The LeadershipZone for better leadership

Get into the leadershipzone – practical tools and ideas you can use to improve your effectiveness as a leader or manager

LeadershipZone Fundamental no.3: personal space

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When I worked in the City of London in the late ’80s, I used to spend some of my lunch hours wandering the ancient streets.  You can walk into medieval churches, cross Roman walls and marvel at the Tower of London, just a few minutes walk from our busy offices.  I’m not saying I was a loner or a saint, many days were also spent with colleagues in wine bars and restaurants, sampling the range of delights on offer – but it was a pleasure to have time to myself to ‘switch off’ temporarily from the demands of the job.

Iconic buildings for London's 2012 Olympics

I can remember people staring upwards as the glass and steel Lloyds’ Building rose in the City.  Today there’s the whole Olympic site to see rising out of the rubble of derelict waste land in East London – and I bet every City has similar sights.

Today the phrase ‘Lunch Hour’ itself is seen as a medieval concept.  Yet having personal space in the middle of the working day is vital for our brains as well as our bodies.  Eating at our desks is neither hygienic nor attractive; and don’t get me started about the greasy smell of fast food!  If you’ve ever sat working while someone else is diving into their BigMcNuggetMac, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I’m fascinated by the activities that people  do, when their mid-day break has been reduced and they become less engaged with their work.  The time taken out of the working day to deal with shopping, online entertainment and planning leisure activities; it can also be measured in workforce engagement surveys.  People with this attitude believe it’s their right to do this in worktime, because their personal space has been taken away and this impacts directly on the bottom line of your organisation.

There’s some interesting current work on what’s called the ‘positivity ratio’.  The author, Dr. Maynard Brusman cites research work studying the characteristics of high-performing business teams:  “If a team is highly connected, its members will maintain a positivity/negativity ratio above 3:1.”

Other research into peoples’ priorities show that health, relationships, and work come out as top.  Taking a break and eating lunch in a social environment contributes to all three.  So providing personal space – physical and in terms of time – for people to get away from the workzone is a vital leadership responsibility: especially if we want our people to be successful in their roles, and bring engagement, buzz and commitment back into the workplace.

Professionals in human resources talk about the ‘social contract’ that exists between employee and employer.  This is also an emotional contract, and if our staff don’t believe that it’s a fair exchange of effort and reward, they’ll find the most creative ways to rebalance the books.

When I work with teams to improve their performance, I ask them to rate themselves on three key measures on a 0-10 scale:

  • Positivity: how positive am I about the work I’m doing?
  • Productivity: how effective am I?
  • Credibility: how credible am I, within and outside this team?

If you want an easy way to test your team’s overall engagement quickly, I challenge you to ask these three questions.  And, to increase productivity and effectiveness and re-engage your team, I urge you to give them physical and personal space to take a break during the day.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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