becomes really important people’s experience, because, you know, just like if you’ve got a parent who’s very unreliable, inconsistent, that’s actually the worst type of parenting.
And it’s the same. It’s the same. Same with the boss. I mean, you know, if you don’t really know if the boss’s mood is always going to change or this or you suddenly get an earful for something which you weren’t expecting to you, even when you get praised for something we would expect to, that inconsistency is very difficult to deal with. So, it’s about consistency. It’s about reliability. It’s about support. And there’s lots of evidence that, you know, when that when people are in those environments that not only that teens going to the people, they enjoy working the more and they go hand in hand.
I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s the only cause of people’s positive experience, but it’s a very significant one.
Interesting. So, the other element is that we’ve talked about when we had our conversations together, is that this element that feelings are data. Can you can you share a little bit about and have that element? And is it real? Is it being it tangible? I know a lot of leaders I’ve talked to over the years, particularly operational leaders, doubt the reliability of that data. They don’t even necessarily see it as real, tangible data. So, share some thoughts and insights on that.
So, the expression feelings that they have for me comes from both of those sources. I mean, it’s in some ways a sort of mixture between that statistics and unhappiness. And I. Actually, this is actually the draft title for a TED talk. I was going to do last year, which obviously got canceled because of it. But, you know, my idea really is that is that are our feelings. Firstly, just from a purely neuroscience perspective or psychology perspective or even evolutionary perspective, feelings come before cognition.
So, beings, animals, organisms were in a sense a sentient before they were cognitive. And we needed to feel whether we in the right environment. So, in a sense, our feelings give us information about whether a good fit in our environment had a very, very basic biological level. So, you know, we you know, we can feel creeped out by something without really knowing what it is. The sensation is there before we’ve got the awareness about precisely what it is so we can feel, you know, we can feel secure in an environment without really knowing exactly why.
And that’s because that’s how feelings work in the organism. And in that sense, can we turn them into data? What is data? So, data can be quantitative. It can be qualitative. You know, it could be different types. I, I statistically try and capture that data, which would have just basically a very simple, good, bad signal. So, I’ll ask people things like, you know, have you felt at work this week where you very unhappy to very happy and you get into one to five scale or whatever and people can answer that question.
They can think, oh, this week, yeah, it was a good week. You know what week it was a bad week. And they give you an answer on that. And that’s what I mean by turning feelings into data in this sense, that you can put a number to it. And when you do that, you get very interesting time trend data that by asking about time specific period, you see the ups and downs. And the reality is we’re not happy all the time.
That actually would be kind of dysfunctional because you would be overriding the thing. Sometimes can be bad. The environment changes. You know, it would have been pretty weird to have been exceptionally happy in March this year.
And, you know, and she has been really hard, hasn’t it? You know, and it’s like so it’s perfectly fine to have a goal that you want to be happy, but to also accept the fact you’re not going to be happy all the time. There are not conflicting things to want to do.
So, you touched on the march and feelings and you’ve done some analysis of data through the last several months. How has it revealed? What was the main takeaway that you saw across multiple different organizations?
Yes. So we basically we ask all across our client base, you know, that question. And we basically provide data for team and senior leaders on people’s experience of work. And we do it in real time. Real time. We do weekly in saying, you know, this is how people’s weeks have gone. So, we’ve been we’ve got 52 well, we haven’t quite got 52 measures this year. We’ve got like forty or fifty, whatever it is we’re up to now.
And so, we can see the whole trend through the year. And what we had was a perfectly normal year in January, February, March. I mean, January doesn’t tend to be the happiest months anyway. You’ve just come out of the Christmas period. So, it’s always a bit suppressed after that. People are happy after Christmas to come back. Oh, well, you know, the weather’s pretty bad and its certainly Europe, certainly in England in January, February, you know, it’s the worst time of the year.
So, you know, people aren’t most happy, but, you know, starting to pick up in March, then, you know, the week beginning on the 12th of March, you know, we suddenly had I mean, I was working in London in the beginning of the week. The underground was normal. She was normal. And by Thursday, you know, half of the traffic had gone. It was extraordinary just to see it drift away from us.
