Martin Baker: Is wellbeing a fad or here to stay?

Wellbeing has been a sector buzzword over the past couple of years, but does it have longevity?

If you had spoken about wellbeing in the charity sector just a few years ago, you might have been met by quizzical stares. The term has been around since the 1980s, but gained momentum relatively recently. 

Organisations such as Mind, Time to Change, Young Minds and Samaritans have successfully helped to destigmatise mental health and push wellbeing firmly onto the agenda. The Covid-19 pandemic has further fuelled the need to make sure we are looking after our staff’s mental health as well as our own. 

But what makes organisational wellbeing meaningful, and how do we avoid strategies becoming another tick-box exercise? 

Diagnose causes of stress

Stress in the workplace is a huge potential issue for any organisation, particularly after working remotely for so long. 

Well-meaning employees can request wellbeing initiatives to support everyone, but on their own these might only act as a plaster. 

Tips on coping strategies and building resilience are always welcome, but will not address the root causes of stress. 

I am a huge advocate of performance consulting – an approach to problem-solving where you get to the cause before designing the solution. In this case, you delve into what is causing the stress. You can then find solutions that will create meaningful and long-lasting outcomes. 

Specific learning and development courses, such as how to deal with difficult people, can also offer practical skills and strategies to help people manage the challenges they face.

Embed wellbeing cultures

Standalone courses in wellbeing have their place, but it is too easy to see them as a quick fix. Supporting mental health is not a box to be ticked, but something that should be embedded into organisational culture. 

At the start of the pandemic, Eleanor MacKenzie, learning and engagement officer at the Church of Scotland, curated a suite of wellbeing resources and ran online training courses on building resilience. 

These were popular at the time, but tapered off as everyone adjusted to remote working. 

But Eleanor is also trying to weave wellbeing elements across all training. For example, a course on technology for time management also includes wellbeing tips, such as giving yourself at least 10 minutes between virtual meetings, turning your camera off if necessary and going outside for fresh air during breaks. 

Equip line managers

At the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, Beth Carter, learning and organisational development assistant, thinks line managers are key for role modelling behaviour and making space for wellbeing to become part of daily working life. 

The charity has a specific workplace wellbeing course for line managers that focuses on mental health. It has also added wellbeing elements into an introduction to line management course, with practical advice on locating wellbeing resources on the organisation’s intranet and using wellness action plans.

Listen to your people

According to the Charity Digital Skills Report 2021, almost a third of charities said staff were burned out from the demands of intense remote working. 

It concerns me when I hear that some organisations are not returning to the office at all, but allowing staff to work from home permanently with occasional in-person meetings. 

As human beings we need connection, and a virtual connection is not the same as in-person.

It is difficult to pick up cues about the state of someone’s mental health if you only see them online for an hour a day, or week. 

I hope organisations offer flexible working instead, and a hybrid model where staff are consulted on what they need and want.

Regardless of whether staff are working virtually or in the office, wellbeing needs to be on the agenda. It’s not a fad. It’s not even a trend. It should just be a way of life. 

Martin Baker is the founder and chief executive of the Charity Learning Consortium


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