Scotland the Blog: Scottish Conference 2017 Working well to make work human in the capital

CIPD Scotland brought our annual conference to Edinburgh’s Iconic Exhibition Centre on 2 March. Building on the success of the recent student conference our team of staff and volunteers worked with the same collaborative purpose to deliver for our members. Over 500 were present including over 400 delegates, our dedicated staff and volunteers, exhibitors and title sponsors Scottish Government. Mattioli Woods and Capita sponsored some of our content streams, the buzz was audible.

Head of Scotland and Northern Ireland John McGurk introduced Scotland’s challenge and opportunity in a changed world where productivity is paramount. However the way to build it he argued was by focusing on creating well workplaces. That was the theme of our conference and CIPD CEO Peter Cheese issued a serious challenge on building our profession to support a new vision of the workplace. By being principles driven, outcomes focused and evidence led, we could shift the impact we make. CIPD, he explained, was transforming itself across the board to support this new vision.

Our conference focus was on well-being and who better to enthuse us than Professor Sir Cary Cooper. Cary, carries the torch of well-being as a leading academic and policy leader. He challenged us and made us chuckle in equal measure as he revealed the evidence on how stress and poor mental health where a big but largely ignored impediments to productivity. Knowing more about what drives well workplaces is crucial he argued and more importantly putting it into action.

Delegates were able to learn how building new capability and reframing the purpose of what we do. For example building engagement and well-being goes beyond surveys and “apples on desks” as Cary explained. It requires a different culture and set of values. This was the theme of a session with Paula Dunne from Santander and Chris Taylor HRD of Subsea 7 describing their different contexts and the need for brave leadership. Diversity and inclusion is part of organisational and personal resilience necessary to build well workplaces. The value of diversity and inclusion featured in a panel session with contributions from Police Scotland Deputy Chief Rose Fitzpatrick, Franklin Templeton Head of Talent Kirsten Kooy, and Age Scotland CEO Brian Sloan. Dr Paul Litchfield of BT and Karen Scott of Edinburgh Leisure demonstrated how health and well-being can be supported.

Dr Chia-Jung Tsay intrigued and excited our audience with her work on perception and visualisation. The McGurk effect which describes how we view things differently depending on the difference between visual and spatial obviously had my attention but we all have biases we need to be aware of for example, in relation to for example recruitment and selection. Dr Chia made a plea for “ blind” recruitment policies given what we know about how we make important decisions.

Later we had a series of parallel session drilling into the areas which create well-being engagement and resilience. Nicky Riding from Royal London and Paul McGovern form Erdington talked about how to build engagement. Matt Elliott from Virgin Money talked about how we can build healthier workplaces and get that productivity pay off. Of course a wee bit of indulgence is good for the soul so and Jenny Lawrence of Chocolate makers Lindt and Sprungli talked about how they keep their employees sweet.

Being aware and alert to ambiguity is a big feature of building resilience, so leading Employment Lawyer Tony Hadden of Brodies used the Rumsfeld conundrum to describe the changing employment law landscape post Brexit where there are known unknowns etc!

Finally Professor Shane O’Mara of Trinity College Dublin gave us a scintillating insight into the brain and its role in well-being and business. He soared with his genial intensity through evidence on everything from plasticity and the fact that though it can age and change it retains capacity to adapt. He explained that learning is “neuro-protective” as indeed are exercise and sleep. Looking after our brains he argues is looking after ourselves and vice versa. Stress makes us unproductive. Research on elite soldiers shows that stress reduces performance by as much as 30%. That’s another arrow in the armoury of taking action to build well workplaces. He introduced and, more importantly, explained more concepts captivating our audience. Many of them such as “cognitive re-appraisal” that is seeing the glass as half full are about reframing. One enemy of a flourishing brain is a lack of physical and mental exercise. Professor O’Mara explained that premature retirement leads to reduced cognition. The good news is that if we keep learning and running we can go on and on. He used examples of elite and elderly athletes including a man who took up running again at 103 to illustrate the point.

The night before we kicked off the conference with a great HR leader event “Creating a New Scottish Enlightenment in the Workplace”. That is what we want to build in CIPD Scotland and Northern Ireland. To build knowledge and insight around the well-being and productivity agenda we prepared a report for the conference which is available here. We want the conference and the report to be a springboard to how we can use our professional expertise and insight to build well workplaces in Scotland and beyond.

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