Wednesday, 25 November 2015

To boldly go...

Just in case you're new to my blog, I recently completed an MSc in Organisational Psychology at City University in London. This blog describes the point of desperation I reached in writing my dissertation. The title was "The experience and management of organisational politics with reference to psychological flexibility" (snappy eh!). It was a piece of qualitative research where I interviewed 17 members of the Senior Civil Service across a variety of Government Departments.

There was a point I reached in my research where everything felt hopeless and I was becoming overwhelmed with my data. In this case, my data was the words from my participants and I was attempting to identify themes and derive meaning from them. Luckily, I had access to psychological science and techniques which allowed me to recognise I was fused, or stuck with my unhelpful thoughts. I was feeling stuck, stupid and scared.

Through these techniques I was also able to revisit and remind myself of the whole purpose of embarking on the MSc. This was based upon my firm belief that psychology has a lot to contribute to the workplace and I wanted to learn more. This was with the expectation that I could share my knowledge with others and enhance their experience in the workplace. Some self coaching helped me to reconnect with my values as did techniques that helped me de-fuse from my unhelpful thoughts. 

Some of my unhelpful thoughts may sound familiar. For example;

"You're not clever enough for this"
"You've taken on too much"
"You've not got enough time"
"This is never going to work - you've discovered nothing"
"You should give up now - thicko"
"You're going to look like a right idiot"

One sentence from my supervisor, Dr Ruth Sealy, brought it all together beautifully. In an email from Ruth, which was commenting on the draft findings of my dissertation, she could clearly appreciate that I was blocked and capable of far more. The email finished with Ruth asking me to reflect on this sentence:

"What is my contribution, if I had no fear what would I claim my study has shown?"

This allowed me to acknowledge and accept my fear of dissertation and boldly go with what I thought I may have found. 

It made me think how often in our careers, we pay so much attention to those unhelpful thoughts that they govern all our behaviours and we end up getting stuck in a repetitive cycle.

I am enormously grateful to Ruth for her knowledge, expertise and honesty throughout the process. 

The self coaching techniques I used are based on the the behavioural science we use at The Career Psychologist - get in touch to find out more.



PS I'll be presenting my dissertation at the British Psychological Society conference in January and I also was awarded a distinction for my research.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How immersed are you in your thoughts?

This cartoon has been on my mind for weeks. Do you ever consider how we are constantly swimming in our thoughts? Much of the time we don't actually notice. 

I found this metaphor through the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy community and it really stuck with me and seemed ideal for a cartoon strip. Let me know what you think.




Thursday, 8 October 2015

Teachers' Well-being: Research at City University, London

I'm the Senior Research Associate for this project at City University, Psychology Department. The project is sponsored by the British Academy. Please do get in touch if you're a teacher and interested in taking part and/or forward this link to any teachers you may know. The project will run over the October, February and May half terms. For February and May we're keen to build an international sample.


An opportunity to be involved in research examining teachers’ week-to-week work pressures and experiences

Researchers at City University London are recruiting teachers to participate in a new research project. The project has been designed to assess teachers’ work demands and well-being on a weekly basis including working weeks and the half-term holiday.

The primary aims of the project are as follows:

1. To explore UK teachers’ experiences during the weeks before, during, and after half-term breaks

2. To understand the personal characteristics, aspects of work, and leisure time experiences that help teachers recover from the pressures of work

3. Provide teachers (and schools) with information on the importance of respite periods for maintaining well-being and performance

The project is being led by Dr. Paul Flaxman and Ross McIntosh, members of the organisational psychology research team at City University London. The project has been funded by a grant from the British Academy.

What’s involved?

If you participate in this project, you will be invited to complete an initial on-line questionnaire, followed by a brief on-line survey once per week for seven consecutive weeks. The surveys assess your experiences of work along with various aspects of your well-being. The brief weekly surveys take no more than 10 minutes of your time to complete on each occasion. Your responses to these surveys will be seen by the City University research team only and will remain strictly confidential.

What do I get in return for my participation?

In return for your participation, you will be provided with an overall summary of the results, along with some of the latest recommendations for enhancing personal well-being and leisure time experiences.

To register your interest in this project, or to request further information please email me at the University by clicking here.

Many thanks, Ross

Dr Paul Flaxman, Department of Psychology, City University, London

Ross McIntosh, Department of Psychology, City University, London


Thursday, 1 October 2015

What next?

My MSc course has finished & I've handed in my dissertation - hurrah. This post sets out what's happening next. 

I'm now working at City University as a Research Manager for two funded projects:
  • The first is in association with City and Hackney Mind and is an evaluation of resilience training for bankers, NHS workers and others.
  • The second is a project sponsored by the British Academy where we'll be exploring teachers' week to week work pressures and experiences. If you are a teacher or know teachers please do tell them about this research and ask them to contact me at for more information.
Both of these research projects are very closely connected with a range of psychological theory, processes and evidence known as Acceptance and Commitment Training, known as ACT. The evidence shows that ACT can increase resilience, psychological flexibility, well-being, innovation and performance in the workplace. 

