In today’s complex and interconnected world, we are presented with unprecedented opportunities and challenges. We’re required to rethink many of our institutions and routines, including higher education. Technological advancements promise both to free us to fulfil our full potential and to put us out of a job. Meanwhile, wellbeing is being recognised as contributing significantly to our ability to develop resilient graduates.

For me, people engage in three types of labour: physical, cognitive and emotional. With automation progressively taking over the physical and cognitive domains of labour, humans are still the masters of the emotional domain. The question is, how much are we investing in further developing our emotional resilience? Increasingly, being emotionally intelligent and having good social skills are trumping technical skills when it comes to success at leadership levels.

Mushtak Al Atabi
CEO and Provost of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia

As we continue to work on our Strategy2025 conversation, it would be great if you could help us by answering these questions.

28 Replies to “Our Wellbeing

  1. I think we need more poets around the place. Here’s a poem entitled Heriot-Watt Heritage

    Neither Heriot nor Watt did.

    Go to our young University,
    where the past is the future’s key.
    No-one knows who comes along,
    from the vision of Bryson,
    and healthy dose of Horner,
    thinking globally like Geddes,
    acting locally like Mearns,
    breaking down barriers like Ogilvie,
    prosing it like Spark (nee Camburg),
    setting in concrete with Sir Basil Spence,
    these are the ones noted in our heritage.
    They ensure us the current class
    will join our family Watt Club
    and help future-proof our world.

    Vernon was first President
    of that evening club, that went
    on to be the first alumni association.
    Begetting JC and JS Gomes, father and son.
    Now it the class of Shima, Abdullah and Ng.
    We put the brew in BrewDog.
    There’s Scott Russell’s name –
    of Aqueduct and Building fame.
    There’s the Miner Buchan from Peterhead,
    who became our major chancellor:
    “It’s not the distant peak you look towards” he’d say,
    “but the steps you take on the way”.
    Heriot-Watt makes a good step for today.

    International, practical, respectful.

    Sorry, its under well-being and not under heritage – as a student – answering a different question than to one set!!

  2. Totally agree. Emotional strength, resilience, and endurance are the necessary qualities our graduates need to possess in order to face up to the cognitive challenges of AI and other ‘threatening’ technologies.
    We need to rethink our learning philosophy and system, not just Curricula and courses. A great feat indeed.
    We must abandon the instrucor-centered learning.
    We must mix-it-up in modes of learning.

  3. I’m fully with new graduates attending training programs, for it is to enable them to improve their skills, in addition to understand the aims and objectives of their company. Training also helps them to gain more experience as well as makes them more qualified in away to benefit and growth of the business. Training programs is an investment to build loyalty towards the company, moreover it enthusias them to be more motivated to do their best in term of development and profitability for the company.

  4. Interesting article today on this topic published by HEPI, the Higher Education Policy Institute:

    It brings in a different dimension, looking into this debate from the perspective of student wellbeing, their experience of services and a commentary on institutional leadership.

    It expresses some frustration with the debate which has ‘too little appreciation of the nuance of the subject and the expertise and knowledge that already exists in the sector amongst service managers…’

    It also raises some interesting points for us to think on as we consider our future strategy.

    For example, it highlights that this year’s National Student Housing Survey of over 33,000 students across the UK reveals that privately-managed student accommodation providers are delivering significantly better wellbeing impact for students than university managed accommodation. It also highlights that their work with Student Unions ‘consistently demonstrates their critical role in fostering a sense of community and belonging – a key requirement of wellbeing… yet remain widely undervalued and under funded’.

    Interestingly, the article moves on to discuss institutional leadership around Wellbeing and mental health, identifying that these leaders: ‘understand that it is by sharing and collaborating, not controlling, that we will achieve better outcomes faster for students.’

  5. I would be delighted if every parent were to know how important it is to have emotional intelligence and therefore be able to support their child’s emotional growth and development from the minute they leave the womb. From my experience with working with parents and children I have come to know that those who have not had the experience of having their own emotions held inevitably can not hold their child’s emotions which drives disconnect, unidentified unhappiness, lack of self worth.

    From another angle when I have been on a board interviewing for workers to work with children, parents and their carers in many different capacities. I have looked for qualities that indicate to me that they have a special spark in making connections with others, that they have empathy and have traits one has if they have emotional intelligence.

  6. Education is platform to make beings better, human or animals. And education shld cover the living world n death world, the so called complete knowledge. What to inculcate are all the good in oneselves. I suppose they are attitude, knowledge, skills n communication. Attitude shld be from not only the mind but also from thr heart. For everyone it is to think, say n do in harmony without fail.

  7. Moderation and balanced human beings is the key to world peace…when the ego dies, the soul awakens. Hence, how do we not develop emotional resilience?

  8. Higher education (and schools) should empower students (and academics) to focus more on developing their emotional intelligence and resilience in their programs and courses.

    We need both technical and social skills to be successful and inspirational leaders, and I am not sure which one actually trumps the other. Also, based on what I have read and seen, I think artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will excel in emotional intelligence in the coming years, and go even beyond humans in many areas. You will find emotionally intelligent robots and software in every aspects of life, including taking care of elders, helping us fill up forms, doing medical checkups, serving us in restaurants, mentoring/coaching us to new levels in our work or sport, etc.

