When we talk about ‘wellbeing’, it’s important firstly to think of wellbeing in its broadest possible sense, rather than mental health specifically.
Whilst the terms are not synonymous, we know concerns about mental health might feel especially uncomfortable for many managers, and it can certainly be tough to know what to do or say when someone in your team is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
Supporting a staff member who is experiencing symptoms of mental health issues at work can make an enormous difference to their recovery.
What are the signs that someone’s wellbeing may be off balance?
Wellbeing is a broad term that implies a subtle balancing act between an individual's social, emotional, psychological and physical assets (resources) available to them and the particular social, emotional, psychological and physical liabilities (challenges) they are facing in life and work at any one time. When an individual’s challenges are out of kilter with the resources they have available to them, his/her wellbeing will suffer.
Given wellbeing’s inherent breadth, managers need to have their eyes and ears open. The signs of someone being out of kilter can be vast and varied, and not all of them easy to spot.
Our Wellbeing Framework can be used to help increase managers’ own knowledge about wellbeing and awareness of the different drivers of wellbeing. It’s also a prompt to take a sufficiently wide perspective when thinking about what wellbeing looks like for different team members, times or contexts.
Practise what you (want to) preach
The first thing that we would stress is to ‘put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help others’.
Prioritising your own wellbeing as a leader helps create a culture where wellbeing is a legitimate and valued focus for the team.
Here are some constructive and appropriate ways to be a positive influencer and role model:
- Knowing what you need to energise, sustain and look after yourself
- Operating with the discipline and habits aligned to these needs
- Embedding positive wellbeing behaviours such as:
• taking breaks,
• limiting meeting hours,
• upholding reasonable working hours,
• exercising regularly,
• disconnecting when on leave,
• and demonstrating vulnerability rather than stoicism.
How does a manager assist without being intrusive?
Here are eight guidelines to help strike the right balance between being supportive and accountable without being intrusive:
1. Educate your staff about wellbeing in the workplace. Talk about the links between wellbeing, satisfaction, happiness and performance with your team. Encourage each team member to find and sign up to a different news feed on wellbeing, and each person to share tips.
2. Communicate regularly with your team about their wellbeing. Include check-ins about wellbeing in team and 1-to -1 meetings; talk openly about wellbeing at work and encourage others to do the same. Instigate an ‘RU OK?’ buddy system and include check-ins at team meetings. Encourage positive talk to build optimism and a sense of perspective to help with stress.
3. Build a culture of inclusion and psychological safety that enables team members to openly share their ideas, concerns and challenges – with no stigma attached to wellbeing issues. Promote understanding, acceptance and normalising of individual differences in wellbeing i.e. everyone can do things in a different way and that’s OK.
4. Recognise and avoid subtle and indirect drains on the wellbeing of others such as unmanageable workloads, expectations or encouragement to take on more, and tacit or explicit approval of those who do.
5. Encourage team members to proactively manage their energy and pace. Ban ‘busy talk’ and replace with a focus on energy and outcomes. Explore and agree clear respectful expectations of communications and responsiveness (eg after hours) with the team and stick to them. Introduce ‘pause and stop’ moments and ‘downtimes’ during the day, week and month. Proactively promote social connection and fun within your team.
6. Improve work design by addressing potential workplace wellbeing detractors. Influence peers and senior stakeholders as required to promote changes to wellbeing goals, processes and practices. Promote responsible flexible work practices to enable team members to meet their wellbeing needs.
7. Raise specific wellbeing concerns with a team member in private, without forcing or shaming, without offering advice or helpful hints, without judging and without monitoring it as you would a performance issue. Remember, your colleague may already feel uncomfortable, despite any joking or self-deprecation - so be sensitive, empathic and thoughtful. Speak about health, wellbeing and your feelings of concern, and that you are speaking to them because you care about and respect them. Period.
8. Work with your team to develop a wellbeing plan – encourage and reward positive wellbeing actions in the team - and talk to us about using the fabulous GLWS Team Report :)
As one senior leader put it to me recently:
A wellbeing strategy, policy and processes can all help nudge wellbeing in the right direction, but you can’t legislate improved wellbeing in an organisation – it takes real leaders to get behind the idea, to bring the human touch and understanding, to tailor to each business, team and individual’s needs – you can have all the policies in the world, but if the leaders don’t get it and aren’t behind it 100 per cent, it’s going nowhere.
Wise words. Wellbeing is truly a collaborative effort and thrives best in welcoming and empathic workplaces.
Audrey McGibbon is a psychologist and executive coach.