Workplace wellbeing is about creating an environment in which all staff feel supported and can reach their full potential while maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
The FIND Network, a network for women interested or involved in the international development sector, recently brought together professionals in the sector to discuss the issue of workplace wellbeing.
Chaired by Bond’s Sarah Mistry, with Teresa Parker, Middle East programme manager at QPSW, and Jo Loughran, director of operations at Time to Change, as speakers, the evening highlighted how important wellbeing at work is for individuals and organisations.
The international development sector is particularly susceptible to unique forms of workplace stress. Working for prolonged periods in what can be challenging environments can take a significant emotional toll especially where psychosocial support is not necessarily accessible on return.
Women in the sector also face additional pressures. Studies show that, despite women making up most of the workforce in the sector, leadership positions tend to be dominated by men. Our members report that this often leads to feeling that their work is not valued and frustration at their voice not being heard. In some cases, they feel bullied by male colleagues or have become accustomed to being constantly undermined.
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We also hear that women in senior leadership who support other women across the sector are highly valued and, where this doesn’t happen, it can be detrimental for both individuals and organisation.
Here are some ways to ensure that the workplace supports your wellbeing and that of those around you:
- We must take serious steps to address some workplace wellbeing issues that are endemic in the sector. Some of FIND’s members said their employers were making positive efforts to adopt well-being strategies, but very few organisations were known to have signed up to mental health at work initiatives.
- We need senior management buy-in around well-being strategies which go beyond rhetoric. Senior management need to know how to recognise the signs of stress in employees and must create and support systems that foster well-being.
- There are a number of free resources that can help employers: signing the Time to Change pledge, for example, commit employers to an Action Plan to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination at work. Mind has a Workplace Wellbeing Index which supports organisations to improve their policy and practice in this area. Interhealth and other hotlines are other practical tools for supporting professionals, particularly those in the field.
- Good leaders should build confidence in staff members and encourage them to reach their potential. Yet it is important to recognise how and when to support staff members. Good line managers should ask “what, from your perspective, do you need, right now?” and react accordingly. This might not always mean intervening – sometimes what staff most need (for example, after the loss of a loved one) is the normality that the workplace brings.
- Good line managers are approachable, able to recognise the signs of stress (having had appropriate training) and use coaching methods such as open questions to empower staff to find solutions to their problems. They agree trigger points with staff members that help to identify signs of stress and discuss how to address them should they arise. A tool to help line managers have these conversations is Mind’s Wellness Action Plan, useful for both employers and employees
- Good line managers display the behaviour that they expect from staff – so think twice before hitting the send button on that late-night email!
- When your mental health is suffering, you can feel like there is no escape. Yet there are things that you can do to improve the situation. Know what policies and support structures are in place already. Many of us don’t approach HR, or others, to find out about what is available.
- Make sure that you have support structures in place (friends, food and arts and crafts, for example), but also recognise that if you have too many coping mechanisms, it may be because you’re struggling to cope. If your manager is failing to provide support, look for it elsewhere, from friends or mentors. These people can often help you to gain perspective: we’re all passionate about what we do, but sometimes we need to be reminded that it is just a job and that we shouldn’t gain all our fulfilment from it.
- It’s important to call out any inappropriate behaviour you experience, especially if it’s bullying or sexual harassment. Keep a note of events and witnesses that could be helpful to you later.
Find strong role models wherever you can, whether men or women. Situations like these strip you of your confidence and assertiveness, so find someone who can give this to you. Lastly, find your allies, both internal and external, and be tactical. Understand the motivations of the problematic individual and this will help you to choose your tactics in addressing the problem.Jo Loughran, director of operations, Time of Change
- Don’t be afraid to ask for the things that you need to ensure your well-being so that you can do your job well and create the change that you want to see. It’s likely that colleagues are having similar feelings: if possible, talk to them and identify how you can help each other, or how you can collectively make the case for a clearer focus on well-being in your team.
Resources available for employers to support and promote workplace well-being include:
We’d like to thank Emma Kerr for her contribution to this article.