Christmas stocking

A seasonal message from Sam

Both in the UK and globally, 2019 has seen wellbeing in the workplace continue to be recognised as both a strategic and human priority. And here at The Wellbeing Project we’ve been hard at work building awareness and driving change for our incredible clients and partners.

Here are just a few highlights.

Creating a world where everyone lives well at work

From its launch last year, Wraw has gone from strength to strength. Our network of accredited practitioners has spread across the UK. And we have worked with organisations around the world – from Canada to Singapore – to develop the resilience and wellbeing of their people.

To spread the word, we made a short video about Wraw. Watch it here.

Fresh thinking

The Madworld Summit aims to bring fresh thinking to mental health in the workplace. One of our business psychologists, Sarah Thum-Bonnano, was invited to feature in their TechTalks. She shared how Wraw is bringing a data-driven approach to supporting mental health and wellbeing.

Embedding best practice

This year, our friends at St. John’s Ambulance brought together industry-leaders for their Embedding Mental Health Best Practice conferences. I was delighted to be invited to moderate panel discussions and meet the delegates. I’ll be joining them again in February in Birmingham and I’d love to see you there. Find out more here.

Awards

For over 10 years, The Wellbeing Project has been working to support workplace wellbeing and resilience. This year, the Business Elite Awards recognised our work as were named the UK’s leading business resilience service. A big thank you to all our clients we’ve been lucky enough work with over the years.

Sharing big ideas

Over the course of the year, we’ve met people from pretty much every industry and sector who care about supporting the wellbeing of their people. In October we joined the PM Forum to talk about the Mindful Business Charter and how the professional and financial services sectors are promoting healthy high performance. We were inspired to hear how leading financial institutions are committing to workplace wellbeing.

New year, new ideas

Our aim is to always be at the cutting-edge of wellbeing and resilience development and there’s a huge amount in store for us in the new year. Here’s a taste of some exciting things to come:

  • Wraw Spark, a digital wellbeing assessment and development platform
  • A new coaching model to develop wellbeing and resilience
  • Data-driven strategy and planning with Wraw

And to finish…

….I’d like to take this chance to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year.

Financial Wellbeing & Employee Engagement

Money is often at the forefront of our minds, influencing our thoughts, moods and everyday decisions, yet we generally prefer to keep quiet about it. Our financial circumstances can be a huge source of personal stress, and are often so closely linked to our identity and sense of status that they can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment if we think they are anything less than perfect. Clearly, money is a highly emotionally-charged subject, and this results in a reluctance to talk about it altogether.

With this in mind, it perhaps isn’t surprising that many workplace wellbeing initiatives fail to incorporate any element of financial wellbeing into their programmes. But this is an extremely important area to address, with countless statistics demonstrating the far-reaching impact it can have on both employee wellbeing and engagement.

 

How is engagement impacted?

Across different organisational levels, age groups and salaries, the specific roots of money worries may differ, but the resulting harmful effects are much the same.

Stress due to finances is distracting at best and all-consuming at times—consider serious worries about debt, for example. It is not surprising, therefore, that money concerns have been found to detract from employees’ performance. Financial worries also cause sleep problems and can even lead to mental illness, both of which further inhibit employees’ ability to work effectively. Individuals plagued by money stress are likely to struggle to concentrate, make effective decisions and work efficiently, and are more at risk of making mistakes.

Neyber’s report ‘The DNA of Financial Wellbeing’ revealed that almost half of employees feel that financial pressures are impacting their job performance. However, around half of organisations do not consider the financial wellbeing of their employees their responsibility. It seems clear, though, that paying attention to this aspect of staff wellbeing is beneficial at both the individual and organisational level.

Looking ahead, a new challenge for financial wellbeing and employee engagement is likely to arise too. A recent report by the Pensions Policy Institute suggests that up to 12 million individuals in the UK may currently be under-saving for retirement. Whilst many people express a desire to keep working during later life, those who are unwillingly forced to work due to lack of sufficient pension funds are likely to be unengaged and unmotivated—and this will be detrimental to productivity.

 

What can be done?