And then, you know, the next week we had our lockdown and it was very, very scary in March and it hit our data, all our clients, it plummeted. And then we still a slow climb back up again. But in those first weeks, you know, there was a lot of pressure on H.R. departments, everybody to scramble home. You know, have you got the right equipment? Can we support you? How do you do that?
Everyone is, you know, worrying about their mother. You know, the kids, whatever they worried about. Suddenly kids were home from school. There’s a huge pressure. And all of that comes out in our data. And then we basically see a slight return back to where we were over a period of several months. But then it’s never got back to quite where it was. We’re still we’re still five, ten points down. We sent our data 100 scale.
Chirikova the average was seventy. It’s now 65. So, we’ve seen a drop over that time. A significant drop, actually. But, you know, not as bad as it was in the week, you know, with the Caved strike where it’s more than fifty. So, you know, it’s a big impact and you need data every week to see that. So, you can imagine it as a graph. And of course, we see that.
And lots of our clients, they have setbacks. Teams have setbacks, individuals have setbacks, but they have a global setback. I mean, we never see again, I don’t think is just huge, huge impact. Yeah.
Let’s hope we don’t see it ever again. Yeah, I certainly hope so. I’m a CEO. I get this. There’s regular data point, this pulse on my business. What can I do with that information? Because some might argue it’s too much information. How can I use that to shift? My decisions, my actions, and even if you have some examples from the last few months how it’s helped organizations and businesses would be phenomenal.
Yes. So, the way that we help people use the data is that we feed it back to the right level of the organization. I do think that the best place to act is at the team level. I’m sure it’s the same for safety and everything is that it’s the people you work most closely with. You know, can you rely on the people around you and you work together? Can you have the same goals and collaborate? And what we basically do is feedback data, a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data.
So, we think feedback you how, how what’s the score? Last week when we also ask people, you know, what’s going well for you last week, what hasn’t, and they still allow people to build on what’s gone and deal with what hasn’t. And it’s getting into that weekly flow of people’s work by doing a little and often that you make the most changes, you know, you make that you basically get them talking about their experience. And then that validates that it’s actually useful to listen to people’s experience.
And basically, everybody in an organization is kind of like a sensor that’s sensing everything around them. It’s like that that data was never collected before. You know, it’s that there’s knowledge like whenever there’s a sort of big corporate failure, when they do the investigation afterwards, people within the organization knew something was up. They hadn’t. The data is very rare that something hits, but that totally blindsided. There are people that know and, in a sense, you need to gather that data in a way and encourage people to share not only their successes, but their concerns, because it’s valid to have concerns about what’s going on.
You know, and if you collect that quickly, you can act on it quickly. And I think that’s what most organizations try and do in some way is be responsive to what’s going on. And we have a product that helps platform that helps with that. And we’ve seen lots of different examples. You know, I mean, the issue is covid and working from home was it’s so variable, the experience for people. Sure. You know, people like me whose children are left home and I, I, I live with my wife, who I not only love, I like you know, I enjoy spending time with her.
So, it wasn’t a difficult spend time with Zoya. Some people, you know, my sisters got divorced in covid. I mean, that would be a horrible experience. Yeah, well, three years too late in my opinion, but that’s a different matter. But, you know, but, you know, and other people was stuck at home with young children, which was very, very difficult. Three or four. My team have got children under the age of five and they were driving them up.
The wall wasn’t about their work. They just were a very difficult. So, there was different things that we needed to do. And of course, when you’ve got a bit of data on that, you can start thinking about how, how, how you did. And then you’ve got teams that are struggling. So, you know, I mean, my organization has not been adversely affected by covid. I mean, we’ve had to change. We’ve had to pivot.
I had to lay off some people that were doing events work, but we’ve actually recruited into other areas. So, we’d have to do some changes. And but it hasn’t been a disaster. But if your inhospitality you know, it was right the way across the board. It was you know; it’s just appalling. And if you’re in businesses depend on that or you know, so it’s how do you respond if large organizations have got sections, one sections that haven’t.
