As part of my work, I speak with a lot of people whose emotional and mental health has seriously deteriorated because support wasn’t provided in a timely and preventative way. It may be because there isn’t a sense of safety within the team or with a manager. It may be because a person felt they ‘should’ve been able to handle things on their own’. Or it may be because a policy wasn’t clear. Whatever the case, there are barriers to seeking support that is well worth moving through for the sake of your well-being.
Many of us in the aid and development sector in particular have a hard time prioritising ourselves. We get meaning and motivation from making the world a better place. Yet we need to remember that our impact gets watered-down when we’re running on fumes. Below are a few tips that might nudge us out of hiding our difficulties and experiencing the detrimental effects of cumulative distress.
Tips for staff
- You don’t have to be burnt out to get support. In fact, counselling works a lot better when you’re not in the ‘red zone’. In preventative work, adjustments are smaller and recovery to well-being happens more quickly. Research shows an incredibly high return on investment with good psychosocial support for staff. This is exponentially more valuable when carried out in a preventative manner.
- Write down what you would like to say to your manager. It’s a good idea to set up a time to meet and mention that you would like to talk about well-being. This allows your manager to get in the right frame of mind for the conversation. If it’s helpful, you could draft a wellness action plan to talk through or get some ideas for adjustments.
- You can be a part of making your workplace safe to talk about well-being by practising it within your team. Creating a psychologically safe environment takes risk and vulnerability – share to build trust while also avoiding over-sharing (i.e. a lot of private disclosure).
- If talking to a counsellor feels too daunting, then book some time with a coach. The time will be confidential and focused on you.
Tips for managers
- Everything above applies to you first! As Brene Brown says, ‘We can’t give what we don’t have.’
- Know what is on offer to yourself and your team. This helps to break down the barriers to seeking support. Look for platforms Thrive Worldwide that can help you with upskilling your budget. Share this information regularly in team meetings.
- Share your experiences of when you sought support. Tell team members something about the journey; even if it meant seeing a couple of counsellors before you found a good match. Put it out there regularly as it might sink in overtime or resonate with someone in a new way.
- Consider having a general ‘check-in’ during meetings. This could be a ‘mood-o-meter’ rating with 0 being ‘down in the dumps’ and 10 being ‘never better’, or you could show an emotions wheel and ask team members to choose an emotion that they’re feeling at that moment.
- Acknowledge a backlog of stress as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. And be sensitive to ongoing grief.
- If you feel overwhelmed by the issue a team member comes to you with, ask them if you can get advice or support from your HR department. This is especially important if there are disability considerations or time off involved.
- Remember, you will set the tone for your team when it comes to talking about well-being. Giving team members your time and undivided attention sends the signal that they’re appreciated and valued. Get in touch with us if you would like some support on how to hold these sensitive conversations.
Ben Porter is a staff care consultant and psychotherapist for Thrive Worldwide.