Health and WellbeingRelationships: a fundamental aspect of wellbeing during COVID-19

Relationships: a fundamental aspect of wellbeing during COVID-19

With dark, winter months looming, and COVID-19 still raging on, wellbeing has never been more important. For Becky Thoseby, Head of Workplace Wellbeing, Ministry of Justice UK, personal and professional relationships lie at the heart of this. In this article, she outlines her bespoke workplace plan for nurturing and strengthening relationships during this time of need.

30-second summary:

  • The combination of COVID-19, lockdown, and unpleasant weather could adversely affect employee wellbeing
  • At the Ministry of Justice UK, HR leaders are forming bespoke strategies to ensure employee wellbeing in the time ahead
  • A blend of social contact, learning & development, and technological innovation is helping the MoJ’s strategies
  • Employee wellbeing is regarded as crucial in achieving organizational objectives.

I was struck when speaking with a colleague last week by the phrase she used to describe how she was feeling. “I’m fed up of being fed up,” she said. With autumn and winter weather well and truly on the way, increased restrictions in some locations and a grim outlook for the coming months, I’m sure she is not alone in feeling this way. So, how can employers help to safeguard employee wellbeing during the challenging winter months?

At the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), we have been putting relationships (both personal and professional) at the heart of our COVID-19 wellbeing response, as well as our wider, long-term approach to wellbeing. In the absence of many of the usual ways we enjoy ourselves, relationships have become even more important, and may well be the way we sustain ourselves through the winter. What’s more, with the way that lockdown restrictions have affected our lives, the way we maintain these relationships is also likely to have been forced to change.

Based on this, I am currently scoping out a project to support MoJ colleagues with their relationships through autumn and winter. Though there is further planning still to be done, this project will constitute a balance between raising awareness of existing interventions, and a sprinkling of new initiatives.

A bespoke wellbeing response: the skeleton plan

We’ll start the program off with a blog from our Chief People Officer, who will outline the particular importance of relationships during this time, recognizing the challenges we face and giving a taste of what’s in store for the program. Following this, we will mark World Mental Health day on October 10th, so we’ll also take that opportunity to flag the importance of relationships, which is a great fit with this year’s theme for the day: “Mental Health for All”.

MoJ’s Mental Health Allies (MHAs) are a key partner for me in delivering my wellbeing agenda, and so it was natural that they were one of the first groups I approached for ideas and help. In discussion, a few points emerged:

  • In order to thrive in a relationship, a person needs to be fulfilled and happy in themselves
  • In a relationship, a person needs to recognize what their own needs are, as well as recognizing the needs of the other person
  • Communication is key and sometimes this requires having difficult or brave conversations.

With these points in mind, in addition to the particular skillset of the MHAs, we agreed that they would provide a phased set of webinars for staff, with a focus on educating and uplifting participants.

In November we will hold a panel discussion on the themes of self-care, communication and work relationships. In January will hold a webinar entitled Brave and Sensitive Conversations, helping participants to understand why sometimes, difficult conversations are necessary for relationships to thrive, and equipping them with some of the basic skills to have a difficult conversation. In February or March, we will have a webinar enlightening participants on how imposter syndrome can prevent them from being their best selves in relationships (particularly at work) and how they can work to combat these.

Together, these webinars promise to cover a wide range of issues that affect our staff in their relationships, delivered by a group who are trusted and have a strong reputation within the organization.

One of the obvious landmarks of winter is Christmas, and there are also other religious festivals coming up in the coming months such as Diwali and Chanukah. We recognize that for many people, these festivals are something to look forward to and a way of ‘getting through’ the winter months; however, this year they may have to be celebrated in a different way.

To help staff who might be feeling down about this, we will be running a webinar entitled Reframing Our Festivals looking at alternative and fun ways to celebrate, and innovative ways to connect with loved ones who we can’t be with physically. Building on the success of our By Staff, For Staff webinars during lockdown, the facilitator will be a colleague from our Leadership and Capability team who ran a popular session on positive thinking. We got great feedback that our staff loved having sessions run by MoJ staff and it increased their sense of connection to the organization, so it was important to me to continue this method of delivery through this work on relationships.

Also on the theme of learning, we’ll have a monthly drop-in group coaching session with a different theme each month, where participants can come and work in a safe space on an issue they are currently facing in a relationship. Again, the facilitator will be an MoJ member of staff, this time from the Prison & Probation Service.

Society and organizations have a well-documented extrovert preference, and since the pandemic began I have been conscious that we have been focusing more on ensuring the needs of extroverts are met with coffee catch-ups, team virtual socials and so on. Introverts need social connection too, but sometimes in a different way. So, to support our introverts just as effectively, we’ll be running a strand on extroversion and introversion. This will aim to help staff identify whether they and colleagues are extroverts or introverts, understand the preferences of people at each end of the spectrum, and what they can do to meet their own needs and those of others.

The intention is that colleagues can then build stronger relationships as they are able to understand and meet each others’ needs in this regard.

At MoJ, our personal stories always get the most hits on the intranet, so throughout autumn and winter we’ll be having blogs from staff on the subject of relationships, and how they are sustaining their relationships in challenging times. The first will be a colleague from Digital Services talking about how he’s used technology to aid communication within his team during lockdown and beyond.

We have a great range of support services to help colleagues with their relationships and wellbeing more generally, but as I’m sure is the case in readers’ organizations, awareness and take-up is not what we’d like it to be. So, we’ll be using all of the project streams to promote our relevant support services, including:

  • A toolkit for wellbeing conversations – this will act as a framework for having an action-focused wellbeing conversation between line manager and employee
  • Wellbeing for Line Managers e-learning – an online workshop that helps upskill managers to look after the wellbeing of their team members
  • Contact for Kindness – a matching scheme we launched during lockdown, for colleagues who are feeling lonely or isolated and want to chat with someone who has similar interests
  • Employee assistance programme – needs no further explanation!
  • Coffee Roulette – a chance to meet new colleagues from across the business.

To avoid being presumptive, I’m also consulting with staff on the project so that it meets their genuine wants and needs. I’m using the Crowdicity platform for this as it’s well established in MoJ and people are used to engaging this way. It allows people to suggest new ideas and then vote on them, so the most popular ideas can easily be identified. What’s more. it requires very little time investment, so if I get one or two good ideas, it will absolutely be worth it.

Autumn and winter will undoubtedly bring challenges, both in terms of our physical health and our mental resilience. By supporting colleagues to thrive in their relationships, both at work and in their personal lives, at MoJ we hope to boost our staff’s ability to sustain themselves through the coming months.

Capitalizing on what has worked well for us before – storytelling, webinars and panel discussions facilitated by our own staff and utilizing trusted internal stakeholders – will help to ensure a successful program that lands well, while involving employees in the development of the program will ensure it meets their needs.

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