Wellbeing at work is an area that has leapfrogged to the top of the priority list for many companies, and will most likely hold this coveted position for many years to come. While this is great, something that many of us have been pushing for, it comes with its own set of challenges – how do we break down the barriers to let wellbeing ‘in’, overcoming many of the stigmas that are associated with it so that our employees (and businesses) reap the benefits?
To answer this question, let me share with you a story of how one company has been tackling this challenge, and then share some actions for you to consider at your company.
The company is Fair Ways, a charity-owned children’s service provider in the south of England that provides a broad range of services to vulnerable young people in care. And the story begins when Harriett Whitren-Jones, Head of HR, joined in April 2020 with a mission of bringing wellbeing to life.
“Fair Ways aspires to have employees that are healthy and engaged to ensure they remain in their best self at work. It is more important than ever that we provide our employees with an environment that encourages and enables healthy lives so they can make choices that support positive wellbeing, and can thrive inside and outside of work. We’ve developed a wellbeing framework that goes beyond the legal standards, striving to provide our employees with the tools, knowledge and surroundings to make improvements to their own health and wellbeing, in turn, helping them to take the benefits to our service users and into the wider community” says Whitren-Jones.
“We wanted to move to a proactive approach to wellbeing, not just focussing on fixing problems but raising awareness and giving our employees the tools to address them before the pieces have to be picked up. We wanted to ensure that culturally wellbeing became a part of who we are and how we talk in our everyday language and lives, reducing the stigma of mental health.”
And given the critical services that they provide, which have only increased in volume and impact during the pandemic, this mission and this approach is absolutely essential to support the people who provide so much support themselves.
They started on their journey by introducing a program called "Be your best self", which brings together and links all of the elements of wellbeing in a holistic and meaningful way. Here are a few elements of the programme:
Community platform – Fair Ways have created a community platform to bring people together in a variety of ways that create that sense of belonging and support that is so critical from a wellbeing perspective. From book clubs, to webinars, to nutritional advice to exercise classes, they’re constantly looking for ways to help employees build strength and resiliency through community activities.
Training – A key element of their proactive approach is through training, giving their workforce the awareness and tools to help them know what to do and where to go for additional help and support. They’ve done this extensively with these three groups:
Mental health first aiders – they’ve trained 27 mental health first aiders as a way to bring more knowledge and support across the organisation.
Management – they’ve put every employee with line management responsibility through a half day training session with MHFA UK as they felt it was critical that their managers have the knowledge and tools to recognise and support their team’s mental wellbeing.
Employees – and finally, in order to touch every employee with this important topic, they invited an external wellbeing practitioner to attend all team meetings to promote positive mental wellbeing and help employees understand how to support themselves and others through a variety of tools and techniques.
Therapists – Fair Ways directly employs a broad range of therapeutic and clinical professionals for the young people they support, which staff can access as well. These services include restorative group supervision, music therapy, CBT, family therapy and more.
Friday Show – Adding a bit of levity to their wellbeing approach, they’ve introduced something called “The Friday Show” which two of their employees run for an hour every Friday afternoon for employees and families. They do fun activities such as quizzes, go grab rounds, and talent shows together to include and support one another.
Wellbeing Hampers – In early 2021 they sent packages to their employees as a way to support their wellbeing and to thank them for all of their hard work during these challenging times. The packages were done in-house and contained a variety of lovely to support their self care and wellbeing, from bath salts, to face masks, to love heart sweets, to sleep spray. In addition, it contained a letter from their COO to thank them and their families, and to remind them to look after themselves.
It’s still early days in their wellbeing journey, but they’ve already found that employees are talking more openly and are engaging with the programme, showing that they’re on their way to achieve their mission. “Wellbeing is becoming a part of our culture, of who we are, what we represent, and where we want to be, bleeding through into everything we do – we really do ‘put people before profit’” said Whitren-Jones
As you can see, even a company like Fair Ways, where their workforce deals with mental health on a daily basis, has barriers to break down when it comes to wellbeing. They’ve shared some great ways they’re doing it, and here are some additional tips, or what I call the 3 A’s, that will help you get that sledgehammer out and start breaking down the barriers at your company:
It all starts with awareness, helping employees be self-aware so they can recognise their own symptoms before they become a problem. At Fair Ways, this is a big part of their proactive approach, putting in place programmes to make sure that the “walls” are not built in the first place.
This can, as I’m sure you’ve seen, be a challenge as you’ll first need your employees to take that first step, because, as the expression goes “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink it”. The more you can do to make the ‘water’ so enticing over and over again that they want and need to drink it, the better chance you have for them to take that first step and take a ‘sip’.
Once you have the initial awareness, just as important is the availability. Think of it like entering a maze – the awareness encourages you to enter it, but if sources of help and support are not available you’ll face walls and obstacles that make you stuck in one place, unable to escape the maze (your challenges).
At Fair Ways they implemented a holistic approach to the sources of help and support provided, in both serious and fun ways, meeting the differing needs and situations faced by their workforce. They also make the sources available in easy and engaging ways, which is equally important.
And finally, and going back to the maze scenario, if your employees are going to get through it, it’s not just the support from physical aides mentioned in the previous point, but the emotional support and assistance. Think of it like your personal cheerleaders, encouraging you to move past your challenges, listening to you, pointing you back to tools available, and being there until you get through the maze or at least make an important step forward in the process.
Fair Ways are doing this by ensuring they have a variety of assistance mechanisms through well-trained managers, therapists and mental health first aiders. With such an extensive team, they’re assisting the varying and changing needs of their workforce.
I encourage you to think through and plan against these 3 A’s, taking inspiration from the approach that Fair Ways has adopted in their wellbeing journey. By doing this you can break down the barriers of wellbeing, building a strong and more resilient workforce and organization.
This blog was first published on HRD Connect.