Financial wellbeing is not just about giving someone a pay rise or promotion. A large part of improving financial wellbeing is education—equipping people with the knowledge and understanding they need in order to feel confident and in control of their finances, whatever their situation. It is about providing people with the support they need to manage their money, and the opportunity to learn about how they could do this more effectively.

Another common misunderstanding about financial wellbeing training is that it involves telling people exactly what to do with their money. This is not the case either; it is more about raising awareness so that individuals understand what is best for them and can make their own, well-informed financial decisions. Many employees, for example, are simply not aware that making the minimum pension contributions alone is unlikely to provide them with the funds they would like for retirement.

 

Is financial wellbeing training worthwhile?

When employees feel less pressure from money worries and more in control of their finances, they are not only able to be more present and focused at work, but are also likely to be more motivated as they feel that their employer cares about their wellbeing.

An additional positive outcome of offering such training in the workplace is that it opens up a wider conversation around money and finances—a topic that currently is often treated as taboo. And the more freely people can talk about it, the less it plays on their minds and consumes their thoughts, making the whole subject altogether less intimidating.

 

Find out about how The Wellbeing Project can help to support your employees’ financial wellbeing here.

When Employee Benefits Hurt Wellbeing

Have you ever considered whether your employee benefits truly are benefits? Whilst it may sound counter-intuitive, some benefits really do not live up to their name, in reality being far more harmful than beneficial to employees.

An increasing number of organisations are offering seemingly impressive options to their workers, such as free meals at the office, a company account to order food deliveries after 6pm, and taxis home for late evening journeys.

But ‘benefits’ such as these reinforce the underlying expectation that employees should need them, and therefore should frequently be working long hours, kept away from their home lives and happy to carry on working as long as they are catered for. Well-meaning or not, providing dinner and a taxi home is no substitute for healthy working hours and time away from the office, yet somehow it is dressed as an office perk.

Research points to workplace culture as being the biggest obstacle to employee wellbeing, and this is no surprise when even schemes put in place to benefit workers can have the opposite effect in the long run.

Even things like meditation or yoga classes provided to employees can backfire if not promoted carefully and with the right message – is the organisation suggesting that if employees are doing their jobs well, they should expect to be stressed and to require help to alleviate this? Or are some employees feeling so pressured to take part in a ‘wellness’ activity that is simply not the right fit for them that it is actually adding to their stress levels?

Whilst there is no easy solution, there are a couple of questions that can help you to evaluate your employee benefits in this respect, whether existing or new ideas.

  • Is there an ulterior motive underlying this ‘benefit’? (e.g. provisions for late nights in the office to encourage long working days)
  • Might it seem like there is an ulterior motive to employees, even if that was not the intention?

If the answer is yes to the first question, then it isn’t a benefit and it is unlikely to have any positive impact on employees or the business long-term. If the answer to the second is yes, then it will be important to consider exactly how this benefit is introduced and positioned to employees to ensure that it is seen in a positive light.

If in doubt, start with the basics. Elaborate benefits are only going to do so much if employees are struggling with excessive working hours, a toxic culture and poor pay. Giving people choices in a wellness programme is also advisable; wellbeing is personal, and what helps one person will not necessarily help another.

In a time of both growing interest in organisational wellbeing programmes and yet also increasing workplace stress levels, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of the true purpose of these sorts of interventions, and miss out on the potential real benefits to both employees and organisations if done correctly.

Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here.

Wellbeing And Remote Working

Earlier this year, we talked about the importance of role-modelling healthy behaviours in facilitating a culture of wellbeing. At both a team and an organisational level, the influence of culture on employee wellbeing should not be underestimated – yet is often overlooked. Placing the onus solely on individuals to take care of their own wellbeing will only go so far; research has found that employees also need to be operating in a culture of wellbeing to support them and make their efforts sustainable. But how can such a culture be created and sustained when some or all employees work remotely?

Communication is Key

A great deal boils down to communication: both how and when employees communicate with each other, and the sorts of conversations that are encouraged.

