To protect our workforce mental health, we must focus on our own

Jules Hillier, CEO of Pause and chair of the CEO mental health working group, reflects on the making of the report “Workforce Wellbeing in Charities“, launched today.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Over the last year, I have had more conversations about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace than almost any other topic. One of these many conversations led to the development of a working group of brilliant CEOs supported by ACEVO and Mental Health First Aid England to spend some time thinking more about workforce mental health. It has been an absolute pleasure to chair this group and today our discussions have resulted in the launch of “Workforce Wellbeing in Charities”, a short report that summarises our discussions and makes some key recommendations.

The responsibility we have as CEOs for the welfare of our organisations and the people who work in them can weigh heavily and the care of our people is one of the most important things we can think about. It’s particularly important in the social sector where people choose roles in which they can make a difference to something they care deeply, sometimes personally, about. Whilst that makes for commitment, drive and passion, it also brings fragility.

Through our open and honest conversations in the working group, it quickly became clear that in order to think about the essential work of protecting our workforce mental health, we must focus on our own. Our jobs can be tough and tiring and lonely and it’s not always easy to put in to practice the strategies we know we should to make sure we can operate at our best. In many ways, the process of holding the meetings and sharing our experiences was a living illustration of one of the most important things we discussed: the value of peer support. Share the load. Talk to other people who understand your role and can tell you that you aren’t alone.

Two things happened during the year we met which threw our discussions into even sharper relief. Of course, the impact of the pandemic on everyone’s mental health was significant, us included. As CEOs, we were not immune to the anxieties and stresses of ill health, lockdown and isolation but we were still responsible for supporting our teams to navigate it safely. The second thing was the murder of George Floyd and the increased profile of the Black Lives Matter campaign. For those people who had experienced racism, the increased recognition of racism in the sector, whilst welcome was also stressful and exhausting. It was vital for us to recognise that within the group but also as we all lead the work our organisations need to do in order to tackle racism.

I reflect on what I learned from the group on a regular basis. I think about power, authenticity and boundaries and how difficult it can be to balance these things. How I sometimes forget to model the behaviours, attitudes and permissions I want to encourage across the organisation because I believe it will help keep people well. As I write, the angel and devil on my shoulders are fighting over what I should do about the fact that I haven’t used up the annual leave I should have done by now, despite my regular reminders to my team that they must take time off. I bet that struck a chord with some of you…

One of the things I hope we never lose as we gradually come out of the pandemic is the focus on our own and other people’s wellbeing. It has been so central to some of the most important and interesting thinking I’ve done with the Pause leadership team and trustees and with colleagues across the sector. We’re all asking ourselves how we can do our best to support people to be well at work in such extraordinary circumstances. That’s a question we must continue to ask every day, even when we are all back in our warm, social offices, travelling to our sites round the country and meeting people face to face. It’s a question we must ask about ourselves too. And then we must give an honest answer and share that with others.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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