I'll also be working with one of the leaders in the ACT field in a coaching capacity - more news very soon. If you're interested in coaching - get in touch for a free 20 minute conversation to find out more.

In other news I'm planning a workshop on Acceptance and Commitment Training for an organisation that manages customer loyalty programmes and preparing for a talk on psychological well-being for a large American Bank which will include a panel discussion with three of their Senior Vice Presidents where we will discuss personal values, change and work recovery.

By the way, my dissertation is a qualitative exploration of organisational politics in the Senior Civil Service with reference to psychological flexibility or "Yes Minister, how the Senior Civil Service experience and manage organisational politics". If that has set your imagination alight (I know....) get in touch and I can send you the executive summary! I've just heard that I'll be presenting this research at the British Psychological Society; Division of Organisational Psychology Conference in January.

Exciting times - I'd like to dedicate the rest of my career to continuing on the theme of discovering a more meaningful way to work. 

If you'd like to find out more please do get in touch.




Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Glass Cliff & Gender Stereotypes

There is one research topics on my MSc in Organisational Psychology course that has shocked and fascinated me in equal measure; gender issues in the workplace. Here, I will introduce the concepts of the 'glass cliff', 'Think Crisis Think Female' and share some thought provoking resources.  

Most people have heard of the 'glass ceiling' which is the invisible barrier preventing women from achieving senior leadership roles. The 'glass cliff' is when  women are put in precarious and risky leadership positions.  There is research to show that companies who appointed women to their boards were more likely to have experienced consistently bad performance in the preceding five months than those who appointed men. 

Research on a related concept shows that people usually "Think Manager Think Male (TMTM)" and "Think Crisis Think Female (TCTF)."  Here the evidence suggest that women may be favoured in times of poor organisational performance, not because they are expected to improve the situation, but because they are seen to be good people managers and can take the blame for organizational failure.

What's to be done?  There is a responsibility for us all to be aware of gender stereotypes, challenge those stereotypes and raise awareness.

For example I was speaking to a friend who told me that whilst waiting for a senior management meeting to begin, she was discussing an agenda item with a female colleague. The male chair of the meeting arrived and asked them to 'stop clucking'. They did ask if he would have said the same to male colleagues.

Here are those resources which show how ingrained gender stereotyping is in our culture:

Man Vs Pink - is a brilliant blog from Simon Ragoonanan, "stay-at-home dad blogger. Loves his daughter. Hates pinkification."

Pew Research Center - read about recent research which explores the reasons behind the lack of women at the top of government and business in the US.

And finally, here's a great blog from - let toys be toys for girls and boys. It highlights gender stereotypes in a homework assignment. In short - the homework required the kids to research a famous scientist or inventor.  The accompanying questions included 'What were his discoveries?', 'Why was he famous?' and 'Did they have a wife and family?'



Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., Hersby, M. D., & Bongiorno, R. (2011). Think crisis–think female: The glass cliff and contextual variation in the think manager–think male stereotype. Journal Of Applied Psychology96(3), 470-484. doi:10.1037/a0022133

Ryan, M. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2005). The Glass Cliff: Evidence that Women are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions.British Journal Of Management16(2), 81-90. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8551.2005.00433.x


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Get Flexy - 5 Top Tips

After a whirlwind of exams, a conference then easing back into the second term of MSc Lectures I'm back in the blogosphere.

I've been doing some reading on the concept of psychological flexibility as background for my emerging dissertation topic (more on that soon).

It struck me that there was a blog in the making. This blog shares some ideas on flexing your mind in the same way you might work on other muscles at the gym, your yoga class or the discotheque.

i) Do you take a regular route somewhere?  For example to the station, the school run or the supermarket?  Have a go at varying your route.  Take a different turning and see what (or who) you notice.  This can also be useful if you are being tailed by an international spy ring.

ii) Look Up! See what you notice when you look up. Firstly check it's safe to do so then look. You might notice something that surprises you (even on a well worn path).

iii) Put your phone down and start a conversation. It's very unlikely you'll miss anything of international important on facebook, twitter etc...

iv) Wear a different cape (metaphorically or otherwise). If you're lucky enough to have a cape collection try rotating your outerwear rather than wearing your favourite one every day.  You can also try changing your metaphorical cape.  For example, I sometimes choose to wear my cape of confidence and notice what effect it has on me throughout the day. On other days I don my cape of clarity.

v) Surprise yourself! Select a different sandwich at lunchtime, take a break at a different time, try a different type of tea/coffee, sit in a different carriage on the train, move from your usual chair/sofa.

There are many more ways you can flex.  Please do share your ideas and see what you notice when you make a small adjustment.


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