And it’s how do you differentiate your policies towards those people? And we’ve you know, we’ve got clients that have done, you know, brilliant work in this area, really, really helping people, you know, cope with it. And I mean, even in my organization, we’ve gone to a four-day week, for example, because I think boundaries between work and life so collapsed and burnout is such a big issue with people working from home and remotely.
They haven’t got that human contact. But they also, you know, just works with their sort of, you know, working for them. I’m working. I’m you probably are. You were completely you know, it’s like how when does work stop? When does life start? Becomes harder. So, I’ve actually just made a bargain with my employees that let’s work hard for four days and have three days off and do other things. And, you know, that’s quite a radical policy.
We can do that in my field. It doesn’t always work with something because it’s 24/7. So, it’s how are you how you look after you employees, I think is changing very dramatically.
Absolutely. And I think what you shared is consistent with all the organization I’ve seen. For some people, it’s been phenomenal. So, for me, the secret blessing is I normally spend almost all my time on a plane and now I get to spend time at home enjoying kind of experiences with my wife. Like you said, it’s a very different experience, but I see others who are constantly trying to balance home schooling and all of those components all at the same time and trying to do work.
And they don’t necessarily have a partner that can help, but it’s a very, very different experience. But it gives you insights on how I can lead, how it can drive change, how it can drive impact on the themes that are relevant for my workforce at this point in time when one of the themes I’d like to explore. Law is the impact that you can get from a mental health standpoint, because we know the link between mental health, mental wellbeing and safety, overall safety culture incredibly linked.
Unfortunately, not all organizations are talking about that link. More and more are trying to drive visibility, awareness to the importance of mental health. What’s your thoughts around mental health, well-being? And would you be able to gather from a pulse within your business?
So, I mean, mental health is. Still a lot of stigma around it and there’s a lot of work going on about destigmatizing it, but this is just a story from just two years ago. I know I spoke at a conference on a group called Minds at Work here in the UK who do a lot of work on mental health at work. And a fireman went off work for being injured in a fire. And he was off work for six months and 100 colleagues came to see him.
He then had stress two years later and one colleague came to see him and was still terrified of that sort of, you know, mental health breakdown, breakthrough, whatever it is. And it’s and it’s an issue that is starting to change. I mean, you know, we see it we see it being led probably sometimes. Yes. At work, but we also see it being led in the sort of celebrity world, like there’s a band, little mix.
I don’t know if you got teens who are interested into them, but one of them has decided to retire from the band for mental health reasons. And it’s not getting paid. It’s getting really supported out there is basically saying, yes, you need to look after yourself. That’s what you need to do. And so, I think we’re talking more and more about it. And it’s becoming more and more accepted and it’s more accepted in the work. But the issue is it feels, you know, a little bit frightened of it because they’re frightened of their own mental health.
They’re frightened if we stopped going forward, you know, would we fall over? I think Einstein once said, you know, life is like riding a bicycle. If you stop paddling, you fall over. And it’s just a feeling that if we don’t continue, will, you’ll suddenly collapse. I think that’s really unwise because I think when the end happens is burnout happens and, you know, burnout tends to be from people who engaged in their work, but they go the extra mile.
That isn’t the same as mental health. It’s a different issue, but it’s a problem. But mental health, I think it’s about working with people. There’s a lot of new neurologically atypical people, particularly in tech businesses and whatever like that. You know, probably 20 percent of the population are what we could call neurologically atypical, you know, and that’s a lot of the workforce. And so, it’s often brilliant, all sorts of things.
They just need some different boundaries. And I don’t really understand why. I think this straitjacket of, like, you work from nine to five or ten to six or so over time is going I mean, I he doesn’t actually work for us anymore. But I had an employee who really did struggle every few months with something. But, you know, I just used to say to him, we need two days off. You have two days off.
