Have you heard the joke about the employee who seeks support from their manager for their overwhelming workload, only to be sent a registration form for a resilience webinar?
It’s being told in workplaces around the world, only it’s not a joke. When people don’t receive the right support for the work challenges they are facing, no-one wins – not least of all their employers who are spending bucks on fixing a problem that might not exist.
Resilience training, wellbeing webinars, and mental health workshops all play an important role in the wellbeing ecosystem of an organisation. Having the skills to proactively prevent harm, strengthen wellbeing, and authentically support one another are like gold-dust when we can use them wisely. This is especially important when we face a shortage of skilled mental health professionals, meaning that many people cannot access the specialist support they might need. The obstacles that can stand in the way of these workshops and webinars being successful are threefold: pulling out the wrong solution at the wrong time, treating the symptom not the disease, and viewing training as a “one-and-done”.
When we pull out the wrong solution at the wrong time, it usually means we are well-meaning but poorly informed. It’s a bit like walking away from the doctor’s office with an antihistamine for your head wound; wrong solution, wrong time.
When we pull out the wrong solution at the wrong time, it usually means we are well-meaning but poorly informed. It’s a bit like walking away from the doctor’s office with an antihistamine for your head wound; wrong solution, wrong time. Or, to use another analogy, replacing the smoke-detector batteries while the house is already going up in flames. It isn’t wrong, per se, it’s just not what’s needed at that moment. You should certainly plan to replace the smoke-detector batteries regularly – but also take stock of what’s already going on around you.
Get the information you need to meet the needs of employees right now, through inviting participation and really listening to what they have to say in 1:1s, team meetings, and surveys. Resilience training, wellbeing webinars, and mental health workshops are part of a well-rounded diet for many employees – but they shouldn’t be the only course.
Resilience training, wellbeing webinars, and mental health workshops are part of a well-rounded diet for many employees – but they shouldn’t be the only course.
Often, organisations are quick to treat a symptom. “Burnout is high? Let’s give everyone an extra day off!” But the symptom is likely to show its face again, if not keep getting worse. Treating the disease, or the root cause of poor employee wellbeing, is about understanding the conditions that led to where we are now, and then taking steps to make sure they don’t happen again, through preventing harm, not just managing illness. Usually, this means digging a bit deeper and being open to the fact that the finger might end up pointing at thornier issues – things like organisational culture, job control, or poor leadership support. These are often termed “psychosocial risks” in the workplace and need significant commitment to identify, minimise, or eliminate.
The “disease” might also be widespread, meaning that the best wellbeing action we can take right now is a slow march towards a healthier work climate, with loud and decisive communication that things are going to change, and how. This is where good quality manager training can be particularly impactful, knowing that leadership buy-in, role-modelling, and support are some of the most crucial success factors for wellbeing culture change.
Finally, to really reap their benefits, we need to address the limitations of the ways that training, webinars, and workshops are sometimes delivered. “One-and-done” training approaches are what we often see when workshop involvement is mandated or treated purely as a tick-box exercise. It’s the equivalent of the compliance modules we must complete when we start a new job – they’re important, but our engagement levels probably aren’t at an all-time-high. And, once we’re finished, not much really changes.
We can only really benefit from training when it’s integrated, personal and social.
We can only really benefit from training when it’s integrated, personal and social. “Integrated” means it’s part of a team- or organisation-wide shift towards greater wellbeing, that we understand the motivation behind it, and we have ample opportunity to practise what we learn in a safe environment. “Tailored” means that it invites personal reflection, participation and goal-setting, and individuals are supported by trained professionals to pick from a buffet of strategies that suit their individual needs and preferences, rather than being taught a one-way-or-the-highway script. And lastly, “social” means that the training capitalises on the secret sauce that makes learning so much better in so many ways – when we learn in a group and embrace a collective approach to wellbeing, rather than one that is grounded primarily in individual responsibility.
There is no easy answer to the question, “What really helps when it comes to building wellbeing at work?”, but there’s almost always an “and”. Like changing the smoke-detector batteries or getting your annual physical check-up (pick your analogy!), we need to do the individual preventative stuff and have a wider plan that wraps around it, keeping an eye on the full picture, and doing the hard, messy work of organisational change.
Author: Dr Amanda Wallis leads the research programme at Umbrella Wellbeing and is passionate about making psychological research usable at work and at home.