I have a bad headache. For someone who, touch wood, is never really ill and hasn't taken time off work for sickness in the last 20 years, this is unusual.

As a personal challenge I therefore decided to write this today. The other reason for choosing to do this is that I am currently on a train travelling to my new job. Yes, it is my first day at work. We had a family event last night to mark the occasion and there was a lot of noisy festivity in my house until, let's say, pretty late.

As I walked along the high street to the station to catch my first commuter train for nearly a decade, I noticed that quite a number of cashpoint machines were not working. At Cannon Street, the tannoy blared: "The 08.36 to Dartford has been cancelled. We're sorry for any inconvenience caused."

I was trying to work out whether this would be an unfair representation of a typical day for many people.

It seems that there are many events that can debilitate, antagonise, annoy or in some other way affect our normal functioning. Many, indeed most, may well be caused by factors outside the working environment. Often these affect us before we arrive for work or on our way home. So what? That's life, surely?

There has been a growth of employee assistance programmes in recent years. The business case behind them is well researched and documented. These aside, it could be said that as the NHS we really haven't taken the health and wellbeing of our staff seriously enough yet. At the very least, there is much more that we can do. Really taking time to understand and help address as far as possible the issues that are concerning our people should in so many senses be the bread and butter of the managerial task.

The importance of discretionary effort is widely understood these days in HR practice. It is also often argued that the difference between world class and normal performance is not very much when considered in terms of the level of discretionary effort exerted.

The NHS does a good job apologising. We seem to be doing it all the time. This is no bad thing, however, and obviously the value of a sincere apology should not be underestimated.

As my headache slowly clears, though, it dawns on me that perhaps the moral of this particular story is that if more effort could be put in upstream - fill up the cashpoint earlier or just get the train there two minutes earlier - this can be the difference between a good and poor customer experience.

In our case, ask a member of our staff how they are and whether there is anything we can do to help them do their job better while things are stable. It is absolutely fine to ask someone if everything is OK inside and outside of work. The onus is then on the staff member to decide whether they wish to share any detail or reply more generally.

Most people will appreciate the fact that we have asked them. Combined with regular feedback and recognition of the work effort, the journey to world class could be shorter than we think.

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