Instant messaging – Remote workers can’t just lean across a desk and ask a question to their manager, or run an idea by a colleague in a coffee break. Instant messaging can be a real help in breaking down these sorts of communication barriers. For those quick questions or requests that don’t seem to warrant a phone conversation, the ability to fire over a quick message can be the ideal solution.

Non-work chat – Without the opportunity to spend time together in a lunch break or after work, relationships between colleagues can become solely focused on work tasks and lose any personal touch. Remembering to take a minute at the end of a call to ask a colleague about their weekend plans, for example, can make all the difference to how someone feels.

Make expectations clear – Especially if you have employees with different working patterns within your organisation or team, set clear expectations for when employees are and are not expected to respond to emails. Being isolated from each other can lead to individuals feeling great pressure to respond and appear to be working hard enough, but something as simple as setting (and sticking to) guidelines can really help to alleviate this.

Regular team check-ins – In the absence of everyday face to face contact, it can help to schedule more regular catch-ups than you might have in a typical office environment. Team video calls can be a great way to keep spirits up and foster relationships between employees who may be many miles apart. Try to always bring some positivity to these calls by asking each team member to talk about what is going well for them at work, rather than focusing only on problems.

Constructive and regular feedback – Remember to recognise great work and celebrate employees’ accomplishments, as well as providing supportive feedback when things are not going so well.

Bring people together – Every now and then, arrange a whole team get-together where employees can meet and get to know not just their own close colleagues but those from across the organisation. These don’t need to be frequent to be effective; even just a couple of times a year can make all the difference.

Culture Must be Led by Senior Management

To be successfully embedded and sustained, the above suggestions still need to stem from and be role-modelled by the senior leadership of an organisation. Ensuring that employees feel connected to leaders and up to date about the organisation is also crucial in order for them to maintain a sense of purpose. Establishing a shared purpose within teams will help to maintain this, as well as communicating the business focus or strategy through regular company updates.

Senior management also need to take the lead on things like allowing employees sufficient autonomy and trust, and fostering a no-blame culture that provides psychological safety, therefore enabling individuals to have the confidence to step forward and put themselves ‘out there’. These are just some of the areas that can be diluted when employees work remotely, with less face to face contact or centralisation of communication, systems and processes.

These have just been a handful of ways to foster a culture that will support employees’ wellbeing. None of them are particularly complex or challenging, yet often very little thought is given to them. It can take time to embed changes such as these, especially if they require new technology, but soon enough the benefits will become clear in the form of happier, more resilient and productive employees.

 

To further support your employees, find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops and resources here.

CEO Monthly Magazine Feature

The Wellbeing Project has been awarded the CEO Monthly Elite Business Award for the UK’s Leading Business Resilience Services 2019, in recognition of our excellence in design and delivery of training, coaching and support within a business, embracing personal, team and workplace resilience.

Our CEO and Founder, Sam Fuller, is featured in the June issue of CEO Magazine, offering her thoughts on employee wellbeing as a long-term driver of business success.

https://www.ceo-review.com/issues/issue-6-2019/8/

 

Working With Focus

Most people would probably agree that they would like to be able to work with more focus. After all, when we’re focused, we are able to be more efficient and therefore productive, we are less likely to make mistakes, we can really immerse ourselves in the tasks we enjoy, and time even goes faster for those inevitable jobs that we’d really rather not have on our to-do list.

Yet it’s very common to spend a day flitting between different projects and emails, making gradual progress on various things but not really giving our full attention to any one task. To some, this may feel busy and productive; to others, it can feel hectic and out of control, but either way, it certainly isn’t doing our performance or our wellbeing any favours.

If you think you could benefit from bringing greater focus to your working day, consider how you could implement some of the following simple tactics:

Build breaks into your day – We all know that it’s good for us, but how many people actually take regular breaks? Aim to take at least one short break in the morning and one in the afternoon, scheduling these into your calendar so that the time doesn’t get eaten up by something else. Ideally, use these times to get up and move, have a healthy snack and a drink, and do something to take your mind off of work, such as catching up with a colleague or reading a book.

