Mental wellbeing at work

Did you know that 73% of agency workers rate the stressfulness of their jobs at 7+ out of 10, and that 25% of us have had time off due to stress, anxiety or depression? (CIPR State of the Profession survey 2019/20).

In response to the growing importance of mental wellbeing at work, the CIPR is now running a one day course aimed at people managers, leaders and directors who are keen to build their knowledge and confidence in this area so they can create the right kind of supportive environment for their teams to thrive. 

My motivation for attending the course was to equip myself with a better understanding of the key factors that affect mental wellbeing, as well as get a handle on the techniques I need to adopt as a manager in order to help promote wellbeing in the teams I work with. The course objectives promised to deliver:

  • Have increased knowledge and understanding of mental health and stress at work
  • Help reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health within your workplace
  • Build awareness of yourself and others in order to foster effective communication
  • Begin to create a team climate that supports mental wellbeing moving forward
  • Be confident in having effective conversations relating to mental wellbeing

Beyond the basic understanding that mental ill health and stress are among the leading causes of absenteeism as well as having an adverse impact on productivity, engagement and morale, I didn’t really know what to expect from the day so it was an unexpected bonus to find myself in a small and friendly group led by the very capable Cathy Conan, who’s perfectly placed to deliver training to our industry, being an integrative psychotherapist with a comms background herself. Cathy established a warm and confidential atmosphere from the start that encouraged us all to share our experiences frankly, which was a boost for our own mental wellbeing as managers, as well as really enrichening the learning.

Through the day we covered the following key themes:

  • Organisational change and implementation
  • Post-pandemic reset
  • Support for individuals
  • Creating a culture that supports wellbeing
  • Tools and techniques

Some key takeaways to give you a flavour of the learning:

  • Right brain stress response is automatic and not under our conscious control
  • Stressors are different for each of us – don’t presume to know but ask and listen
  • We need human contact for wellbeing so the cumulative effect of the last year’s lockdowns should be recognised
  • It’s really important to find satisfying hobbies to down regulate stress – engaging but relaxing at the same time
  • Our body is where we hold emotions and experience stress – movement is very important for releasing this
  • If we live our lives permanently in strain, we will move to burnout
  • You can’t force yourself from burnout to performance mode – you need spells in recovery, and that’s the focus needed now after a year plus of living with the pandemic

As managers, we need to set the right kind of nurturing culture for our teams by embodying a healthy approach to mental wellbeing ourselves. We must look after ourselves before we can support others effectively so self-care was a touchpoint throughout the training. Regular breaks, fresh air and exercise are crucial for keeping ouselves mentally fit and well. We should recognise that our needs are biological, social and psychological, and look to see if they’re being met across this spectrum.

We also spent a fair amount of time discussing the importance of boundaries. We are there to encourage and support our teams, but not to parent them. We need to be clear about setting expectations and laying out the support available in our organsations. Ultimately, we’re there to empower team members to help themselves, not to try to diagnose or fix their problems ourselves. Regular one to ones are vital for being attuned to any changes that might signal someone is struggling with anxiety and stress. It is also very important to create a safe environment to help people overcome their barriers to opening up, so helpful conversations that involve careful listening are key.

Another very interesting and valuable section of the course focused on the difference between sympathy and empathy, with the latter being the more constructive goal.

Finally, we unpacked the six factors highlighted by the Health and Safety Executive as fundamental for getting right if you are to create a healthy working environment: the level of demand place on individuals, degree of autonomy experienced, support available, quality of working relationships, clarity on roles and boundaries, and recognising the impact of change.

We closed the day by coming full circle to where we started: mental wellbeing starts with us as individuals if we are to become effective managers in this crucial area. In Cathy’s words, I need to put my own oxygen mask on first, asking myself what I need to do to make sure I’m thriving, before I can help others do the same. Never stop asking ‘What’s OK, what isn’t OK?’, and always be sure to listen critically to others.

The CIPR’s next Mental Wellbeing at Work course will take place 7 September, 09:30-15:30. Click now for full details and to register: https://cipr.co.uk/CourseDetail?EventKey=MWW070921&TrainingCode=RE&TKey=1093515

Ruth Jackson is Chair of CIPR E Anglia and Communications Manager at Cambridge Enterprise, University of Cambridge. She received a free place on the course as a volunteer.

Wellbeing, resilience and delivering change

We co-hosted a cracking session on wellbeing, resilience and change with the Association of Project Management (APM) last week. This was a hands-on session with an opportunity for the 25 attendees to hear from change consultant and CIPR Fellow Jo Twiselton before splitting into groups to discuss recent experiences of managing the changes to our working lives since the start of the pandemic. The third in a series of webinars we’ve been running with the APM, this was another lively event with both CIPR and APM members benefitting from the shared learning and networking. Read CIPR E Anglia committee member Nic Wray’s blog post on the event:

The old saying is “there are no certainties in life, except death and taxes” but to that, I’ve always said there should be a third – change. As Take That sang, “Everything Changes.” Looking back at last year’s diary, I was catching a train to an event 170 miles away from home, my partner was flying to Berlin for his own meetings and today, those same gatherings are being held virtually, as offices are deserted, schools are closed, and hospitals at bursting point due to a virus only the most diligent of news followers had even heard of.