    Looking to the future (5-10 years), mastering emotional intelligence and resilience will be essential, but also being an expert in your area and having relevant and updated skills (and knowledge) will be critical. More importantly, you need to master the art on how-to-learn and share, in this fast changing world of increasingly uncertainty (automation, AI and robotics), especially in terms of job prospects.

    Also, the ability to find solutions to big challenges or problems (complex problem solving) in team-solving environments using computational thinking (decompose-abstract-pattern recognition-algorithms) and creative thinking needs to be addressed more seriously by higher education, and should be a big part of any future university strategy.

    These are some of my thoughts worth sharing to the questions raised (I think)…

  9. Becoming emotionally resilient is a better trait to cultivate IMO. We are seeing many young people unable-to-cope and unwilling-to-stay at work despite supposedly having the ‘graduated’ potential and know-how. Which is equally as important as having the right balance of EQ. With emotional resilience one should be able to weather the storms at work, meeting people, and delivering by deadlines. I argue for resilience because in many communities there are simply not enough to go by. And one must just make do with what resources and opportunities there are. To start with that is. And build themselves something as they move along seeking their ultimate goals.

  10. John Maxwell, a well-known leadership guru, quoted “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

    The desire to prioritise the well-being of people is of great value especially when it is authentic, sincere and unselfish. Otherwise, attempts to make it a part of a gimmick or strategy may be viewed as impersonal, fabricated, and even, insulting.

    Having said that, we can all contribute to the well-being of others at a personal level. Each of us can start off with a simple acknowledgement, a smile or a greeting. We can all do one of the following: give a word of encouragement/appreciation, do an act of kindness, spend time with our students or colleagues, give someone a hug/a shoulder to cry on, listen and listen some more, etc…as the list goes on.

    Along those lines, at an institutional level, especially one that crosses borders and continents like ours, we can start by ensuring that workplace policies prioritises the well-being of people. In having said that, it would be good to have a “Go Global” set of workplace policies that place people first. Instead of letting the law dictate how the university treats its employees and uphold their rights (which may be considered a minimum threshold), why not be “Leaders in ideas and solutions” like we claim to be by going above and beyond legal requirements or public recognition for that matter.

    Also, in terms of educating our students, a programme that can incorporate courses that helps students to develop their physical, cognitive and emotional capacities would benefit them (has someone done a research on this? Do ALL “successful” people have high EQ? Are the rest of the “unsuccessful” people lacking in EQ? What about “unsuccessful” people with high EQ or “successful” people with low EQ? Or does the problem lie with the individual’s definition of “success”?).

    Lastly, I think I can say with some confidence that, whether we have programmes that incorporate EQ or not, we all want to be treated with care. Maybe the golden rule applies, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” And let’s not forget that modelling EQ in our everyday interactions could be just effective as lecturing to our students about EQ in a classroom. After all, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

    Have a wonderful and blessed day!

  11. Truthfully there isn’t a universal method where emotional resilience can be taught; however, it can be inhabited. The examples of few individuals can be adapted by those learning under them: the same way that children mimic their parents, teenagers with their role models, and adults under their supervisors- generally speaking. In order to enhance one’s emotional resilience there needs to be a guide who can not only steer his/her emotions into the right direction but also others’. But of course, resilience of any form, emotional or physical, cannot be learned without hardships thus the ultimate way to invest in developing our emotional resilience is to expose the younger/future generation to failure. BUT to do so in a gentle and constructive manner. The failure part already exists in higher educational institutions but the constructive part is duly lacking; there needs to be individuals who are rigid yet empathetic within institutions of higher learning to actively push students to their breaking point but to also be there to assist them- a truly selfless and altruistic act done by lecturers to solely benefit the students.

  12. There are many ‘successful’ managers in the world who get to the top with autocratic grit, they may lack EQ and consideration for others. Others however can transform institutions by their ‘servant leadership.’ SL is nothing new (see J.C Maxwell’s work) but it requires leaders to ‘serve’ and add value to others without ulterior motives. ‘Your win is my win,’ ‘your success is my success.’ this type of leader grows loyalty within an organization. Hence the WD-40’s of the world.

  13. Depression is increasing at an alarming rate as the pressure of performance and competition questions one’s self worth. Finding balance and ability to handle pressure is key. EQ has never been more important or perhaps more critical to the success of individuals at all levels.

  14. There is not enough education and emphasis put on emotional intelligence and the behaviors of others. You can have a large bank account and a degree with a platform to teach others, but if you do not know how to treat others with respect, you have absolutely nothing. Technical advancements that move to help others achieve their potential and put you out of a job produce a sector of people who loose the connecting factor of interacting with others. As humans there are certain factors we need to remain healthy and happy! One of those factors is connecting with others in a healthy way. In the USA I have not seen enough emphasis put on EQ. Our thoughts will determine what is in our heart by what we meditate on. I have never met anyone who practiced proper EQ that was not physically and cognitively productive. Our emotional status is a door opener that will help us cognitively and physically achieve success. If you take someone who is angry all the time, does not know how to treat others, their anger will have a determining factor on how they are able to think (cognitive) and what their physical productive level will be. If we put more emphasis on emotional intelligence and what our heart was telling us, the dynamics of society as a whole would be totally different.

