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How to talk about wellbeing at work

January 9, 2024

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Ben Porter

Psychosocial & Wellbeing Lead
Thrive Worldwide

About the author: Ben Porter is the Psychosocial and Wellbeing Lead for Thrive Worldwide, based in the UK. He works to provide mental health support and guidance to people and organisations that are working to make the world a better place.

As we step into the new year, discussing wellbeing at work remains as important as ever. Whilst it’s not always easy to do so, it’s essential that we do it. In my work providing psychosocial support to humanitarian and aid workers, I talk to a lot of people whose emotional and mental health has seriously deteriorated because they were not provided with support in a timely, preventative way.

Sometimes, the absence of psychological safety within their team or with a manager can hinder conversations. At other times, individuals believe that they “should be able to handle things on their own”. And on occasion, ambiguous staff care policies or poor communication can further complicate things.

All these obstacles are well worth removing for the sake of you or your team’s wellbeing. And also, for the sake of your organisation. After all, the return on investment of workplace mental health interventions is overwhelmingly positive: workplace mental health interventions can give an average return on investment of 5:1.

However, many of us in the humanitarian and development sector struggle to prioritise ourselves. We get meaning and motivation from striving to make the world a better place. Yet, we need to remember that our impact gets watered-down when we’re running on fumes.

Here are some tips that might nudge us out of hiding our difficulties and suffering the negative effects of cumulative distress.

Tips for staff

  • Don’t wait. You don’t have to be ‘burnt out’ before you seek support. In fact, counselling works a lot better when you’re not in the ‘red zone’. When someone seeks help early on, the adjustments they need to make are smaller, and recovery happens more quickly.
  • Write down what you would like to say to your manager. It’s common to feel overwhelmed when talking about something sensitive with your manager. Writing down your thoughts beforehand can help you stay on track and make sure that you communicate everything you want to say.
  • Set up a time to meet them and mention you’d like to talk about your wellbeing. This allows them to get in the right frame of mind for the conversation. If it’s helpful, you could draft a wellness action plan to talk through or get some ideas for adjustments.
  • Make your workplace safe to talk about wellbeing by practising it within your team. Creating psychological safety at work takes risk and vulnerability – admitting your own flaws, apologizing when you make a mistake, and sharing some of your personal story from time to time all help others do the same. They can then relax, form better work relationships, and become more creative.
  • If talking to a counselor feels too daunting, then book some time with a coach. Counseling tends to focus on the past and coaching more on the future. But in both cases, the time will be confidential and focused on you.

Tips for managers

  • Everything mentioned above applies to you first! As Brene Brown says, you cannot give what you don’t have.
  • Know what is available to yourself and your team. Check your staff care policy, and find out what you can offer to your team. Make sure your team is aware of what they can access and how.
  • Share your experiences of seeking support. Tell team members something about your journey—even if it means seeing several counselors before you find a good match. Put it out there on a regular basis so that it can sink in overtime or resonate with someone in a new way.
  • Consider having a general ‘check-in’ during meetings. This could be a “Mood-o-meter” rating with 0 being ‘down in the dumps’ and 10 being ‘never better’, or you could show an emotion wheel and ask team members to choose an emotion that they’re feeling at that moment.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by the issue a team member comes to you with, seek advice or support from your HR department. This is especially important if there are disability considerations or time-off involved.
  • Remember, you set the tone for your team when it comes to talking about wellbeing. Giving team members your full time and undivided attention sends the signal that they’re appreciated and valued.

In short, prioritising wellbeing is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of strength and resilience. By fostering a culture of open communication and providing access to support resources, organisations can empower their staff to thrive both personally and professionally.

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