Communication Playground

Salutogenesis or how to stay healthy in projects

In the beginning of my twenties I studied sports science and was definitely not heading towards a career in IT project management. Although my study might look like a lost effort it is not. The diversity of my education gives me the opportunity to connect topics from different disciplines. Ten years have passed since I was introduced to a model called “salutogenesis” during studying sports science. And eventhough this was in a completely different context it’s pretty easy to transfer this model on how to stay healthy to IT project management.

Delivering IT projects to your customers can be a really rewarding job. But project work is also known to be stressful and demanding. You are constantly working against certain deadlines, teams are very often short of resources and need to juggle mutiple tasks or even projects, people involved in the project are afraid of the change and therefore hindering the progress, sales promised something to the customer which is not doable – the list of things which can give you a hard time in projects is endless. As project manager you are responsible for your team and also for your teams health, especially in those hard times. You might ask yourself now – why and even more how should I be responsible for the health of my team? Should I cook them a healthy lunch? Or do I need to send them to a sports class? Certainly not! But you might have heard about Aaron Antonovsky and his model of salutogensis. Aron Antonosvsky did a study on researching the adaptability of women to the menopause. One part of the women in the study group were survivors of the holocaust and were interned in a concentration camp. A third of that women were considered as mental healthy despite their negative experiences. A result that really surprised him and encouraged him to continue his research to uncover how these women coped with their experiences. The output of this research was Antonovskys model of salutogenesis. Salutogenesis is based on the opinion that health is not a condition which can either be good or bad but a process. Everyone is exposed to stressors which are impacting our lives and health and cannot be escaped. So the main question is – eventhough I am not able to escape the stressors, which resources do I have to keep me healthy?

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Antonovsky found one common theme in the women which survived the concentration camps healthy – the sense of coherence. In a very simple way said the sense of coherence defines how much trust you have in the predictability of your environment and that in the end everyhting will work out and be ok for you. The expression of your sense of coherence supports your health and is defined through three aspects:

Comprehensibility, meaningfulness and manageability.

And that’s the point where your responsibility as a project manager starts. You are the person in charge of the project and you have the power to support all three aspects of the sense of coherence.

  • Comprehensibility can be achieved in very different ways. In my opinion one of the most important factors is to make people understand why decision haven been made and to communicate open, honest and transparent. You should also encourage your team members to ask questions if there is something they don’t understand. By asking questions you cannot only achieve transparency but also distribute knowledge in your team.
  • If you pay attention to the needs of your team members and try to understand what motivates them at work it should not be very difficult to achieve meaningfulness. Every team member is different and with a bit of an effort it is possible to distribute the work in your team so everyone gets at least some of the fun tasks.
  • Manageability can be achieved by adapting the workload to the skills and capability of the project team members. In a project it will certainly happen that the workload is greater than the available resources. But this should not last for a longer period of time. If it does it is your duty as project manager find out what’s the reason and develop strategies to encounter this imbalance.

If you try to keep the models of salutogenesis and the three factors of the sense of coherence in mind and support them in your team you can make significant contribution to the health of your project team!

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