  15. I will say a basic “yes” to that but i wish to highlight an important point. I think emotional skills are strongly related to the culture and region and it is hard to cascade the same module to all working environments and cultures. I also believe that the only neutral platform to apply that successfully is the university because it shares the same educational environment and modules.

    1. We have not really mustered our emotions, albeit all technological advancements, human beings are depressed more than decades ago, suicidal cases are skyrocketing. Our emotion resilience is very weak, but we can use the same technology to learn about emotions, there better programs and books that can help us to develop emotional resilience. Including the program on your website on reporting our emotions or writing them down can help us to know and develop resiliency emotionally.

  16. Thanks to Rory, Bryn and Edward for pushing our conversation about wellbeing forward. I’ve worked with some very large and very successful FTSE listed business that adopts the “recruit for fit and train for task” mentality. I guess that in some professions the task remains important … would you be happy being treated by a medic that was a great “fit” with their organisation and currently being taught the technical stuff? I suspect it would depend on the support structure and oversight around them. Similar things probably apply for research funders and students in HE.

    After Friday’s Strategy2025 workshop, Andy Napier from our OD team suggested watching this and I thought it was (a) relevant and (b) worth sharing since it relates to organisational happiness and purpose. One of the opening statements is “micromanagement isn’t scalable”. I’d be interested to know what others think.

    1. As I listened to the WD-40 story – how to create a shared sense of purpose and build a successful, engaged organisation – I couldn’t help but think this must be much easier for a university! After all, we have the privilege to be engaged in education, in something inherently valuable and purposeful, something that transforms lives. (although I am a WD-40 fan!)

      Our mission is clear and most people I know share a commitment to our broad purpose to create and exchange knowledge for the benefit of society. Or maybe said more plainly: to widen access, to transform lives, to create new knowledge and play a useful role in society.

      The well-being agenda is interesting for us as a global organisation working across cultures, where the commentary and attitudes play differently. It’s hard to argue against the benefits of EQ, cultural intelligence and resilience, but we have to find our own way with this agenda, a language and approach that sits well – is authentic- in our context and culture. To illustrate, the WD-40 folks call themselves a ‘tribe’; they make their purpose ‘creating positive lasting memories’…….. but whilst these don’t translate, there are things to learn from: the importance of cohering and shared values, developing and building a strong sense of shared purpose, a strong learning culture – as Yoda says “The greatest teacher, failure is”.

  17. Are there not two dimensions to this Mushtak? Being emotionally intelligent and having good social skills might well be key to success in leadership and probably in many other spheres of our private and work lives. However, resilience, to me seems to be about developing the behaviours, attitudes and cognitive tools to allow the individual to cope with the challenges that they will face when building a fulfilling life and career in an uncertain and rapidly changing world.

    1. In my opinion, emotional resilience plays a big part to ensure well-being. Failure to adapt to different changes emotionally has driven a number of adults to suicidal tendency and this behaviour is increasing daily. Something need to be done about it.

  18. I think this is a very interesting concept: many modern psychotherapy theories postulate that we follow ‘scripts’ (or whatever word you wish to use) in our lives that are laid down in early life – but importantly, as adult humans, we can choose to change behaviours if we wish.

    Being emotionally intelligent may surely be an advantage for many people across cultures and organisations but it is not an essential to flourish and succeed in my view. Happiness is certainly desirable for many (or most?) but again, there are many examples of ‘successful’ people who are not happy.

    So, what is the measure of success? It is not financial, for example, nor popularity; it is authenticity. I contend that if individuals or organisations wish to be successful, authenticity is the key. For our organisation this authenticity in part must be made obvious from senior leaders but also from everyone else in the organisation, and in part it is also defined by the common purpose we might have. What is the purpose of our university? What is an individual’s purpose in this?

    1. An organisation that invests in the intangible aspects of human existence and goes the extra mile in embedding emotional intelligence into the fabric of its organisatiinal culture deserves to be heard and responded to.
      Finding one right person that fits into this fabric is worth a hundred warm bodies. Investing time to recruit the right resource is a management prerogative that often gets swept aside or drowned in our daily organisational obligations. The idea of it is appealing, how much courage and resilience do we expend on this?
      How and how much do we measure all these intangible outcomes?
      To make anything sustainable, how much vigour to we place on governance of these strategies that we spend so much of time and effort to plan?
      Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

  19. I know some progressive managers in industry who believe that, when recruiting, the person is important not necessarily the industry or subject knowledge. Certainly for young graduates wanting to get on to graduate training programmes the view was that the person (including the emotional intelligence aspect) rather than knowledge was important. Training programmes could improve the latter but not necessarily the former.

    1. Edward, I really agree with what you said. Behaviours and and ‘fit’ to an organisation are really important aspects when recruiting to a role. Emotional intelligence can be developed over time and indeed it has been shown that it does develop over time.

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