A pandemic is an extreme example of change thrust upon us. Any change out of our direct control can be uncomfortable at best, and actively harmful to our wellbeing at worst, and I’m sure we are all aware of people at various stages on that spectrum as they deal with the current situation. But what about changes we can control? How do we ensure the wellbeing of our organisation, teams and ourselves as we deliver change – large or small – in our professional lives?

Why do wellbeing and resilience matter?

This was the topic of the latest in the series of joint learning events hosted by CIPR East Anglia and the Association of Project Management (APM). Members of the two organisations from a wide range of industries and backgrounds came together to understand why wellbeing and resilience matter in any project involving change, how to help teams improve their wellbeing and resilience and how we can work together to build these qualities into teams.

Jo Twiselton (Twist Consultants) is a consultant specialising in change. She outlined definitions of wellbeing – which can flex from day to day – and resilience. Resilience isn’t just the ability to bounce back, but the capacity to adapt whilst maintaining stable mental wellbeing.  The Health and Safety Executive recognise that change is one of six key stressors and that the way change is managed can be a barrier – or enabler – to wellbeing.

Jo advocates for a people approach to change, and introduced us to Fisher’s Personal Transition Curve, which shows the stages someone goes through when faced with change – but everyone’s curve will be individual.

Jo then suggested some questions to consider at each level – organisational, team and individual – when delivering change, before we broke into smaller groups to discuss and share our own experiences and learning.

Sharing learning

This was a very valuable part of the evening – both in the small groups and when we came back together – because so many of the challenges of change regardless of role, or industry. It was good to acknowledge that even though wellbeing isn’t formally built into many change plans (yet – after the session, I think that will change!) that wellbeing and resilience activities are happening, and that people do think that they are important.

I know I can’t stop change – and that I may myself be responsible for introducing uncomfortable change for others.  However, I now feel more confident that by using my skills to deliver authentic, clear and compassionate communications and building wellbeing and resilience measures into my plans, any change can be implemented and managed effectively so that not only the needs of our organisation are met, but also those of our people.

Photo by Nothing Ahead from Pexels

Winning hearts and minds for a brand update – the critical role of internal communications

Cambridge Enterprise branded cake

By Ruth Jackson, Co-Lead for the CIPR East Anglia Best PRactice Conference 2020 and Communications Manager, Cambridge Enterprise. First published on LinkedIn Monday 25 November 2019: http://bit.ly/2qK0lOD

If you’re preparing for a brand launch for a SME – either a new brand from scratch or an update like the one I project-managed for Cambridge Enterprise recently – your big question will be: “What is the most critical factor for success?”. Pinning down your unique position in your marketplace, the spot where your brand can truly shine? Ensuring the brand persona speaks effectively to your customers? Or an outstanding design agency that will nail the creative aspect of your brand?

All those factors are key of course but, just as the most beautiful website in the world is redundant without a digital strategy to drive traffic to it, a brand that is not understood and loved by its own people is doomed to fail. Your shiny new marketing materials, seamlessly integrated to trumpet your new or refreshed identity, are flimsy façades without the support of your colleagues to adopt them in their interactions with customers. They’ll find reasons to go rogue with the PowerPoint template or forget to use that brand banner at an event, and they won’t be on message with customers.

A brand launch or update means change and change often meets with resistance. The less corporate and the more democratic the culture, the higher your chances of that happening. How can you counter this?

  1. No surprises: develop an internal communications campaign to run alongside the brand project. We used our monthly company meetings to introduce the project and its value, and we then kept them updated on progress; the process culminated in a brand launch at a company-wide meeting.
  2. Engage your internal influencers: ensure you get the support of key senior managers and stakeholders from the start. We created a small steering group  that served as both a safe testing ground for our early brand development work and as advocates for the project internally.
  3. No change, no gain: be very clear about how your brand launch or update will add value – if you’ve done your homework properly, it’ll link back to your company’s mission, vision and corporate objectives and therefore resonate well with your colleagues as well as your customers. At launch, we led with the message that, because we had done this homework, the updated brand would make it easier for our colleagues to do their job, by giving them integrated marketing materials that deliver the right messages clearly, coherently and consistently.
  4. Manage expectations: explain what resources are available, make sure your colleagues know how to get help and enlist their support. At launch, we went through the full list of what had been updated, provided FAQs and created a Brand Helpdesk email. We then made sure everything was available on a specially created ‘brand update’ page on our intranet.
  5. Don’t be too serious: add a couple of fun elements to the launch materials to help engage your colleagues’ support. We gave everyone their own brand pack that, alongside their new business cards and a ‘quick start’ brand guide, included a branded notebook and some stickers for use on laptops. We also celebrated the moment with a branded and very delicious cake!

As a result of following a rigorous process that was closely aligned to our business strategies as well as keeping a clear, constant eye on our internal communications, our colleagues have responded well to the launch and early customer feedback is positive. Do the same and you’ll arrive at launch day to discover that the battle to win the hearts and minds of your colleagues for your new or revised brand is already half won.