Making sense of mental wellbeing at work – thoughts from Robert Perry

SBC recently hosted a Spotlight Series webinar which started a very important conversation around demystifying mental wellbeing at work and shared practical insights, tools and actions leaders can take to help build thriving workplaces.  

The conversation was a partnership with our friends at the Business Leaders Health and Safety Forum (the Forum) and SBC member DLA Piper – and what a hugely insightful, engaging and inspiring kōrero it was too! 

With Cyclone Gabrielle, COVID-19, and the ongoing cost of living crisis, there seems no end to the challenges being thrown at us, our whānau and local communities. Workplaces are no different – from leaders of organisations to frontline staff, many of us are feeling under the pump and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that some are struggling.  

But it’s often difficult to know where to start, what your role as a leader is, and how to make the best investment in supporting the mental wellbeing of your people.  

So it was hugely inspiring to hear from Francois Barton (Executive Director of the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum) and James Fletcher (COO of DLA Piper) as they spoke candidly about their insights, learnings, resources and practical steps any business can take to build thriving workplaces.  

I’m keen to share my key takeaways, a useful tool and a couple of soundbites from the session in this blog to help you take that critical first or next step. 

Understanding wellbeing 

Francois started our kōrero by highlighting how important it is for organisations to get clear about what the term ‘mental wellbeing’ means to them and their people. Why? Put simply, it’s a term that holds very different meanings to different people.  

For example, if I say ‘wellbeing at work’, what words pop into your head?? For some, it may mean healthy minds/healthy bodies or looking after people. To some it may mean burnout or stress, and to others it may mean inclusion, psychological safety or happiness. 

The key point being there is a broad range of issues that mental wellbeing encapsulates. If we are unable to confirm what that term means across the executive table, by our People & Culture teams and within our wider workforces, it can cause confusion among your workforce and create disconnections between issues and work programmes.  

Consider wellbeing holistically and as a continuum 

Francois also encouraged us to look at mental wellbeing as a continuum – from surviving to thriving. Organisations need to understand that issues which move people up and down that continuum are broad, subjective and dynamic, and must be approached holistically and therefore strategically. And that understanding lies at the heart of DLA Piper’s success. Check out the 6 minute soundbite from the webinar below for further explanation. 

Bringing visibility to your existing mahi 

Francois and James both highlighted the importance to make purposeful sense and put structure around what is already in place. Which is my second takeaway. And the good news the Forum has a fantastic tool to help you map it. When you’re mapping your mahi, an action or initiative doesn’t have to have ‘wellbeing’ in the title for it to deliver wellbeing outcomes. James highlighted a broad range of programmes that are building inclusion, diversity and social mobility that exemplify that point. Once you have completed your heat map, you can identify your strengths, any gaps and opportunities for shaping next steps.  

It was inspiring to hear James Fletcher bring this all to life when he shared DLA Piper’s leadership journey. What struck me was how intentional DLA Piper has been in taking a strategic approach to consider wellbeing in its broadest sense, and in embedding it at the heart of its purpose,  values, strategy and organisational culture.  

While anyone at the beginning of the journey may find this overwhelming, James emphasised that having a tolerance for iterative action and starting small was critical in enabling DLA Piper’s success. Check out his overview from the webinar below (14 minutes). 

We also explored the current barriers to action, which brings me to my final takeaway. A quick webinar poll of our 40 participants revealed three barriers to action: 

  • capacity (not having enough time or access to resources) 
  • capability (we don’t know where to start) 
  • leadership (the need to build understanding and get buy-in).  

We also asked participants what support they needed to support their leadership in this space. 

Francois and I will be continuing our partnership and using this information to support our respective memberships make sense of mental wellbeing and the leadership involved in building thriving workplaces. Watch out for more information shortly, and in the meantime, I encourage you to use the tools and insights above to start or take a next step. 

Robert Perry 

Manager Thriving People

23 Mar, 2023

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