Allocate time for creative tasks – For those tasks that require creative thinking, block out chunks of time when you can get these done and really get into a state of ‘flow’. See if you can actually remove the distraction of emails during these times. If this doesn’t feel possible, take a moment to consider what you might happen if you did this. The time is being well spent working on a task that requires focus. Consider making it easier to temporarily disconnect by making use of the Out of Office function in your email/voicemail and proactively advising close colleagues that you’ll be temporarily ‘hands-on’ dealing with another task. It also can help to think about whether one particular day of the week tends to be quieter than the others; such a day would be ideal for creative tasks.

Set aside daily time for small odd jobs and admin – Along a similar line, allocate specific time to smaller jobs and admin-related tasks, to keep these under control and prevent them from impinging on the rest of your day. Dealing with non-urgent emails should come under this category too.

Make your schedule work for you – Tailor your working day so that your most cognitively-demanding tasks are at the best time for you. If you aren’t sure when this is, start keeping track of what time of day you tend to be most and least able to concentrate, and you should be able to identify a pattern to work with.

Stick to your working hours – In the age of flexible working, this may not be a traditional 9-5 day, but whatever your hours are, do your best to stick to them. There will always be exceptions when you need to do a little extra to meet a tight deadline, but keep them as just that—exceptions. If you are consistently working too much, your ability to focus will be hampered, making you more likely to make mistakes, to work slower and, ultimately, to burn out.

Some of these ideas may seem straightforward and yet, at one point or another, most of us could do with a reminder. It’s all too common to have the best intentions of concentrating on one particular thing, only to be distracted by an email or phone call, get caught up in other resulting tasks and find that suddenly, hours have gone by with no progress made on the original project.

If this rings true for you, start with just one of the above tactics and make it a priority every day. Try to avoid becoming frustrated with yourself if you do get side-tracked during a period of focus; changing the way you work takes time. Do whatever you need to do to minimise possible distractions and, with a bit of practice, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of focusing on one thing at a time: feeling calmer and more in control, greater satisfaction with your work, improved performance and productivity, and feeling prepared for whatever comes your way.

Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here

The Cost Of Body Image To Mental And Financial Wellbeing

When employers look to identify the drivers behind staff-related pressures, they naturally focus on workloads, team dynamics and perhaps even harassment.  They appreciate that difficulties at home, such as relationships, bereavements and other problems, will affect how an employee feels at work, but we rarely see them considering body image as a drainer for wellbeing. Yet last year alone, one in three adults said they were so stressed about their body image that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope.

So how exactly do body image concerns relate to wellbeing at work?

Body image concerns can affect people of all ages and have a direct impact on their mental and financial wellbeing. There is often a perceived or real expectation of how someone should look and dress, both at work and socially within friendship groups, creating significant pressure to fit the mould. Social media constantly reminds individuals of how they ‘should’ look and dress, leading to spiralling anxiety levels and plummeting self-esteem, as people try to keep up with trends and changes. In women, research has even identified a link between body image issues and career aspirations and confidence.

Furthermore, concerns over body image can lead to financial hardship and debt, as individuals overspend on items to build and enhance body confidence, with clothes, make-up and material items used to boost this perception. ‘Fast fashion’ has introduced a rise in throwaway items and the need to replenish them constantly with new brands, colours and shapes. We have seen employees’ clothing/accessory purchasing patterns change, with people now filling their online baskets and pressing ‘buy’ at one minute past midnight on payday. Clothes, aesthetic treatments and even gym memberships may come before food, reflected in the often higher uptake of free fruit or subsidised meals at work towards the end of a month.

This high and fast spend on ‘personal’ items fits with rising concerns over body image. Obviously, not all financial burdens are related to image-conscious purchasing, but this is a more significant factor than meets the eye.

What can employers do to help?

Whilst wellbeing support is now on the radar for many organisations, many offerings remain quite narrow. Financial wellbeing, for example, is often overlooked or not seen as relevant to the workplace, but its impact is so far-reaching that this is absolutely not the case. The promising news is that areas such as this can be greatly improved simply by providing appropriate training to employees.

