At last, it’s becoming the norm for personal wellbeing to be considered important in the workplace. When we think about how much our personal lives can affect us at work and our ability to perform well, it seems incredulous that staff wellbeing has previously been so far down the agenda. The pandemic forced this to change for many organisations, as physical and mental health were impacted across the world. Wellbeing policies were refined and rolled out, and there was an acute focus on looking after staff, offering support where needed.
And yet, CIPD’s latest report on Health & Wellbeing at Work (published in April 2022) says that while “organisations are clearly still committed to supporting their people, evidence suggests that activity in this area is starting to slip, and a more holistic approach – based on the health risks and needs of the workforce – is needed.” More recently, the results of a of a 4-day working week trial in the UK have come back showing (surprise, surprise) a 71% drop in burnout with a shorter working week. Sick days went down by 65% and revenue up by 1.4% on average. 92% of firms who took part say they’ll continue the 4-day week after the trial.
Everything we know points to better results from happier, healthier workers. However, many managers that we meet on our training programmes find these conversations difficult. Whilst they want to help, they can also feel awkward and fearful of saying the wrong thing. In doing so, they may avoid conversations about wellbeing, even when they know this is impacting on someone’s ability to do their job well. In the not-for-profit sectors we work with, there can also be a reluctance to admit wellbeing issues at work – especially where the work is tough, confronting and involves working with communities who are suffering from harm in some way. So at ground level, what can you do as a manager, to make talking wellbeing easier, more comfortable and more productive?
Managers need to be proactive, and spot problems before they escalate. Before starting a wellbeing conversation with a team member, take some time to think about how they have been at work recently. Are there any observable changes that you can see that would indicate there’s a problem?
Any one of these could be attributed to a struggle going on behind the work façade for this person – or not – the point is to collect information and then check-in. It’s a good idea to make sure your observations are not assumptions before you talk to the person. If you can’t describe what actually happened without adding your opinion, it’s probably an assumption. What are the facts? What have you noticed?
In order to understand how a person’s wellbeing is, we need to consider their life outside of work. If you don’t know anything about their non-work time how can you understand and support their needs at work? We are all affected by different elements in our lives, some are energising, some are draining. A lot of them have nothing to do with work, but still impact on it. In the same way work can impact our home life. Use our Check your Batteries tool to give you a snapshot of the whole picture. Use it to work out whether you have a ‘full charge’ in each of eight key energy areas that are identified as keeping us fulfilled in life, and encourage your colleague to do the same. If they are unhappy or under pressure in any of these areas it will undermine their ability to be think clearly, be proactive and make good choices. Ask your colleague to complete the battery check to assess which areas are doing well and which need more attention. Offer support with this, find ways to adjust work to help. For example, if your colleague needs more breaks in the day to get some air and exercise, can you adjust their working hours? Small changes like this can have a huge impact.
Your job as a manager is to open the door and create a safe space for conversation. Checking in is an offer – you can’t require someone to share their personal and private life with you. It’s really important to respect boundaries with your colleague – theirs and yours. You’re not having this conversation to be nosy, you’re doing it to find out how you can support them to do their job. You might be the right person to help or you might need to find them support externally. There are lots of options, and you could help them to source the right support, whether through a specialist coach, occupational health, citizens advice, mental health charities, NHS services, or counselling services).
Remember to look after yourself in all of this, take time to reflect on your own behaviour and energy levels. You also have boundaries that need to be respected. You can role model this by discussing your own approach to wellbeing, without delving into your personal stories or oversharing.
If you’ve found this blog helpful and would like to find out more about how we can help managers to support their teams, get in touch online or call us on 020 7978 1516.