As managers, most of us are experienced in organisational change and supporting employees to navigate the uncertainty that it brings. But the unique demands of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic have brought new and additional stresses. Every day, the conflicting and often frightening messages from government and the media make it difficult to plan confidently and frequently emphasise how little control we have over many aspects of our lives right now.
Fortunately, the University of Birmingham has, for some time, adopted a ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ strategy, which is led by HR, supported locally by employees and has really come to the fore during the pandemic.
From online mindfulness classes to Knit’n’Natter meetups, my co-workers have come up with so many fun, and mostly free, ways of bringing that concept to life on campus and in lockdown. But there is a strategy behind it all, with a diverse taskforce deciding locally what wellbeing activities and support are most important according to what our employees have told us through surveys, staff forums and feedback.
Interestingly, one type of activity that employees have found most beneficial this year is giving. One scheme, run in partnership with the charity Entraide and Lloyds Banking Group, has seen employees volunteer as telephone befrienders helping refugees who are particularly vulnerable during the current crisis, both through isolation, and language and cultural challenges. And supporting another at-risk group, women facing domestic violence, was the aim behind a recent charity fundraiser to walk, run or cycle 40km, which saw employees from diverse areas and roles, coming together to challenge their fitness, raise funds and awareness of another area which has seen a worrying growth during lockdown. Not only were both fundraising areas connected to our institutional research, but they also aligned with our wider mission as a civic institution, to have a positive impact and support our wider community.
The experiences gained and conversations started by employees from just these two examples have been extraordinary and really helped build a culture of giving and support among co-workers in the workplace too. Perhaps that is why giving is so powerful for personal wellbeing: doing something for others also involves being active, connecting, taking notice and learning too. For the university, it has also helped employees feel part of our overall mission to look after the wellbeing of everyone who works and studies here.
Sophie Sinclair is engagement and operations manager at the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business, University of Birmingham
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