Everyone has an equal right to enjoy all of the opportunities that life can provide and that is why Dorset Mental Health Forum promote the principle that hope, mental health and wellbeing are essential to all. We asked Becky Aldridge, CEO of the Dorset Mental Health Forum, what wellbeing means to her and her team and their views on the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.
What does “wellbeing” mean to Dorset Mental Health Forum?
Our organisation has spent a great number of years exploring the question “What does wellbeing mean” The general consensus is that it means different things for different people but there are some common themes that emerge in all workshops carried out. These themes are broadly as follows:
- Having a connection, this could be to other people such as family and friends, but it could also be a connection with spirituality or in some cases owning a pet. A sense of belonging to someone and feeling part of a community however small seems essential. We work hard as an organisation to promote a sense of belonging, some staff describe us a the “Forum family” and this is supported by our organisational values
- Getting out into nature is another thing that comes up again and again. Walking in our beautiful surroundings and appreciating our coastline is something people often describe as promoting wellbeing. We try to pay attention to this when selecting venues, planning meetings and discussing wellbeing at work.
- Helping others or giving something back is essential to the wellbeing of many of our staff and people who access services locally, we create opportunities for people to contribute at all levels in our organisation and work with other agencies to share collective voices.
- Being open about when wellbeing is compromised and accessing support to reconnect with your own resources. People feel safe to discuss wellbeing in our organisation and know that they can do so without judgement or implication. Telling colleagues when you are struggling can build trust and create conditions for honest conversations to happen. We support this within a wellbeing framework that promotes personal responsibility.
Why is having a wellbeing strategy important for organisations (regardless of their size or industry sector)?
The only way to promote wellbeing in an organisation is to intentionally tackle culture. Training and process alone do not create conditions for an organisation to promote wellbeing. A strategy is essential to support organisational development and therefore change culture throughout the organisation.
What advice would you give to organisations looking to improve the wellbeing of their employees?
Talk to your staff, they are the ones with the expertise. We believe that co-production is the foundation of developing a positive approach to wellbeing. The important point about co-production is not to pre determine the outcome. Many organisations implement various wellbeing initiatives without talking to the staff first and then wonder why they were not well received. Co-production enables everyone to contribute ideas but is honest and realistic, meaning that people are more likely to be open to a range of perspectives not just their own. In our experience when things are co-produced, they are sustainable, and the process provides rich learning for the organisation.
Is there a differentiation between wellbeing and mental health? If so, how would you define it for the workplace?
Whilst we do believe there is a difference between Wellbeing and Mental Health, both are common to all of us. Mental Health, good or bad is something we all have (in the same way as physical health) and something that needs to be paid attention to. A sense of wellbeing is important in recovery from mental health problems as much as it is when people are going through periods of change or emotional distress.
Mental Health still carries a stigma, both in society but also for individuals. It can be exasperated by gender, age and culture.
Organisations that genuinely wish to promote wellbeing need to have an open and honest approach to conversations about mental health. Understanding, awareness and most importantly acceptance are key to this.
Can you give any advice on how to support the wellbeing of employees? E.g. raising awareness/challenging stigma.
It links back to question 3, talk to your workforce. What are the things that worry them, what matters to people who work for you? Its also about modelling from senior leadership throughout the organisation. Vulnerability in leadership is key, if you want staff to be open and honest then you have to model that, or it will be lip service.
How do you see wellbeing in the workplace developing over the next 5 years?
Workplace absence due to stress, wellbeing and mental health is still one of the biggest impacts on our work economy. We have to create environments that are emotionally healthier, or productivity will be significantly impacted, and communities will suffer even more than they do now.
Many organisations are asking the question about how to improve wellbeing, the answer will very much depend on whether or not they are prepared to tackle the culture that often originated in rigid HR processes and punitive approaches to sickness/absence.
Working with a range of people locally, people are gaining a literacy around mental health and wellbeing that will lead them to expect more from their employers and hopefully use their experiences to challenge and influence change.
About Dorset Mental Health Forum
The Dorset Mental Health Forum (DMHF) is a Dorset-based peer led charity who exist to improve the lives of everyone affected by mental illness by promoting wellbeing and recovery. Established in 1992, predominantly run by those with lived experience of mental health problems, they have a wealth of specialist knowledge and valuable expertise. DMHF promote the principle that hope, mental health and wellbeing are essential to all.