IHG World Mental Health Day Talk with Leanne Spencer
10th of October is World Mental Health Day. For us at IHG, that’s an important day. It’s an opportunity to review and refocus our own efforts in our goal of ensuring every one of our employees has access to mental health and wellbeing support.
To mark the occasion, on October 12th our VP of HR Operations, Ying Ying Koh, welcomed over 400 colleagues from across InterContinental Hotels Group to a special talk about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
The session was the first in a raft of events designed to break down taboos, start conversation, and foster a culture of openness and support around mental health for all employees, centred around a simple message: it’s okay not to be okay.
Today’s talk focussed primarily on workplace burnout, and how to avoid it - a topic close to the heart of our special guest, Leanne Spencer.
Leanne is an award-winning entrepreneur, author, and keynote speaker, specialising in wellbeing, work/life balance, recovery, and resilience. A dynamic and engaging orator, Leanne is also the creator of the Cadence Approach; an inspiring set of guidelines which - over the course of the ensuing hour - would give us the tools to beat burnout and “build our bulletproof”.
Here we unpack a few of Leanne’s top tips that can help you on your way to better wellbeing in the workplace and beyond.
The Cadence Approach
In her previous life working in a high-powered sales role, Leanne had always tried to perform at 100% every single day. Eventually and inevitably, this caused her to burn out, leading her to drink more, eat poorly and do less of the things she loved. She likened her life at the time to the myth of Sisyphus in Greek mythology, whose punishment for cheating Death was to roll a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down when near the top. One gruelling day would end, then another would start. A vicious, endless cycle. The final nail in the coffin was when a high-profile sale to a major client – which she was optimistic would happen – didn't go through. Deflated, she returned home and looked at herself in the mirror. She knew she needed to make a change. A few days later she made up her mind and sent her resignation to her boss. After leaving her job, Leanne decided to retrain as a personal trainer.
Whilst training at her local boxing gym, Leanne became particularly fascinated with the way the professional sportsmen and women around her seemed to avoid burnout, even with their relentless, intense schedules. Contrary to the way Leanne had been approaching her work, she realised that these people never expected to perform at 100% all the time – rather, they would plan and train for the big events, grabbing moments of rest where they could, and then – crucially - spend time ensuring they recovered fully afterwards.
Leanne identified that there was a ‘cadence’ - a rhythm or varying flow - to the way they approached their lives. Inspired and energised by this realisation, Leanne created the Cadence Approach - a four-step method for applying this mindset to everyday life and wellbeing.
Rather than making huge changes, the Cadence approach is all about making little shifts in certain areas of health and wellbeing to obtain a big effect on our energy, mood, and motivation.
Step 1: Predict
- Identify the big events in your life that are coming up and be ready for them.
- Moving house? Job interview? Having a child? Make small changes so you can deal with these things mentally - this will also strengthen you against the unpredictable.
- This is all about making small changes in your mindset, so you can deal with and bounce back from things more easily.
Step 2: Prepare
- Sleep is the most performance enhancing, democratically available strategy available to us.
- 0% of people thrive with 6 hours or less of sleep - aim for 7-8 hours.
- Remember, napping counts too - every little helps!
- If you’re under a large emotional and/or physical load, you may need more sleep to recover.
- Manage your nervous system with breathwork or meditation.
- Box breathing is an easy technique to incorporate into your daily routine.
- These exercises reduce resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, lower cortisol and reduce stress.
- What people, places, or things energise you?
- Surround yourself with people and things you love.
- Support and encouragement from others can be a huge energy and morale boost - let them in!
When we focus on these three things we develop resilience - our own bullet-proof vest. Resilience, like a bullet-proof vest, is very strong, but also flexible.
Be adaptable in your changes. Practice doing hard things. Build your bulletproof.
Step 3: Perform
- Push yourself to perform, but also learn to recognise your warning signs.
- These are the things that tell you you’re approaching burnout.
- Anhedonia (no longer enjoying the things you love), irritability, lethargy, rage, emptiness, despair, guilt, and self-doubt are all indicators that you’re going too hard and too fast.
- If you’re looking to make a change to your wellbeing, you need a strong motivating factor - what's your reason, what motivates you to keep going?
Step 4: Recover
- Remember: when we back off, we beat burnout.
- We don’t necessarily need massive chunks of time to recover. We can avoid burnout through taking ‘slivers’ of recovery.
- Take a few minutes between tasks to look out the window at nature, get some natural light exposure, do a power pose, have a movement snack (eg. jogging on the spot), look at a photo of a loved one or pet.
- This is a great opportunity to tune out and reset the nervous system - these things all contribute to your recovery.
- This is how we develop our ‘shield’ for life.
Leanne rounded off the session by taking some questions from the group and provided some IHG-specific advice for how to apply what we’d learned in the workplace.
- Think about how your team operates. Are there upcoming challenges that you can predict?
- Can you discuss with the team methods that you can best prepare for those?
- Start using the words and language of the Cadence Approach - talk in terms of resilience, energy, wellbeing, mental health, recovery, performance.
- Encourage colleagues to participate in activity at the beginning and end of meetings which energises them.
- Encourage colleagues to use their breaks and give them ideas for what they can do in those breaks.
- If you suspect a colleague is struggling with their mental health but can’t communicate it, leverage the work we’re doing here as a springboard to start that conversation.
- For managers - within your comfort zone, try to talk openly share your own mental health challenges.
- If managers open up, it helps and sends a message across the organisation that this is normal – it breaks down the taboo surrounding mental health.
- Mental health is like physical health – everyone has it, and it’s normal to have ups and downs.
- Fostering a culture of openness and communication is the way to build a stronger, happier, and more productive team.
We’d like to thank Leanne for such a compelling talk and encourage everyone at IHG to refer to these tips and incorporate them into your everyday life. Always put your wellbeing first and remember that it’s okay not to be okay.
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