Developing a Staff Wellbeing Programme - Andi Smart
This article will explore how to develop a staff wellbeing programme including where to start, the possible challenges and how to maintain success.
What is the difference between a wellbeing plan and a wellbeing programme?
A wellbeing action plan is made on agreement between the employer and the employee to protect and support the employee in managing their mental health challenges and their role. This could, for example include reasonable adjustments that the company have agreed on (e.g. part time hours or flexible working) as well as an option to re-evaluate these terms throughout the process as needed. The plan will usually document the challenges faced and agree ways in which to overcome/support these within the role. The plan allows for a discussion around mental health and wellbeing, as well as the barriers currently being faced. This proactive approach helps everyone to recognise the challenges being faced and consider appropriate ways to overcome them. Ultimately, safeguards are put in place to reduce risk and potential harm rather than simply dealing with challenges as they arise. The plan also allows the employee to recognise how their employer is supporting them through these challenges in an individualised, person-centred way.
Key components of a wellbeing plan are:
- reasonable adjustments needed - ie breaks or extra time on bigger projects to reduce stress;
- how the individual’s mental ill health manifests/impacts for example anxiety, detachment or lack of communication and thus what to look out for as an employer;
- potential triggers in the workplace such as missing a deadline or feeling too pressured;
- what should be done if the employee’s mental health deteriorates - for example have a meeting to talk things through, decrease workload/hours, take time out;
- any actions of support for example referring to the counsellor/mental health first aider.
Wellbeing programmes, on the other hand, are produced to benefit the wider team of staff and therefore involve contributions from many different members of staff. Individual action plans are one key output from a wellbeing programme.
How to develop a successful wellbeing action programme?
When developing wellbeing programmes, research suggests that it’s important to focus on eight elements:
Leadership and management
Having a leadership team that supports staff wellbeing and, thus, the additional services that are needed is imperative. With senior leadership buy-in staff can feel safe in raising any issues, without concern of penalisation or discrimination. There is also a real need for all managers to be trained in supporting staff through wellbeing challenges as well as a need to be up to date with the relevant policy and support packages available. A brilliant article on line manager training can be found here:
An organisation-wide plan
Having a clear and consistent vision regarding staff wellbeing and support is paramount, and therefore everybody must be on the same page. This creates a clear one-stop-shop of information allowing all to easily find and access the support that is available. In previous roles, I have found that there are often several different wellbeing strategies in place which can be confusing, as they may overlap or contradict each other. In view of this, it is important that the programme team create one coherent strategy with an overarching wellbeing theme, with strands of activity sitting beneath it. Programmes should also acknowledge and take into consideration the various policies that are in place to ensure that all wellbeing provisions are fit-for-purpose. Policies can also help to limit inequalities by setting a standard for all and implementing the relevant mental health provisions appropriately to both prevent and treat mental ill-health in the workplace.
Know your data
Exploring health and wellbeing data can be really useful when developing a wellbeing programme: for example looking at trends in sickness absence, return to work interviews and/or asking staff to complete new/regular questionnaires on the wellbeing services available and how these could be improved. This data offers lots of opportunity to identify patterns and develop services that are tailored to the specific wellbeing challenges within any one department.
Getting staff buy-in is very important and, consequently, it is vital that staff are engaged in the development of the programme. This might involve delivering focus groups to gather information about staff needs and wants. This also gives you an opportunity to explore ideas around support packages and get insight and feedback at multiple stages throughout the process. Partnership working is also key and there should be many staff from different departments involved in the wellbeing programme to ensure that it is created with the best expertise possible. This might include working with teams in occupational health, physio, communications, human resources, learning and development, public health, finance and anyone else you think might have a part to play. I would also consider making contact with unions as these bodies tend to have lots of additional resources and wellbeing support in place and, thus, can possibly offer further information and guidance.
Designing health interventions
With all health interventions it’s important to take a targeted approach, particularly to stress. For example, particular groups of staff may need particular support due to particular issues (e.g. BAME / LGBT staff). Or, it may be the case that certain departments are under more stress than others (for example, ICU teams). By exploring staff data and demographics you can pick out stress hotspots and learn from good practice and any areas that have managed to lower work-related stress. Research clearly shows that prevention of staff workplace stress equates to less absences and better working practices.
Another really important point is to ensure interventions are accessible for all staff : is it best to schedule activities at lunchtime or would the start or end of shifts be better? I would also make sure that your night shift staff have the same access to interventions and activities as others as this is another high risk group.
Complicated language and jargon can put staff off and confuse people, so it is important to use clear, simple language and messaging. It is also important to consider how you communicate the messages of the wellbeing strategy: for example do staff sit in a staffroom at lunch time and if so, can you put up staff room posters or leave leaflets on the chairs? If staff work online then the Intranet could be a good way to promote new support services or even a newsletter direct to people’s company email addresses. If you understand your staff demographic it’s more likely that your messages of wellbeing support will be more easily understood and remembered .If you would like to read up further on better communications see this link.
A healthy working environment
Taking personal responsibility for our health and wellbeing is very important but health and social care jobs can be extremely challenging to manage. This means that, especially during the pandemic, our own health and wellbeing can be pushed to one side. However, during these challenging times, prioritising our own wellbeing is even-more vital. This means that senior members of the team should be encouraging staff to look after themselves and should also practice self compassion to lead by example and encourage healthy behaviours. (see - https://www.bi.team/): A great example of this on my ward is how my ward sister brings a bowl of fruit in every other day and puts this in the staffroom and removes the cakes to encourage healthy eating. Further to this, the NICE guidance provides a clear, evidence-based framework for you to get started which can be used alongside the intervention sections of the wellbeing programme.
Evaluate and act
Wellbeing plans will change, just as wellbeing needs will, and it’s therefore extremely important to evaluate your wellbeing strategies on a regular basis, setting clear objectives and baselines from the start. In doing this you will be able to consider whether or not the programme has been successful and flexi it to incorporate ongoing feedback from staff through questionnaires or comments. Evaluation, however, needs to be acted upon to make it meaningful, so any evaluation should feed into and influence the shape of the future programme. It is also important to find out why the interventions were successful or unsuccessful: for example was this due to the way in which these were communicated? Was it the intervention itself? Did the language confuse? Was it accessible to all? These are all import areas to consider further when refining the programme.
In conclusion, wellbeing plans and programmes can offer lots of ways to support health and social care staff and it is highly recommended that you follow the 8 stage set up process mentioned at the beginning of the article. Development, continued engagement and feedback and regular evaluations are also key. This will ensure your workforce has a fit-for-purpose programme in place that is tailored to multiple opportunities to develop the strategy, for the better, as well as utilise the multiple avenue of support that would materials through this tailored yet streamlined set of wellbeing support systems.
An experienced (c15 years) Mental Health Practitioner, Andi’s specialisms are Autism and Dementia Care, as well as having a strong interest in disability advocacy, sociology and equality.
Andi currently works in Education as a subject specialist and, as well as assessing achievement and participating in Internal and External Quality Assurance, helps to develop qualifications for Awarding Organisations.
In September 2017, Andi commenced the Master of Arts in Social Work at Sussex University.
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