Creating a workplace where team members feel empowered to take charge of their wellbeing is essential for building a supportive and healthy environment. This approach ensures that wellbeing is prioritised every day, not just during Mental Health Awareness Week or World Mental Health Day.

So, how can managers create a culture where team members feel confident in taking responsibility for their own wellbeing?

In this article, we have plenty of tools to help get you started or improve what you’ve already started!

Lead by example: Your behaviour sets the tone for the entire team, influencing all aspects of wellbeing. Consider how you manage your own wellbeing daily. Do you take regular screen breaks? Make time to get outside and move during the day? Encourage walking meetings? Do you take a proper lunch break? Are you balancing your work hours, showing a clear boundary between work and personal time?

Your team will notice and often follow what you do. Therefore, focus on modelling healthy behaviours. In more hybrid work setups, be more vocal and visible about your wellbeing practices so that the team is aware and encouraged to do the same. By demonstrating these habits, you set a powerful example that promotes a culture of wellbeing.

Openness and humility: Create an ‘open door’ policy; make yourself approachable for conversations. The more conversations about mental health, stress, and wellbeing that happen every day, the more it becomes part of your culture. Keep conversations confidential to encourage open communication. Remember conversations about mental health aren’t just talking about our struggles or what is causing us stress, it’s also about celebrating the wins for our wellbeing.

Empower, don’t advise: When team members come to you with their challenges, ask great coaching questions to help them come up with their answers. They are more likely to commit to an action that way, creating wellbeing ownership. Imagine this: a colleague comes to you and tells you that the workload is too much and they’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed. You spring into action and work out a plan of what tasks on their list can be moved or postponed. You think you’ve ‘fixed’ the problem, and the team member goes about their day-to-day. Only to find that two weeks later, they’re still feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

Let’s imagine you empowered your colleague instead. Try using questions like these:

“Do you know when you started to feel overwhelmed and stressed?”

“Have you felt like this before, in the past? What helped you then?”

“Tell me more about that.”

“If you were to move away from this stress, what would you be moving toward?”

“What could you do to help you make that first step? What is the first step?”

“What do you need from me, your colleagues, to help you take that step / action?”

“If you commit to doing X, how different would your life be?”

Focus on developing skills in emotional intelligence: Often, the issues brought to managers tend to be surface issues. Therefore, if we can get to what is really going on, we can better enable and empower others. The solution we might come up with isn’t necessarily going to be the right one for our team. We’re not them, so only they know the true answer and what they need. It might not be a reduced workload in the example we see above, and sometimes we cannot reduce the workload.

It’s much better to focus on a person’s relationship with stress and their coping mechanisms rather than trying to take away the stress for them. By helping them understand and manage their stress, we enable them to cope better the next time they feel overwhelmed. This approach fosters independence and emotional intelligence, as they learn to handle challenges on their own. Additionally, they develop greater self-awareness, which helps them proactively prevent overwhelm in the first place.

The more emotionally aware we are, the more we can act for ourselves instead of blaming the workplace or situation. Consider training and coaching for you and your team to help develop these skills.

Continually nurture team spirit: This is an ongoing process among the team. Strive to do regular things every day that create opportunities for team members to be social and have fun! Create psychological safety for team members to feel comfortable being vulnerable. This will create more harmony and trust, which will support team members to be confident in talking to each other and supporting each other.

While big team day events are good, try not to leave it at just that. Find something for every day.

Some examples of team-building activities that can be done within the every day:

  • Brainstorming sessions with a physical activity component
  • Casual tea and coffee chats (in person or virtually)
  • Walk and talk meetings
  • Photo sharing – encourage the start of meetings with photos the team can share. These are good icebreakers too – like sharing a baby picture and guessing who is who.
  • Reflective models – use things like the ‘Rose, Bud, Thorn’ reflective tool to encourage conversations beyond work.
  • Virtual bulletin boards – create kudos moments for the team to celebrate and engage.

Normalise mental health and wellbeing: Talk openly about how you manage your mental health and wellbeing. Share education about mental health at work to help engage conversations.

Avoid making signposting the immediate response: Imagine talking to your manager about something that makes you vulnerable, and it takes so much courage to even start the conversation. Now imagine that manager responding with a solution that is focused solely on signposting. What does this actually communicate? It could say ‘help for you is out there’ as opposed to saying ‘I am here for you’. Which would you prefer?

Having support and resources are still an important part of mental health first aid; just don’t make it the first thing. If you were my manager, I’d rather you said something like, “that sounds really tough, is there anything I can do to help?” Using coaching questions, I am more likely to feel empowered to seek professional help if I have named the idea / action myself.

Lastly, simply talking to you as their manager might be a very big part of the solution that either party may not even be aware of until they’ve journeyed through it.

Our listening and empathic skills as managers and team members are so important, and it’s something that can be learned. Consider training and development for your team on listening skills and coaching.

By following these steps, you can cultivate a culture where wellbeing responsibility is a shared value. This empowers your team members to take charge of their wellbeing, inspiring others to do the same, ultimately leading to a happier, healthier, and more productive work environment.

Written by Tracey Dangerfield, SkillBase First Aid

About SkillBase First Aid

Imagine facing a crisis at work, at home, or in public – a colleague in distress, a child having a seizure, or a cyclist knocked off their bike.

Would you know what to do?

At SkillBase First Aid, we turn ordinary people into heroes on standby. Our realistic yet relaxed first aid and mental health first aid training equips you to act with knowledge and courage.

Our vision is that no one should feel anything less than confident to approach someone in need.

Our mission is simple, we create heroes on standby and aim to create equal numbers of Mental Health First Aiders to First Aiders in the workplace. Trained in a way that gives them confidence, not just competence, on our realistic, engaging and relaxed courses.

Join our mission and be ready to make a difference.

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Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.