Does Movember get men talking balls?

Movember is here again and already, less than halfway through the month, there are mucho moustachioed gents around town. It’s an inspired campaign for an important cause that I have supported financially for some years, while resisting the temptation to grow a moustache myself.

Yet, I have one slight reservation. While Movember gets men talkin’ ‘bout ‘taches, does it also get them talking balls (and prostates?) I suspect that many still avoid the subject, preferring instead to fixate on the safer topic of facial hair and how goddamned itchy it feels.

So my contribution to the Movember campaign this year is to write about my recent experience of getting checked out at a urology clinic. Not least because it also relates to my favourite theme of why some people enjoy their work more than others.

My GP referred me to a specialist just to ‘be on the safe side’ after I experienced some mild waterwork issues. As is usually the case, the symptoms cleared up as soon as the appointment letter landed on the doormat. But I decided to be a grown up and go ahead with the check.

As a father of three children, who has been present at all their births (if only at the ‘social end’), I have a good idea of what women must routinely endure in the name of health. But for me this was a unique experience. During the course of two hours, I underwent a decathlon of tests, both invasive and otherwise. I drank several litres of water. I peed into a bucket with a digital counter on it to measure my flow rate. I watched the ultimate reality TV, beamed live from a camera inserted through my urethra into my bladder. I ‘depanted’ on request (to use their delightfully tongue in cheek jargon), coughed and bent my knees obediently. I had an ultrasonic scanner on my tummy and then the whole of me was inserted head first through a CT scanner to create a 3D image of my insides. All this on the National Health Service and within a few weeks of my referral!

The truly incredible thing is that at no stage did I feel at all embarrassed. I put this down to one simple reason: every member of the team helped to create a culture that was characterised by respect, humour, compassion, efficiency and professionalism. Every member of the team – and incidentally, all were women – gave me the impression that they loved their work and wouldn’t swap it for any other job in the world.

I asked one member of the team why everyone appeared to enjoy their work so much and how they created such a great atmosphere. The answer she gave me was enlightening. Every year in the UK, prostate cancer kills 10,000 people and testicular cancer another 75. Testicular cancer is highly treatable if detected early, while prostate cancer, for most men, requires no more than active monitoring. If they can create a relaxed environment that encourages men to go for a checkup, they will save lives. Embarrassment kills.

Thankfully, on this occasion, I got the all clear. But something tells me this won’t be my last visit to a urology clinic. The important thing is that I won’t be frightened to go back. Nor should anyone be. And if wearing a moustache helps to get over the embarrassment of talking about it, then grow the biggest and bushiest one you can, my friends!

As an insight into employee engagement, it struck me how there is nothing like believing in the vital importance of your work to get the whole team working at 100% commitment levels. It is a lesson for every leader and every communicator.

When did you last get a good night’s sleep?

When did you last get a good night’s sleep? Insomnia is a disease for our times, exacerbated by our increasingly stressful, ‘always-on’ digital lifestyles. Researchers have identified sleep deprivation as a major cause of lost productivity, costing an estimated $2K per employee annually (Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine: Jan 2010). It’s also a major cause of workplace accidents with recent studies revealing that losing 1.5 hours sleep a night can reduce daytime alertness by 32%. That adds up to a lot of accidents. Drowsy drivers are as dangerous as drunken drivers and US accident statistics (100,000 crashes a year caused by driver fatigue) are enough to make you want to stay off the road for life.

For parents of young children, feeling TATT (tired all the time) becomes a way of life. As Boy George put it in his classic song, Karma chameleon, (though for different reasons) ‘everyday is like survival’. The worst fatigue I’ve ever experienced was after my third child was born. Five plus years of interrupted sleep can turn anyone into a raging zombie. Trying to hold down a stressful job at the same time takes its toll on your health and wellbeing. In those days, staying in a hotel room on a work trip was the greatest luxury imaginable, until I’d return home to face my wife after she’d suffered a sleepless night of coping on her own and then it would be my turn to go without sleep again.

In global companies, jet lag is a major occupational hazard. I remember once being in an important meeting with two colleagues who were both totally time zoned out, rambling incoherently like a pair of punch drunk boxers and incapable of a sensible thought between them. One of my colleagues stood up from the table, leant his forehead against the cool wall and promptly fell asleep while standing on his feet.

Some social commentators describe sleep as ‘the new sex’. I think many people will relate to this concept. What does it mean for forward thinking employers? Will we see offices with sleep cubicles, or perhaps dormitories, for people to take forty winks during the working day? I’d be interested to know of any companies that already do this. In my experience, any sensible manager knows when to send an employee home, but few managers will go home themselves when they’re too tired to make any sense.

Post script
Since writing this article, I stumbled across an interesting article in Bloomberg’s Business Week magazine about US companies such as Nike and Google that have already installed ‘napping rooms’ in their offices. Meanwhile, Manhattan based companies can now ‘outsource sleep’ to daytime ‘napping spas’ such as Yello. It also introduced me to the concept of a ‘napping chair’ called an EnergyPod, that can be rented for a mere $795 per month!


When employee engagement saves lives

Some journalists, who do nothing more dangerous than plug in their laptops, like to poke fun at so-called ‘elf and safety’. Typical targets are schools that won’t let children play conkers or councils that ban bunting because of health and safety regulations. Yet in some business sectors such as construction, engineering or the extraction industries, engaging employees about safety issues can actually save lives.

According to the latest UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics, last year 173 people died in work-related accidents in the UK. Although the fatality rate has been steadily falling (20 years ago it was double this figure), we shouldn’t tolerate any level of death in the workplace.

Construction still accounts for more deaths than any other industry (again, see HSE report), last year there were 50 deaths in the UK. This amounts to 2.3 deaths per 100,000 construction workers. To quote the title of Rita Donaghy’s 2009 UK Government report into the underlying causes, ‘One death is too many’.

Reading such statistics always makes me shudder. Nearly thirty years ago as an undergraduate, I spent a summer vacation working on an office block building site in my home city of Manchester. In three months, I never saw a single person wear a safety helmet. The crane operator spent lunchtime in the pub and could barely walk in a straight line let alone drive a tower crane. The scaffolding crew swung around like monkeys in a zoo. One day when we were hauling the roof trusses by rope onto the fourth storey, a builder had me stand on one end of the truss while he calmly walked along the narrow beam over a 60 ft drop to untie the rope. That memory makes me feel queasy even now. While the industry has improved massively since those mad days, it still has a long way to go.

Recently I co-organised a leadership conference at which the health and safety team used a group of actors to land some powerful messages about taking personal responsibility for safety. In the aftermath of a (fictional) accident, the audience engaged with the characters individually. We learned how each had in some way got their priorities wrong, resulting in  bad decisions with disastrous consequences. Ultimately, nothing is so important that we can’t wait until we can find a way to do it safely.  For me, this was an all time top ten employee engagement experience.

So no one should every fall into the trap of thinking that health and safety communication is dull. Instead, employee engagement professionals should see it as the best opportunity you will ever have to do something that could be the difference between life and death. Until we can drive the UK fatal accident rate down to zero – the only tolerable level – there is still much work to be done.