And I knew he’d make it up because he didn’t, he wasn’t irresponsible. He just was just, you know, couldn’t get out of bed that day. And you don’t help it by sort of saying, pull yourself together. That’s not how you do it, by being kind and compassionate to them and, you know, and talking. Yes. About the business needs. But, you know, but also about what their needs are. And it’s a sort of dance between those two.
It’s you know, it’s like employing I mean, I’m going to say particularly women, but it’s parents with young children, really. But, you know, I’ve had a lot of people have maternity leave or have children, you know, during you know, during my time working people. If you if you’re kind to them, they come back and they give you everything. So, it’s being enlightened in your leadership. And doing a mental health is the same really in the you know, it’s accepting that people’s anxieties, their panic attacks, it’s depression.
This is something that they’re living with. It’s not something. And it does get triggered by environments in that, you know, if you put too much stress on them or put them in a team that you know really doesn’t help, then, you know, it’s going to get exaggerated. But you can work with it, you know, like one of the supermarket chains in the UK. They work with a lot of people with depression. And you know, what you don’t want to do is shove them at the back of a dark warehouse because that’s basically going to make their problems worse.
If you put them in a bright light place where they can interact with other people, which might be, you know, in the car parks doing trolleys, it might be helping pack bags, it might be doing shelves, whether in the light they’re much better. If you put them in a dark warehouse, they’re not going to do well. It’s understanding what the triggers are for them, listening to them and working with it. And people tend to thrive when they feel cared about.
So, and I I’m you know, that’s definitely the side of the fence I’m on. I know that other people some people have other views on that. But I think that we can work with people from all walks of life. And if you if you respect them, they respect you back 95 percent of the time and the five percent of time they don’t. Well, then deal with it. You know, let’s assume the best. And then occasionally you deal with the things that they work.
Yeah. And I think with the pulse that you’re advocating is you’re getting a sense for themes within the business that are emerging so you can better adapt and be more enlightened. In terms of your comments before that last question I want to throw, we talked about feelings or data. How do you deal with a skeptic? Because I’ve come across. Engineers, though, say it’s not real data perception data input of that nature is not real data. How do you overcome that challenge?
Well, I mean, one engineer is a brilliant to talk to about this because they understand feedback and if you start explaining to them in analogies, they can hear about, you know, basically a thermometer, a governor in a steam engine, whatever is a feedback loop, just basically through the and steam engine, you know, where more steam goes through and it starts closing the steam. And it’s basically a feedback loop. Emotions are the same in lots of ways.
Some of them are positive reinforcing. Some of them are negative dampening, but they’re basically helping us act efficiently in the world. And so, it is data, it’s not the same data. So, you know, when you when you’ve got so-called objective data, you know, you’re counting physical things. When you have subjective data, you’re using scales. You’re using things which basically people are giving you a sense of the difference. So, when I ask people how have you felt at work this week, I give them five response codes.
Very unhappy, unhappy. OK, happy. Very happy. If I can answer that. We don’t know precisely three to the four is the same as from one to two. In fact, I can tell you, isn’t the data quite well? It is, but it is ordered. The data is ordered. And so, you can work with that data, which just you have to work with it differently. You also have to understand you’re not maximizing.
People often think that you’ll take any variable going to maximize your optimizing with subjective data. You know, actually, you don’t want people to be not you don’t want them to be. It’s unrealistic for people to be very happy all of the time. You actually kind of want to know when they’re feeling very happy and you want to know when they’re feeling happy and want to know when they’re feeling OK. And that is data is feedback and it’s learning. I mean, the whole way that organizations and us as individuals is that we learn, we learn.
So, we need to have feedback that helps us learn. And I use that’s how I use the data. And so, you know, we create effectively what we call happiness KPI for business, which is this data weekly team happiness. And it’s a people metric for people, for organizations and organizations don’t have good people metrics. They tend to have what we call lagging indicators like; you know, how many people didn’t turn up for work, how many people left us, or do we do an engagement survey once a year, which gives you a snapshot experiences really fluid.
