Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Data. We have always had a relationship. As a young child, I could tell the time before my third birthday. I loved statistics, and I had the unique reality of being the last wave of early Millennials to have an analogue childhood. Being lucky enough to have an uncle who also had a penchant for data, I received a Commodore 64, and then an Amiga 1200. And suddenly a childhood falling into simulation and strategy games ensued, honing my young mindset to be solution-focused, competitive and curious of quantitative improvement.
This foundation laid the groundwork for my own relationship with data, which has taken me to both despair and celebration in equal measures. I was able to utilise this powerfully as the digital age began in my teenage years. A level of data literacy allowed me to learn from my early entrepreneurial ventures and navigate a dynamic landscape with agility. But my fascination with data led me deeper into the game playing and crafting world. At one point at University I was one of Europe's most highly regarded online game players, continuing experimenting and theorycrafting for optimal gameplay. This came crashing down around me as my intense focus on the quantitative left me with a black hole in my life. My inability to navigate my own emotions and self-awareness, to understand other human beings outside of statistics, and how to express myself authentically, left me suffering from severe mental health challenges. Recovering, I managed to go back to University and graduate, with a newfound passion; I must combine my love for data with my love for humanity.
With this passion, I secured a graduate scheme on the financial advisory pathway at the Co-operative Bank, an organisation with humble roots and human values. Combining both clients financial wellbeing and working with projections fed both my desires. Alas, 2007 was not a great year to graduate. Six months into the scheme, my training budget was defunded, and then I was made redundant. My passion for data led me to setup a videogame wholesale business, using data and algorithms to reduce risk of sourcing and sales. Without a humane element, I worked in Local Government, a Charity and then in Elite Sports, trying to find a way to humanise data to improve both performance and wellbeing simultaneously. Through some fulfilment and success, the dissonance of chasing both passions through different vehicles was challenging at times. Then, significant life events would stop me and force me a reassess.
In 2014, I became ill, my immune system attacking a particular type of tissue in my joints. Working was suddenly ended, as I was immobilised in hospital. With an 18-month-old son, and my wife six months pregnant, I was unable to walk or look after myself effectively. After a month in hospital, I was discharged and began the process of learning to walk again. With such a period to reflect being stopped in my tracks, I started to crystallise a vision of how I could make a difference, and why I was determined to recover. Eleven months later, I walked a mile unaided, and having tracked my recovery inch by inch, I remembered just how important using data to measure progress could be. Being on cytotoxic medication which kills cells, I decided I would make an effort to use data to become medication free. A lofty objective, but the driver for the next part of my story.
I started to expand my qualifications further. I began to look at the relationship between stress and health, and understand the intricacies of how chronic stress and elevated cortisol can cause compounding damage physiologically and psychologically over time. But stress is a powerful driver of human performance, especially if seen in the frame of being helpful. Stress can be utilised like an energy drink, without the sugar and chemicals. I started looking at Heart Rate Variability, a possible way to measure both levels of stress and how to utilise it. I was also in the process of experimenting with my nutrition, sleep and movement, gathering data to optimise all areas of my life looking to reduce my medication. With sleep being the fundamental driver of human health and performance, affecting every biological process, I went studying within the NHS to understand foundation elements of sleep optimisation.
Bringing all this together was vital. My lived experience, my industrial knowledge, my qualifications and my passion for understanding humans and using data to optimise. My company, Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, was born out a desire to bring clarity to the picture, in a world full of noise, only a few essential things truly matter. I am a passionate believer in wellbeing that is data driven and people-centric. Within organisations, we benchmark a baseline of where they are currently at, what is currently effective, and then define a wellbeing why and a wellbeing outcome. The strategy is then designed, and bespoke delivery that engages with specific challenges selected and created. We measure it's effectiveness while building champions and communities to help embed wellbeing further into existing business processes, and evolve and iterate based on KHI's - Key Happiness Indicators.
We are still in the early days of understanding how complex our immune systems are. Employers have a dual responsibility of ensuring a level of wellbeing in the workplace while empowering a transfer of authority for improved health behaviours and engaging those who are less likely to participate. This starts with organisational culture, where at times data can be used as a tool for punishment and can be used without passing through a human lens in the pursuit of more. While there has been a significant push on employee benefits in recent years, the biggest thing an organisation can do for their employees is communication. The foundations for employee wellbeing start with being listened too, being able to talk and contribute, feeling appreciated and having to the space to grow both as human and within the role. With these foundations, creating the space for employees to develop further, and making it easier for them to move more, drink more water and disconnect from work in breaks, builds the momentum to start to measure progress as a wellbeing strategy is implemented. And let's not forget that employees are an abundant source of both quantitative and qualitative data, there to be utilised for their benefit, as well as the companies.
Wellbeing is a KPI in itself, that has been underutilised, but more importantly, we are talking about people and their lives. By enabling and empowering employees to use data for their own health outcomes is a wise decision. As of June 2020, I am now living medication-free, having decoded my life to live at a near-optimal level. You can assist your employees in this, and they don't have to go to the lengths I have. But each employee has a wellbeing why, that you can ignite and assist them in becoming healthier and happier, which in turn increases morale, productivity and innovation while reducing sickness, staff turnover and conflict. So, maybe it is time for you to see the return of investment and the smiles when you fuse wellbeing, data and humanity.