At last week’s Consortium for Service Innovation Member Summit, we heard a keynote from Dr. Kelly Travers, a physician and neuroscientist. Her topic was “wellness,” and I confess I rolled my eyes a little bit. I was hoping for deep discussions on knowledge and collaboration, and I didn’t especially feel like getting lectured about eating my broccoli.
Boy, was I wrong. Dr. Travers laid out a compelling case for why wellness is a prerequisite for innovation and collaboration. In particular, she explained (in a neurochemical, thoroughly non-woo-woo way) why chronic stress is killing workplace creativity—and killing us in the process. She mentioned that, counter to the conventional wisdom, we now know that we create new “baby brain cells” throughout our lives, but without the right conditions, they won’t survive and wire in to the rest of our brain. She also explained a few simple, clinically-proven techniques for reducing chronic stress: periodic deep breathing, keeping a gratitude journal, exercise, and getting enough sleep. (Broccoli was, mercifully, unmentioned.)
I haven’t read her bookyet—I intend to. I know that has more prescriptive advice about how we can all get ourselves into a better headspace.
Still, her talk made me think. Can you imagine a profession that inflicts more chronic stress on its practitioners than support? What’s the cost of that in productivity and lives? Isn’t it time to stop thinking about chronic stress as an intrinsic, or even desirable, part of the gig?
As a change agent for support organizations, I’m painfully aware of what one of my customers calls the “tyranny of the urgent.” There’s always another case to pick up. Queues go red. DEFCON 2 is declared. Severity 1 issues escalate. Customers on hold become increasingly irate. Stress, adrenaline…we love it!
I’ve seen talk time timers that counted up in hundredths of a second. (Really.) I’ve heard a support VP explain that it was hard to implement KCS because he was in a “service level crisis.” It turns out, that “crisis” had been going on for over two years. If something has lasted over a year, it’s not a crisis; it’s the new normal. But, still, it keeps you from getting any strategic work done. And, as Dr. Travers tells us, it makes it hard to even think straight.
I don’t have the answers here. I don’t know whether we should chime a gong for a deep breathing break every hour, or schedule customer call-backs, or throw a black cloth over our signboards. But I do know that we’ve created an unhealthy work environment, which we’re now busy exporting around the world—support center staff in India are now experiencing North American levels of stress, diabetes, and divorce.
This isn’t good for our people. Dr. Travers tells us it’s not even good for our work or our customers. Let’s figure out how to stop it. Now.
ps – so, what’s worked for you?