It’s not a snapshot. It’s not even a series of snapshots. You know, you could have done a snapshot in February this year and then three months later and three months is a really frequent pulse survey. You know, your set up march, you may well, you just basically see almost a flat line. You’ve just missed the whole dramatic, interesting part, you know. And so, you know, by taking data more frequently, you get that fluidity.
And basically, our experience is fluid. It’s always ebbing and flowing. It’s you know, you can you can take people’s I mean; I measure weekly because that’s convenient. It’s good for work. But, you know, sure, you could measure people’s experience through a morning and you’d have it going up. You could measure it through an hour and it’d be going up and down your year, a lifetime. You know, there’s different wavelengths if you want to do of it.
So, it absolutely is data. It’s data that’s correlated and predicts things. We know that people who have more good weeks and bad weeks are happier at work, are more productive. We know they stay longer. We know they’re more creative and innovative. We know that they have a better safety record when they go back to that, because if you care about the machinery you’re working with or you care about your colleagues, you know, you take care and you and you avoid you deal with risks and you avoid you avoid things getting out of control, which, you know, most accidents are a series of errors, aren’t they?
And if you’ve got that communication and collaboration, well, it works out better. So, you know, it’s not only is it data, it’s useful data and it predicts future good outcomes. So, I take it seriously. It’s my opinion.
I think that’s phenomenal. Last starting point you launched recently a tool called Friday one. Can you share a little bit about what it is and how it can help businesses?
Yes. So, Friday one is, say, Friday Pulse is the business we have, which creates platforms for teams and organizations. So, we wanted to do something that was for individuals. People always ask us how can we do something on our own? So, we’ve created Friday one, which is basically a sort of an individual. These are the key drivers to happiness at work. How are you doing on it? So, if you’ve ever taken one of those tests, like six personalities organize breaks, you do them and give you a report back, that’s the same thing, but it’s context.
So, one of my critiques of those sort, the personality test, is that their context free. And actually, we change personalities, we change who we are. We change how we feel, giving context. So, our context is very specific to your work and it’s your work now when you fill it out and basically, we ask you how you doing on the five big drivers which we call which are which are about relationships, about fairness in the system, about autonomy, about learning and about purpose.
So, we call those connect, be fair power challenge, inspire. So, you ask three questions on each and some demographic questions. I give you benchmarks and you get a lovely report and it’s to help you reflect. On your work and how you doing, and that does form part of our Friday post when we do it for whole organization, but this is just a free tool for individuals to do and have fun with.
And can they track themselves in terms of time and how they’re progressing, or is it a one-time snap?
It is a one-time stop, which is why we called it Friday one. And the reason we haven’t done that is also to keep our problems of storing people’s data with a free tool. And you do get into, you know, sort of things like we decided we do a snapshot. We may we may do something tracking, but we you have to get a little bit you have to get a little bit fancier with that stuff. And so, at the moment, it’s a snapshot and you can say the PDF and do it again three months later and look at it.
But we don’t hold your data in any way. We didn’t want to get into that really. And you just go to Friday, one dot com and, you know, take the test. And it’s just that’s it’s just free and fun to use.
Love it. Well, thank you very much, Nick, for taking the time for connecting, sharing your thoughts, their own feelings and the impact on the business and great insights in terms of how people can shift from week to week, from day to day from hour to hour based on the context, the environment they’re in.
Thank you very much indeed.
Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Nic Marks, Founder & CEO, Friday Pulse
Described by one client as a “statistician with a soul”, Nic has been working in the field of happiness and wellbeing for over 25 years.
In 2010 Nic gave a TED talk on his previous work in public policy, which has now been watched over 2.3million times. Named as one of the Top Ten Original Thinkers by the IoD’s Director Magazine, Nic’s work was hailed as one of Forbes Magazine’s Seven Most Powerful Ideas in 2011.
As Founder and CEO of Friday Pulse, Nic shares his creative thinking with leading organisations on how positive emotions drive productivity and profit.
For More Information: https://fridaypulse.com/