Enabling individuals to develop and build their own resilience and wellbeing is key to how they respond to rising worries and pressures, such as those around body image. Put simply, those employers who embrace this approach will reap the rewards, with a workforce that is more engaged, connected, happy and focused.

Find out about how The Wellbeing Project can help to support your employees’ mental and financial wellbeing here.

Psychological Safety and Mental Health

Psychological safety – the shared feeling that it is safe to show one’s true self and to take risks in a group – is considered to be a crucial ingredient of team performance. It was even identified as the most important factor in high performing teams by Google’s ‘Project Aristotle’ research, underpinning all other factors. It is also a concept closely interwoven with resilience and wellbeing, laying the grounds for trusting, supportive relationships amongst colleagues.

One area less often focused on is the importance of psychological safety for employees to feel comfortable in raising mental health concerns at work.

The decision of whether or not to reveal a personal mental health issue in the workplace is not an easy one. Whilst some may decide against it based on factors stemming from their own personality, beliefs or preferences, those who do want to share should not have to feel like their choice is risky. To allow this, employers need to foster cultures in which individuals feel supported to talk about mental health openly, without fear of judgement or other negative consequences—in other words, psychologically safe cultures.

Whilst widely talked about, psychological safety does not yet seem to be common in practice. Recent research identified that over 50% of employees in global organisations have felt psychologically unsafe at work. Below are some key considerations for managers who want to increase the overall psychological safety in their team(s):

  • Demonstrate trust in team members – for example, giving people more autonomy in their roles.
  • Own your mistakes, and encourage team members to do the same. Focus not on blame – no one deserves to be embarrassed or punished – but turn them into learning experiences that the whole group can benefit from.
  • Promote honest, open feedback in all directions (including positive feedback).
  • Support team members in trying new approaches, even if it feels risky. Knowing that they have your support will enable individuals to embrace their creativity and bring innovation to their work.
  • Be open to all opinions, responding to ideas and suggestions in a way that shows employees that they are valued and respected. Responding negatively or dismissively can lead a person to feel that they are seen as incompetent, problematic or unaccepted.

As well as fostering a safe culture, it is also crucial to equip team members with a strong understanding of mental health issues and their impacts, through relevant training. This way, everyone will have the knowledge to be able to respond appropriately and have helpful discussions with colleagues.

This combination of psychological safety and well-informed team members should provide the best possible environment for employees to feel comfortable talking about mental health.

 

Find out about our wellbeing and resilience workshops here.

 

Body Image Comes With A Cost To Mental And Financial Wellbeing

When employers look to identify the drivers behind staff-related pressures, they naturally focus on workloads, team dynamics and even harassment.  They appreciate that difficulties at home such as relationships, bereavements and other problems will affect how an employee feels at work too, but we rarely see them considering ‘body image’ perceptions as a drainer for wellbeing.  Last year alone, 1 in 3 adults said they were so stressed about their body image that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope.  

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13th-19th May 2019 #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek) focuses on body image, and CEO of The Wellbeing Project, Sam Fuller, gives her view on how this transcends into wellbeing at work:

“Body image can affect people of all ages and have a direct impact on both their mental and financial wellbeing.  There is often a perceived or real expectation of how someone should look and dress both at work and socially within friendship groups, creating real pressure to fit the mould.  Social media constantly reminds individuals how they should look and dress; anxiety levels can spiral and confidence plummets along with self-esteem and belief as they try to keep pace with the changes and cost to their wallet.

Furthermore, concerns over body image can lead to financial debt, as millennials overspend on items to build and enhance body confidence, with clothes, make-up and material items used to boost this perception. ‘Fast fashion’ has introduced a rise in throwaway items and the need to replenish them constantly with new brands, colours and shapes.  We have seen employees’ clothing/accessory purchasing patterns change, now filling their online ‘baskets’ and pressing ‘buy’ at one minute past midnight on payday.  Clothes, aesthetic treatments and even gym memberships come before food, evidenced by the reported rise in the uptake of free fruit or subsidised meals at work towards the end of a month

This high and fast spend on ‘personal’ items fits with rising concerns over body image. Obviously, not all financial burdens are related to image-conscious purchasing, but we do know that a large proportion of employees are struggling to make ends meet.

