Gemma Dale: What does wellbeing mean?
Gemma Dale, our Wellbeing and Engagement Manager takes a look at wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic
Wellbeing is a somewhat imprecise term, meaning different things to different people. Some perspectives focus on overall life satisfaction or the pursuit of happiness. There’s a wide range of perspectives, definitions and models available, but an agreed definition still eludes us.
When we talk about wellbeing we often use terms like thriving, balance, flourishing or being your best self. Wellbeing incorporates mental, physical, social and even financial health. It is a broad topic, and one that is also deeply individual and personal. What supports or enables my wellbeing might be a source of stress for someone else.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights this starkly; all of us are living through the same shared situation but experiencing it in very different ways. For some, lockdown and working from home has meant isolation and loneliness or loss of purpose. For others, it has led to anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Some people are reporting eating better, some worse. There are people who have found more time for physical activity and others who have seen their motivation to exercise wane entirely – or they just can’t fit it in around home schooling and work commitments.
I’m sure many of you will have seen the media reports about the potential mental health implications that may result from the current situation. Many people who are working at home are certainly feeling increasing levels of tiredness with the shift to online meetings. Combined with the personal and professional challenges that Coronavirus has delivered and living with continuing uncertainty, there is a very real risk of people burning out.
At our University we have taken steps to support our people through our additional closure days and the ‘meeting light’ fortnight. Some Faculties are also introducing their own initiatives to reduce the length of meetings and avoid meetings at lunch times or on certain days of the week. We’ve been asked if we are going to make these formal University-wide policies. The answer to that is no and the reason is simple – it is once again about the individual nature of wellbeing.
What works for one team or one department, or even one individual member of staff will not necessarily work well for another in an organisation as large and complex as ours. I believe that there are two things that really matter. The first is that we do something different; we can’t just move everything that we used to do face-to-face into a virtual world. It might not work as well and specifically there may be negative wellbeing implications. The second thing that we need to do is make it fit for the context – the particular job roles, the needs of the team and the department.
I’d like to encourage all people managers to have this conversation with their teams. Discuss what ways of working will support shared wellbeing. Take inspiration from the many ideas that have already been shared, such as meeting free lunchtime periods, Zoom free Fridays or other agreed time periods, or shortened meetings to allow for screen breaks, and see which ones will work for you and your specific context. Please make the most of the meeting light fortnight to have some time free from online meetings.
I’d also like to encourage all of our staff to talk to their managers and share their ideas for improving ways of working in their teams. We can all work with wellbeing in mind.
Please also keep your own wellbeing in mind. Self-care starts with each individual and the first step to self-care is self-awareness – knowing what works to enable our own wellbeing and what detracts from it, and recognising our own personal signs and symptoms of poor wellbeing.
If you haven’t already engaged with our wellbeing opportunities please take a look; we aim to have something for everyone. When we are busy and juggling competing demands, all too often it is our own wellbeing that falls to the bottom of the priority list. We have a way to go before we can return to a more normal way of life, and it’s important we do take the time to focus on our own wellbeing, at work and at home – doing what works for you and your particular situation.
I would like to leave you with a quote. The New Economics Foundation undertook research into those factors that enable wellbeing. It is this research upon which our own ‘ways to wellbeing’ are based. Their MD said this: “Wellbeing is not a beach that you go and lie on. It is a dynamic dance and there is movement in it, all the time”.