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.

Coronavirus: How can you best work remotely?

 

Ahead of any potential coronavirus outbreak restrictions, many organisations are making contingency plans to encourage staff to work from home. Thousands of people already do this on a regular or occasional basis, but what if it’s something you have never done before?

Nic Wray – who has worked remotely for the charity the British Tinnitus Association for the last five years – gives her top tips for not just surviving, but thriving if you unexpectedly get thrust into this situation.

  1. Get organised

Now is probably a good time to make sure that you have all that you need to be able to work from home – a laptop might only be the start of it. What about printing? Access to shared files? What’s your WiFi router password?

A separate workspace is going to be more important too, so that you can easily start – and end – your day. Don’t under-estimate the power of closing a door on your work. A discrete space with a desk and office chair, if you can manage it, will also be better for you – dining chairs or sofas are great for the odd day, but will get uncomfortable for longer periods.

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  1. Set realistic goals

A lot of people say “I get so much more done when I work from home” and that may well be the case for you. But be realistic with what you can achieve. You don’t have to demonstrate you’re superhuman, churning out work non-stop, to prove yourself just because you’re out of sight.

Make sure your goals are clear and devise a plan to achieve them, but follow the tempo of your office-based work where you can.

  1. Respect your work/life balance

It can be really difficult when working from home to switch off, especially if your laptop and phone are always on hand. This for me is a harder problem than ignoring other distractions, such as the lure of daytime TV, loading the dishwasher or making endless cups of tea. Try to stick to your usual office start and finish times and take a proper break in the middle of the day. A 20 minute breathing space on the sofa feels luxurious and you can return to work cheerfully.

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  1. Look after your well-being

As well as making sure your work space is comfortable, make sure you’re looking after your mental and physical wellbeing. Unless you are having to self-isolate, get out of the house every day – in daylight – even if it’s just a walk around the block. Working from home is a great opportunity to have something other than a sandwich for lunch, too.

One of the drawbacks of working from home is the lack of opportunity to have a bit of social chitchat or support from colleagues. The little things really do mean a lot – the offer of tea, a shared smile when a task is signed off, even the accountant’s bad jokes. If you can, make sure you have more interaction with friends and family, or find a local meet up. If social time is restricted due to quarantine or self-isolation, make sure you spend at least a little time every day doing something you love (that’s not your job).

  1. Communicate

Set expectations now for how to communicate, and when you check in with your team and line managers. There’s no hard and fast rules here, it’s working out what feels comfortable and realistic.

Although I use email a lot, as does everyone, I probably use the phone more than when I was office based – it helps keep the feeling of connection with the team, but it also helps with my mental well-being too.

And finally, one top tip from my friend Liz Dexter of LibroEditing, who also works from home gave me when I started working remotely – wash up and reuse your mug! Do not use all the mugs in the house…

What would be your top tips for a new homeworker? Have you got any advice to become more effective when working remotely?

 

For more information on handling communication around coronavirus in your organisation, see the Local Public Services Communications advice here and check out Stephen Waddington’s latest blog on Influence.

Photo by Agnieszka Boeske  and Madison Nickel on Unsplash