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

When the black dog bites

This week (18-24 May) has been designated as Mental Health Week and – now more than ever – we’re aware of the importance of maintaining mental health, and recognising when we, or others, may be struggling.

The last CIPR State of the Profession survey revealed that 21% of public relations practitioners live with, or have previously lived with, a diagnosed mental health condition. Over half of those respondents said their work contributes highly to their diagnosis.

CIPR member Nic Wray shares some of the tips she has learned from her own experience with anxiety and depression.

As someone who has overcome serious mental health issues in the past and is ever-vigilant (not always successfully) for signs that my wellbeing is slipping, here’s some of the tips and techniques I’ve used over the last three decades to keep (mostly) happy and healthy.

Stay connected. When you’re feeling less than chipper, it’s tempting to become a hermit, and the current situation makes it very easy to avoid people. Reaching out doesn’t have to be a three hour Zoom call with all your extended family – it can be as easy as sending someone a funny meme, or a short text. Reading Twitter definitely counts, as long as you’ve curated your feed wisely. Mute and block, mute and block…

Talk about your worries. This can be the scary one. If you’re like me, there will lots of negative self-talk going on in the vein of “what makes my problems so important?” and “they’re going to think I’m a drama queen” but honestly, most people will be happy to listen. If it’s easier, when you start talking, say whether you just want to vent or whether you’re looking to bounce solutions around. If you really can’t face talking to someone you know, helplines do fantastic work. Samaritans is the best known, but CALM (for young men) and Mind are great, too.

Help others. When we can’t be kind to ourselves, we can generally be kind to other people, giving them our time, our support or our skills. Even at my lowest, I was able to volunteer for a couple of community groups. This was great not only for taking me out of myself, but building up my self-esteem and self-worth. What you do doesn’t have to be big – sharing a charity ask on social media, or checking on a neighbour are valuable too.

Get the right fuel. Some days this might mean a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, but that’s only a short term fix. Our physical health can have a big impact on how we feel, so I’m afraid the usual “healthy living” advice applies: well-balanced meals, drinking enough water, avoiding smoking and drugs, not drinking too much alcohol. But you don’t have to make too much effort –a tin of spaghetti hoops on wholemeal toast is healthy and even one of your “five a day”, apparently. Fruit juice, (bought) smoothies, soup or cereal are my go-tos when I’m down as they are low effort, and reasonably nutritious.

The E word. When you can barely lift your head from your pillow, the thought of exercise isn’t enticing. It’s not high on the list of fun things for me to do when I’m feeling fine to be honest, but I do know that a walk always makes me feel better. Especially when I really don’t want to go for one. The key here is finding an activity you enjoy, so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. My walking is usually combined with the online “treasure hunt” that is geocaching, to give me a goal to take a few more steps. Yoga is another favourite, although I usually go for the seated variety these days.

Get creative for fun. As communications and PR people, we’re used to conjuring up words, ideas or visuals on demand and to a deadline. And that does sometimes suck the joy out of creativity. I tend to choose an activity that switches the active part of my brain off, and I pick up something I can do effortlessly, leaving me free to focus mindfully on sensations such as touch, colour or repeated movements. I get this fulfilment through needles and thread or yarn, or by working in my garden, but activities such as baking, colouring in, completing jigsaws, building lego are other things to try.

Raindrops on roses. I probably spent too many rainy days as a child watching musicals on TV because both Maria in The Sound of Music and Anna in The King and I sang when they were afraid, and so do I. I sing incredibly badly, and sometimes I don’t even sing out loud, but mime theatrically. It’s impossible to cry while you are belting out your favourite upbeat numbers after the first few bars. A little dance is optional, but it ticks off something else on this list!

Professional help. There are times when you have to take stock and realise that you might need a little extra support, and the situation isn’t something you can deal with yourself. This is where the professionals come in. Your GP is the gatekeeper to NHS services and can prescribe medication to help you sleep or help your mood. Your employer may well have counselling provision available if you have an Employee Assistance Programme, and for CIPR members, the iprovision mental health hotline is available at no cost 24/7, 365 days a year.

The iprovision hotline is found here (you’ll need to log into your CIPR account).

More details about support via iprovision can be found here.