We know that wellbeing support is on the radar for many employers, but we’d like to see this pushed to the forefront and made actionable. Mental health will not be disappearing, so enabling employees to develop and build their own resilience and wellbeing is key to how they respond to these rising worries and pressures. Those employers who embrace this approach will reap the rewards with a workforce that is more engaged, connected, happy and focused.”

 

The Role Of Digital Tech In Boosting Resilience

When we think about technology these days, there is a slight undercurrent of scepticism. With many living in an ‘always on’ culture, we are so often reminded to put our phones down, disconnect from the digital world and interact with the real world more. And whilst this is certainly advice worth following, in practice it isn’t always easy and can seem altogether unmanageable.

Instead of simply trying to cut down the overall time spent on your phone, it can also help to take the approach of making tech work for you. Being able to fill every spare moment with something on our phone can make us feel busier than we really are, whilst actually detracting from productivity. But by tailoring what is on your phone so that it best serves you and your individual needs, it can become a helpful tool in improving resilience, wellbeing and efficiency, rather than a drain on these things.

Below are several areas in which tech can be used to support resilience:

Time management – A good time-tracking app can be a hugely valuable tool in maximising productivity and minimising stress. These can be used to plan your day, allocating time for breaks and acting as a timer to ensure you keep on schedule. There are also apps that record how you spend time on your phone, so if you feel like you lose a lot of time this way, these could be a great starting point for knowing where to try to cut down.

Mental wellbeing – ‘Wellness’ apps are everywhere at the moment. If you download too many, you won’t end up using them regularly, so it’s best to pick one or two to really focus on. A combination of a meditation (or other relaxation) app and a mood-tracking app can be highly effective – or you might find the two combined. Together, these practices can not only decrease stress and increase positive mood but also arm you with insight into your own patterns of feelings and emotions and how these are influenced by different factors.

Physical activity – Exercise apps are also plentiful, with many linked to wearable devices. Even without these accessories, these apps can remind you to get up and move regularly, guide you through workout routines, track your activity and coach you to reach your fitness goals. Whether you choose running, yoga, walking or anything else, regular exercise is a sure-fire way to boost your mood and personal resilience – and these apps can provide much-needed support with creating and maintaining a regular routine.

Habit tracking – This one will vary greatly depending on your personal goals, but the principle remains the same. Whatever healthy habits you are trying to cultivate, it can take some time to get into a reliable routine with them. Tracking your efforts can provide encouragement and show you how far you’ve come – whether you’re trying to get more fresh air, read something every day, learn a new language… just about anything can benefit from being tracked, at least until the habit is truly ingrained.

Conscious social media use – Social media’s reputation has suffered a great deal recently. Whilst some people (and companies) are choosing to abandon it altogether, it might be worth considering whether you can turn things around and use it to your advantage. This may take a bit of a digital tidy-up and a spree of unfollowing, to pave the way for meaningful connections on whichever platform(s) you choose. If an account that you follow doesn’t make you feel good or provide something of value to you, consider whether you’d be better off not seeing its posts. Aim to tailor your feed so that it’s filled with positive, healthy inspiration and informative posts from people and/or organisations you care about. Even then, remember not to get caught up in never-ending scrolling – aim to limit your social media time each day.

Spending tracking – Whilst looking at your bank balance may not seem conducive to wellbeing at first, keeping on top of your finances and being fully aware of the state of your spending removes the dreaded feeling of not quite knowing. Apps that track your spending across multiple accounts and cards are really helpful here, highlighting how your income ends up being distributed across different areas such as bills, rent/mortgage, groceries, socialising etc. This can be incredibly enlightening and equips you with the knowledge to make more informed, confident decisions when it comes to budgeting, spending and saving.

In today’s world, the choice of apps can be overwhelming. If something isn’t working for you, it‘s worth trying a few other options – you’re bound to find one that suits you, that you will enjoy using and stick with. If you’re not sure where to start and are looking for some initial ideas, here are a few previous suggestions from us.

Find out about our resilience and wellbeing workshops here.