Gavin Boswell is Group Director of Procurement for Serco. Gavin joined Serco in 2014 and most recently led the transformation of our international Procurement function before taking up his new role in January 2020.
Here, Gavin shares with us his personal experience and perspective on stress and mental health in the workplace.
“Procurement at Serco today bears little resemblance to that of two years ago. New structures, systems and ways of working – we’re all engaged in different roles in an unfamiliar landscape.
We’re proud of our achievement – it’s better for us, better for Serco and better for our customers – but change of this magnitude can take its toll. I have a duty of care for my colleagues and I’m committed to helping each of them maintain a healthy level of wellbeing.
In February 2020, we focused on wellbeing during our first international team conference. To set the tone and direction, I shared my own story.
In 2018, I was struggling with overload, complexity and other challenging work factors. It had been building for months and I was ‘burned out’. My health and happiness were at risk, but I forced myself to keep calm and carry on. With no prior experience of these symptoms, I just ignored them – telling myself I’d get through it.
It wasn’t working. I couldn’t think straight, not even about the simplest of problems that I would normally manage easily. I was always working or switched on, struggling to sleep, disengaged from life outside of work – unrecognisable to myself in every way.
Eventually I broke – driving to the office at dawn, suddenly overcome by profound feelings of exhaustion and collapse. I spoke to my line manager and agreed to take time off to rest and reset. I went home and slept most of 48 hours.
I returned to work ready to make positive and sustainable changes. Understanding and addressing the causes was key, including how and why stress affected me and how easy it was to lose perspective under pressure.
I explored various techniques to help maintain a healthier equilibrium. Some are simple, practical changes, such as protecting my schedule, checking emails only twice a day and turning my phone off at night. Taking better care of myself physically and prioritising sleep also makes a big difference.
I realised that contemporary work culture, environments and technology are not always conducive to productivity, and that healthy boundaries are necessary, as are strong relationships built on trust. Having colleagues you can open up to is essential.
I had the opportunity to take on my new role in November 2018 but declined it at that time. Doing so jarred with my professional instincts, but it was the right decision. A year later, I’d built a new, stronger foundation of resilience from which I’ve been able to take on and fulfil this role better than I ever could have before.
I shared all of this with the team, welcoming questions. Their response was positive and we had a good discussion about stress, coping and individual ways of working.
I believe this leap of faith was massively beneficial for my new role. You cannot lead effectively, or create a healthy working environment, without empathy and humanity. Communicating vulnerability is not at odds with strong leadership – quite the opposite, in fact – it can help you reach new levels of leadership.
I was pleased with the big step we’d taken together, but our journey has only just begun. Our destination is a team culture in which we look out for one other, work better together and know that if we ask for help, we will get it.”