Anker & Marsh

Author Bio ▼

Dr Tim Marsh PhD, MSc, CFIOSH, CPsychol, SFIIRSM is MD of Anker and Marsh. Visiting Professor at Plymouth University he is considered a world authority on the subject of behavioural safety, safety leadership and organisational culture.As well as many of the world's most recognisable industrial names Tim has worked with diverse organisations such as the European Space Agency, the BBC, Sky TV, the RNLI and the National Theatre in his 25 year plus consultancy career.He has key noted and chaired dozens of conferences around the world including the closing key note at the Campbell Institutes inaugural International Thoughts Leaders event in 2014. He has written several best-selling books including Affective Safety Management, Talking Safety, Total Safety Culture, the Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety and Organised Wellbeing. Previously he led Manchester Universities ground-breaking research team into behavioural safety methodologies in the 1990s.
October 31, 2023

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A very personal case study…

In his latest blog, Tim Marsh candidly shares his personal experiences to look at reasons why someone may not be performing their best at work. 

The car scrape!

This summer I managed to bump my nice shiny car not once but twice in a single afternoon – having not done so for 40 years! The reason for the considerable expense and inconvenience is – I’d like to suggest – at the very heart of the wellbeing / safety debate.

I wasn’t tired, upset – or late and rushing. I hadn’t had a row. I wasn’t on any medication or hungover. I’d not been triggered to anger by any road rage. The weather was dry and lovely.

It was actually an extremely calm and happy day but because of the context, my brains were well and truly scrambled. I was simply ‘away with the fairies big time’. (I’ve been a chartered psychologist for more than 30 years now but, frankly, that term is as accurate as anything in a textbook!).

The day in question 

The day in question involved one of my children graduating from the Royal Veterinary College. Certainly, an emotional day of great pride for each and every parent in attendance but simple parental pride was not the reason my own brains were so thoroughly scrambled.

You see, 12 years ago, very quickly and very severely, my happy, healthy, bubbly (if always quirky) ten-year-old fell ill with a combination of OCD and other related disorders often linked to spectrum issues. Within weeks of first symptoms, she was in hospital and she’d not get home for more than ten months. (Not at all unrelated – a variety of animals featured heavily in her recovery…).

The (secure) hospital rules seemed almost designed to keep her there as long as possible – being aimed squarely at anorexic patients who made up the majority. Physical attempts to feed them and pin them down to stop them exercising frantically after they’d been force-fed, made the place feel like a war zone.

Visiting, as well as often traumatic, was limited to set hours only several times a week. No phone allowed. No computers. One shared pay phone only. Frankly, if she’d been incarcerated there for setting fire to one of her siblings the following year, it would have looked very much the same for her and the rest of the family.

Christmas, eight months into her stay, was an especially low point.

An officious jobsworth nurse on Christmas Eve ushering us out exactly on time I’ll never forget or, frankly, forgive and a fairy light-based grotto she’d arranged outside her cell (sorry, room) door when we came back on Christmas morning  – that was as close to unbearable a sight as I ever hope to see.

Like Cilla Black after her husband Bobby died, I lost my life-long fear of heights overnight along with a decent amount of tolerance and inhibition (though I can’t talk for Cilla on those). 12 years on I’m still not able to talk about these events in public. ‘It’s only 12 years’ I joke, but I know that’s nothing really.

The man who feels he could have prevented my business partner, Jason Anker’s, fall still can’t meet up with him because he remains too traumatised 30 years on. (On a more positive note, I was able to happily jump out of plane from fully three miles up with Jason the other day and raise a decent amount of money for a mental health charity)!

So that’s my personal case study. On the day in London in question, I wasn’t angry and upset… making bad decisions and having poor quality interactions. I wasn’t fatalistic and running a high ‘F*** it’ score. (See previous article). I was just hugely preoccupied, properly ‘away with the fairies’. And crruuunch… then a couple of hours later “oh, bloody hell … not again!”

Organisational facilitation of mindset

If organisations want to broadly replicate my mindset on the day it’s really easy. Just stress a worker with a schedule not matched by the time and/or the tools. Give them negative feedback that doesn’t stick to ‘don’t personalise or generalise’. Or just shout at them and bully them a bit. Maybe only half listen to them when they approach you with a well thought through suggestion. Then file it in the bin or the back of a filing cabinet.

Maybe let them carry on working when they’re really tired and openly swigging red bull. Or notice they’re struggling badly with something personal but ignore those obvious warning signs. Or perhaps ask them if they’re OK, then walk on with an off-hand ‘good to hear’, when they say ‘I’m fine, thank you’ entirely unconvincingly.

Good work is good for you. Bad work is bad for you. 12 years ago, though it required huge amounts of focus (…no crashes), I can’t tell how helpful it was – after the first few months of shocked paralysis – to have work that I loved, that gave me meaning, professional satisfaction and temporary distraction.

With that in mind, I’d like to share just one client case study from an ever-increasing number as we start to discuss these issues, about a single mother who stopped a board session when this topic came up.

Quickly, in pieces, she explained she’d simply not be here except for the job she loved in a supportive company culture following her daughter’s death from cancer. She said: “I was in such despair and came so close t0… several times… and without this team…”. It took her about an hour to compose herself after saying that.

And, of-course, nearly everyone reading this will have their own bad days and their own story… most, like my CFO friend above, far worse than mine.

So, I’d like to end with a quote from the former lawyer/safety executive Laura Thomas: “Over the years I’ve attended court and led investigations about serious incidents dozens of times. In almost every case, in the middle of it, someone was having a really bad day one way or another”.

Can I suggest that she perhaps forgot to add “Or, ironically, simply a very good day”.

A guide for managers: Supporting employee wellbeing

This guide, written by Heather Beach, Founder of The Healthy Work Company, serves as a go-to resource to help managers support team members who may be experiencing stress or struggling with their mental health, including warning signs, duty of care and top tips.

Wellbeing Conversations for Managers

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7 months ago

Thanks for sharing this insight. It’s actually really refreshing to hear this. I suffer from these days of feeling distracted and not 100% and not being able to place why. Error strewn work is not uncommon when though emotionally ok, you’re stressed, unfocussed and preoccupied. I think unfortunately many people in management are unable and unwilling to engage in ‘real’ conversation with their staff and don’t want to read between the lines; its uncomfortable territory. If we ask real questions and treat our staff as people rather than commodities the mindset can change in a heart beat.

7 months ago

Thank you Mathew … but the trouble is that most managers are just as stressed, time poor and distracted as we are! In the short term the last thing they need is a time consuming and difficult conversation …