Workplace wellbeing: looking out for your colleagues

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Workplace wellbeing: looking out for your colleagues (podcast episode 3)
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The relationships that we share with our colleagues can have a significant impact on our mental health, as well as on our overall job satisfaction, productivity and wider wellness.

In this insightful podcast, our trainers Penny Aspinall and Andy Caress discuss the reasons why many people feel that support from colleagues is the most effective way to protect wellbeing at work. This discussion provides helpful guidance to proactively support colleagues using four simple steps: stay connected, notice when someone is struggling, reach out to them and ask for help if you need it.

The value of colleagues and connection (01:18)

Working alongside colleagues can create very strong links that can be extremely helpful in terms of connection and support, when utilised properly. Looking out for each other is one of the best ways that we can take care of our mental health and wellbeing; peer support is the number one factor that really helps foster positive mental health in the workplace.

Good, supportive relationships can just happen by accident and proximity to one another in the working environment. Yet we can also choose to be intentional about creating meaningful relationships with our colleagues. There are four steps we can take to look out for one another while at work:

  1. Stay connected with each other - especially important in the midst of the pandemic
  2. Notice when someone is struggling - keep an eye out for your colleagues
  3. Reach out to them - don’t be wary about checking to see that they are OK
  4. Ask for help if you need it - always remember that reaching out goes both ways.

Connection is one of the five ways to wellbeing, and comes in all manner of forms. We can, and should, look to connect with others - not just because connection supports good mental health, but also for friendship, collaboration, creativity, professional development - and for having fun! Feeling connected in the workplace can really enhance our enjoyment and positively impact our job satisfaction.

Finding time to connect (03:40)

It can feel very difficult to ‘find time’ to connect when you are busy and worn out. Making time for true connections with colleagues may feel like a challenge, or participation in group activities outside the workplace may be daunting if you are an introvert by nature. Yet there are all sorts of ways to stay connected with others - so find what fits you, your lifestyle and the time that you have available.

Connection to others can make all the difference to your working day, to your mental wellbeing at work - and to how your team functions and relates to you. At some point in our working lives, we should have all felt how energising and inspiring it can be to connect with others working in similar roles to us; these people can provide a fresh perspective on our work and a chance to share ideas. Whether it’s cultivating relationships with colleagues and like-minded peers to share our experiences and best practice with, or joining a community group outside of work (such as a choir or a walking group), connection can make a big impact to our lives.

Even in the midst of lockdown, there have been many opportunities to connect, from individual outdoor meet-ups to video calls to online quizzes. Despite being forced to largely work apart from our colleagues for the time being, technology has provided many chances to connect on a much deeper level with others.

Anticipating challenging times for colleagues (05:00)

It is a good idea to try and anticipate times when your teammates, or even your whole team, may be experiencing a difficult or highly stressful period of time or event. Looking ahead to challenging times enables us to put measures in place to be there for, and support, one another, before we are in the “thick of it”.

Being aware of a difficult anniversary looming on the horizon - such as the death of a colleague’s loved one - presents an opportunity to connect with your colleague and support them through a difficult time. While it’s important not to make assumptions about the support that is needed, being proactive can really help: after all, nobody works at their best when in physical or mental pain.

The suffering of yourself or a colleague also puts pressure on the wider team - and that’s why it’s vital to put measures in place to support positive mental health, and to keep an eye out for when others may be struggling.

Reaching out to others (10:53)

Once you have picked up the signs that someone is struggling, don’t ignore it: reach out to them.

Practising compassion for one another takes time, and its success can depend partly on your relationship with the other person. Current social restrictions have also limited opportunities for more informal moments with others. Yet we should all still take steps to reach out and check in on others who may not be OK.

It’s important to ask twice and not to take someone’s first answer at face value: most of us, when asked how we are, will answer “fine” – even if the exact opposite is true. That’s human nature. So without being pushy, ask again. If the person is reluctant to talk to you, that’s fine: you can just let them know that you are there for them, if they ever need someone to chat with.

Sometimes, just knowing that someone has noticed and cares can make all the difference in the world – even if you’re not ready to talk about it. Perhaps just a positive distraction, such as a friendly chat about something completely different over a cuppa, is actually exactly what’s needed. Most of the time, we don’t need to do anything more than offer a listening ear and the space to talk a problem through: if someone does open up to you, just allowing space to talk and be actively listened too is often enough.

There may be occasions when advice or information is appropriate – and remember this might not always be specifically related to mental health. People can have all sorts of problems that can impact on their mental wellbeing, for example, debt, bereavement, relationships, family problems and housing issues. What’s most important is to respond with humanity, sensitivity and compassion to whatever circumstances the individual is going through - and how it’s making them feel. Offering empathy rather than solutions can often be more helpful to others, while maintaining clear boundaries about what you can, and cannot, appropriately do to help them.

If you feel that your colleague has become very unwell you might need to signpost to more appropriate help. For example, if you can see that a person has reached crisis point and is practicing damaging behaviour or having suicidal thoughts, you should suggest that they see their GP as soon as possible for professional advice and support.

Ask for help if you need it (16:52)

Reaching out goes both ways; we can’t all be the ones noticing and offering help to others. We also need to learn to reach out when we need help ourselves. By doing this and being open to responding to people’s kind enquiries of us, we can create and nurture a culture where it is OK not be OK, and where we can ask for and receive help as well as give it.

Self-compassion is vital to our wellbeing; we should all feel able and comfortable sharing and expressing our vulnerabilities and stresses with others that we trust. If you can risk revealing what’s going on for you, that can give the other person permission to also share how they are feeling, which can be immensely powerful. This openness can then help create an environment of mutual support and understanding. However, we should be aware of falling into the trap of too much grumbling and complaining with others - while this can start off feeling good and cathartic, it can often fuel dissatisfaction and make us, and others, feel even worse in the long run.

Often, just knowing someone else is going through the same thing as you can make the world of difference:

it can reduce feelings of us being alone in a situation or unable to cope with it. Stigma still surrounds mental health, even after the events of the past year and the impact the pandemic has had on us all, but the more we talk openly with others, the more we can help reduce that stigma. Talking, supporting and sharing the good times and the bad times with our colleagues is unquestionably important when it comes to protecting our mental health at work and ending each day with a sense of job satisfaction.

Resources

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A guide to help senior leaders put in place measures to ensure that workplaces are mentally healthy

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Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

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Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

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Tips for young people on when it’s time to talk about their mental health, or if they want to help a friend

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This guide includes information on the nature and causes of self-harm and how to support a young person for parents and carers

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This Welsh language guide includes information on the nature and causes of self-harm and how to support a young person for parents and carers.

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A guide to help employers support staff mental health during Covid-19.

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Tips to help line managers protect their staff’s mental health when working from home

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Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depression

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Five posters - one for each of the Five Ways to Wellbeing: connect, give, learn, be active, take notice

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Guide to depression for parents and carers

This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

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This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

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During the coronavirus pandemic, we have all been through enormous change and some of us may experience further uncertainty and change in the coming weeks and months

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Looking after yourself during your GCSEs - A guide for pupils

Packed with practical tips and ideas to support young people before, during and after exam time.

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Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.

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Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.

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Ten top tips for setting up staff supervision groups in schools

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Our new Wellbeing Action Plan is for all young people attending sixth form or college.

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Lesson plan and activities based on the five ways to wellbeing

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This is a personalised, practical tool that we can all use whether or not we have a mental health issue. There are sections for you to complete, including a positive daily plan.

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Developed by researchers at the University of Oxford, this guide includes information on the nature and causes of self-harm and how to support a young person for school staff.

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