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Supporting your people to thrive: Leaders’ role in delivering holistic health, safety and wellbeing strategy

In case you missed it, this article featured in SHP Online last week…

Gone are the days when the wellbeing box was ticked by having a fruit bowl next to the coffee machine. But now with the pandemic in the picture, has wellbeing been pigeon-holed to be solely about stress and anxiety?

We talked to Consultants at Tribe Culture Change to see how they’re encouraging clients to approach wellbeing as part of the bigger picture…

A recent survey showed that 60% of workers feel anxious and just over half are low in mood.[1] Google searches for ‘signs of burn-out’ are up by 221%.[2] It’s a tough time for employees and the pandemic’s impact on our mental health has been well documented.

But stress and anxiety aren’t the sum total under the wellbeing umbrella. According to Mark Ormond, Managing Director at Tribe Culture Change, it’s fundamental to take a wider view to uncover what’s fuelling the wellbeing problems.

“Wellbeing accounts for much workplace absence but we don’t know how many safety incidents may have a root cause in people’s wellbeing. Are workers feeling distracted, panicked or stressed? Are they making decisions based on their emotions instead of factual evidence? And if this is the case, what can be done about it?”

Human factors

Colin Hewson, Lead Consultant at Tribe, delivers Human Factors Trainings. “No one ever sets out to hurt someone but why do people make certain decisions or behave in a certain way? Is it because of the systems and the organisation or because of outside influences?”

“Many human factors are linked to wellbeing,” he says. “Tiredness, home working, shift patterns, communication, distractions, commercial pressures and stress… in our workshops we discuss how they can impact people’s decision making.”

He continues, “Getting to the bottom of these factors allows leaders to understand the impact they can have on someone’s performance.”

Leadership behaviours

“There’s a well-known phrase: people leave managers, not companies,” says Kate Morris, Lead Consultant. According to a 2015 poll by Gallup, 75% of people at some point in their career leave a job because of their manager.[3]

Kate continues, “The way people lead and manage others has a huge impact on wellbeing. Do they really care about the people in their teams? Do they respect them and communicate effectively – including listening to ideas and concerns? Do they trust their team members to get on with their job and provide support when it’s needed?”

She believes this balance has to be right to allow people to thrive. “If this goes wrong, people can feel overloaded and anxious. Just talking about how to manage stress is not enough.” She says, “We also need to talk about good leadership and how to support everyone to thrive so they don’t become stressed in the first place.”

Opening up

Tribe has been working with clients, some of whom are having serious mental health issues among their workforces, but if no-one feels able to speak up and have an honest conversation about how they’re doing, nothing will change.

“Change must come from the top,” says Mark. “Leaders must be open to talking about mental health and wellbeing and really lead by example.” This may be by prioritising work/life balance, being open about their own wellbeing, and encouraging more talk.

Mark says, “We’re working with a client at the moment and everyone is saying they’re overstretched – including senior leaders. When I asked if they pushed back, they looked shocked. But if leaders don’t, no one will.”

“Leaders need to be aware of their behaviours and understand how they’re passed down through the company,” he says. “If everyone’s overstretched, no one will be productive.”

Completing the jigsaw

Increasing numbers of employers are investing in Mental Health First Aiders. Employees are trained to notice signs of mental ill health, listen in a non-judgemental way, and signpost people to further support.

Kate feels these are a great idea but they’re only one piece of the jigsaw. “Mental Health First Aiders are there to provide support, but leadership must be there too. Leaders need to have the skills to recognise the signs that someone is struggling and react positively.” She says, “If someone doesn’t seem their normal self, you can’t just ignore it.”

Instead, leaders should be upskilling their workforce to have wellbeing conversations throughout all levels of their organisation.

She continues, “With people being allowed to go back into offices and restrictions lifting, it’s also about reconnecting with our colleagues and encouraging openness. Perhaps you choose to run more regular away days or it’s a Friday lunch together.”

Cultural maturity

Within the field of culture change, a cultural maturity index marks where an organisation sits on its journey to reaching maturity. Kate says, “You couldn’t be a level five organisation without wellbeing. It’s not enough to just not harm people, you have to support people to thrive.”


[1] The Workplace Health Report: 2022, Champion Health, 2022.
[2] According to Google search data.
[3] State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, Gallup, 2015


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