In 2021 I wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on wellbeing in the workplace and the importance of wellbeing conversations in the project management community.
As we learn to live in what is sometimes quite a different world to three years ago, before the pandemic, it remains important that we continue to be mindful of our own wellbeing and that of team members and colleagues. Whether we are dealing with challenges relating to adjusting to different ways of working; worrying about the economy or our own financial circumstances; or experiencing anxiety about world events beyond our control, having a chance to talk about our worries and think about how we can respond to them can be very helpful.
Where to begin with a wellbeing conversation?
Wellbeing conversations continue to be a valuable way to check in with and support each other. So how do you start a wellbeing conversation?
The first thing to note is that a wellbeing conversation is not counselling, advice, or a formal work meeting. Having a wellbeing conversation means taking time to ask – really ask – how someone is and actively listen to them, not to solve all their problems.
Set aside appropriate time and find a quiet space without interruptions (be it in person or via video conferencing). Make sure that you and the person you are holding a conversation with feel comfortable, and you are able to safely begin the conversation, as well as conclude it.
The skill that is most useful in wellbeing conversations is active listening. This means asking open questions, listening carefully without interruption and reflecting back to the person who is speaking to you, to make sure you have understood what they’ve told you.
If someone has a concern about work that can be helped by considering their working pattern for example, then you may be able to help directly. For other concerns what’s most useful is that you signpost them to where they can get support – be it their GP, a mental health app or programme (such as every mind matters), cost of living advice pages and support centres. Let them know that experts are available and can provide professional support. Think of and list in advance where you might signpost someone to help with any issues that they are facing. You can find a list of resources and contacts on the mental health and wellbeing toolkit.
Finally, look at wellbeing conversations as a continuous process and check in with people on a periodic basis; ensure wellbeing conversations become a regular part of work. People will feel supported and build trust with their manager and team, which we know is important for people to thrive at work. People are more likely to come forward for support before a problem or mental wellbeing concern becomes acute, and can get help and support early on.
How can project leaders and organisations help?
The most useful thing that your project or organisation’s leader can do is talk about the importance of wellbeing conversations, and model this behaviour – do they find time for wellbeing conversations, for themselves and others?
Project leaders and organisations can also help by supporting managers to have conversations with their team members. Ensure that time can be set aside and that, in a physical office, private spaces are made available for people to have conversations which are private and free from interruptions.
Leaders and organisations can also help by providing and signposting resources and information to support managers with wellbeing conversations, and provide training in active listening, coaching and other skills that will equip managers to have good quality and meaningful conversations.
Finally, it’s always to remind everyone that each of us has our worries and concerns at times, and that it’s safe to raise these issues in the workplace and ask for support.
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