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.