Steve Jobs said " It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do: we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do"
When asked what their greatest business asset is, leaders will often reply ‘our people’. Amongst other things they will be thinking about their employees’ attitudes to their work, their proactivity, customer service, ability to collaborate, the quality of their thinking and ability to innovate. If, as expected, Artificial Intelligence takes over most of our repetitive or repeatable work then, we will be even more focused in the future on hiring people specifically for the quality of their thinking, their creativity, their innovation and their insights.
It is therefore an imperative that we think about how we as businesses help our people to function optimally mentally as well as physically (there is both a moral case and a business case here).
If this is the new reality then we need to be mindful to protect and preserve the brains of our people, our most important assets. In practice, organisations make a significant investment in recruitment fees, and many hours of interviewing, to hire ‘the best brains’ and then once the person is on board the organisation will often work them, or expect them to work, in such a way that their cognitive abilities are not functioning at their peak and may even decline as stress and overwork take hold.
How does it make any business sense that we are (often inadvertently but mostly unthinkingly) actively enabling damage of our finest assets - the brains and thinking abilities of our people?
Would an organisation buy an expensive, top of the range and complex piece of equipment and then taking no care to look after it, indeed actively running it for hours longer than the manufacturer recommends, failing to give it any down time, maintain it or give it other required support? No? Then why do we do this to our people?
In this ‘brave new world’ of human working, where the quality of our thinking will be at a premium, we need to aim for prevention of damage and enhancement of thinking. This instead of having to continue to spend a fortune on mental health recovery trying to fix the results of the lack of understanding of how our thinking works and the stress creating working practices which damage us?
If we want to maintain quality of thinking we need to work smarter, to teach individuals and their leaders how the brain functions, the optimum ways to maintain brain health and thus prevent and reduce incidence of mental ill-health or stress related absence.
Enlightened organisations are trying to improve the conditions for brain health, and thus benefit from high quality thinking, but they are currently tinkering around the edges; they are not providing high quality Brain Health and Mental Wellness programmes which embed good working practices and new norms of working into their organisations.
How can we improve this situation? We need to give individuals and their leaders the opportunity to understand what goes on ‘on the inside’ in brain structure and what working conditions create optimum brain health as well as what damages the quality of thinking.
In order to put this into practice we need to embed the culture of brain health, and its direct link to quality of output, throughout an organisation. For example, introducing Brain Health and Mental Wellness programmes (perhaps accompanied by brain health coaches). We also need to change the culture of our businesses removing the 'always on', presenteeism and 'busyness' elements and replacing with a culture which rewards high quality output and treats its talent like adults.