Hotwire head of people and culture Kam White focuses on developing people strategies, driving cultural change initiatives and organisational transformation programmes across the business. In today’s guest post, she shares her insight on how to support staff to promote better wellbeing during Stress Awareness Month and beyond.
For many of us, the last year has seen stress awareness in the virtual workplace brought to the fore, as businesses – and their staff – adapt to a new way of living.
This year’s Stress Awareness Month comes at a time where employee mental health and stress levels are under intense pressure, and how employers support their teams through COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the long-term health and success of the business. The focus is no longer on work/life balance, but more fundamentally how wellness is the foundation to many of our people activities.
At Hotwire, we have always had a proactive approach to supporting employees in dealing with stress, with a strong focus on developing two-way trust and supporting the individual, whatever their personal circumstances. Our philosophy centres on a preventative culture – rather than reacting when people need support, we do our part to stop people ending up in that situation in the first place. This means encouraging people to be open about how they are coping with work, but also that work itself is not a cause of stress.
Thoughtful Working is at the centre of the Hotwire Employee Value Proposition. This philosophy centres on trust in the individual to work smartly and deliver outputs, as long as they are thoughtful to their colleagues and their clients (internal or external) – in the location and at the times which work best for them – and this has not changed just because we are all at home.
A culture of self-care and wellness
Over the past year, we have been committed to developing a more disciplined, self-care culture to support our staff in addressing any workplace stress or pressure. We realised that people are tired and planning lots of activities and zoom calls made them even more tired.
Instead we have focused on giving people time out and distractions and any activities we have planned are relaxing and not intrusive. As part of our new self-care initiative at Hotwire, we are looking at intellectual wellbeing, providing support across the six areas of wellness: emotional, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and occupational, in particular.
As adults, we can stop learning, especially when we are busy with work, but learning is so important to help keep minds engaged. With this in mind, we lined up a variety of inspirational speakers to do 30-minute chats in our weekly team meetings to continue to educate employees.
We also gave all staff in the UK office two half days and further half days planned to coincide with lockdown easing to spend time with family, meet friends and enjoy the outdoors. A virtual walk in aid of charity is also planned and we introduced a monthly cinema afternoon experience to provide a welcome distraction from the day-to-day hustle, enabling them to relax and watch a film together, albeit virtually!
Undoubtedly, employers need to be more sensitive to what is going on in employee’s lives other than work right now. Those businesses which have a robust wellbeing culture which trust and support individuals within the team will be best placed to have a happy and stress-free workforce.
How employers can promote stress awareness and support their employees:
1) Design the work around the wellness of your staff
Create a culture where the human element of what we do comes first – don’t have endless ‘people initiatives’ that mean well, but can cause additional pressure when your teams are already tired. Thoughtful working is a way of working we have built around our people.
2) Be there for your staff, when it matters most
It is important to have eyes and ears everywhere to be able to support staff across the business. You may want to train other members of staff across roles on mental health first aid. This will help those struggling with stress and mental health to, firstly, be able to identify someone who can help them and secondly, be able to spot someone struggling with mental health before it starts affecting their work.
We have professionally trained several mental health first aiders as specialists to help anyone who may be struggling and have adopted a policy to look out for each other and provide those in need with the resources to get better. We also do regular surveys to assess how people are feeling as well as regular peer group sessions with P&C and the MD.
3) Help staff prioritise workloads
Something we’ve started doing at Hotwire recently is encouraging a ‘what NOT to do list’ as a helpful way to work out priorities, actions and what is causing stress, so that employees can take control of their workload and tackle it head on! We had direct employee feedback that when you have lost control you need to take control of the things you can influence. In some cases, managers need to enforce a ‘circuit breaker’ to ensure their teams know when to stop.
4) Provide supporting materials
It is likely that many members of staff would have gone through a tough time over the past year during the pandemic. At Hotwire we developed a Mental Health Toolkit, available 24/7 for staff to access. This includes a number of resources that all employees can access including helplines, useful tips, articles, podcasts and a free download of the Headspace app. This way, staff can access these materials as and when they choose to support them with stress and wellbeing.
5) Take a proper break
Make sure you encourage all your staff to take their much-needed annual leave allowances to help make sure staff can relax and switch off. Something else we offer at Hotwire which people find incredibly valuable is our sabbaticals. Every four years, you can take six weeks at full pay or 12 weeks at half pay, to take a break and come back re-energised.
6) Encourage healthy and productive days
While many staff continue to work at home due to the pandemic, an employer becomes not only a workplace but also a support network too. Whilst remaining sedentary for a working day, it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise and maintain a healthy work / life balance.
Why not encourage staff to take regular screen breaks, take a walk at lunchtime and log off on time in order to have their daily exercise? As a company, we provide meditation classes, which take place weekly via Zoom! We also encourage our employees to download the Headspace app to provide them with access to meditation techniques, which they can implement to help manage stress levels.
For more on managing stress in the workplace, catch up on our accessmatters session with KDP Coaching & Consulting’s Katie Phillips on preventing burnout and these tips for getting (and staying) motivated in 2021.