My Wellbeing Checklist — Weeknotes s1 e11 W/c 21 August 2020

This week the themes have been very much about wellness, and equality, diversity and inclusion. It kicked off with a productive conversation on equality with the Board. As with all of these things though, its the preparation before the Board meeting which really adds the value, and not just the meeting itself. We have also been giving a lot of thought to wellbeing and how we work smarter this week.

I have also had two weeks annual leave — hence the week notes break of course, which has much recharged my batteries and allowed me bit more perspective and thinking time. I was certainly more zen than normal during a long Board meeting on my first day back! Although it did rather feel that some other Sarah had been involved in the reports I wrote. Alongside equality, I have been working on treasury this week but there has been a definite theme of wellness in all sorts of ways, which I think I have noticed with a fresher eye this week — watching the adjustment between holiday life and work life, and the impact that has on my family too.

In the rest of this session, I am going to offer what I think organisations (in particular housing associations) can be doing to promote wellbeing at the moment. It is based on themes I have noticed this week.

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The first thing I am going to suggest is to link the themes of the week and say now is a great time to be promoting equality, diversity and inclusion, and this will help wellbeing. With #Black Lives Matter and the fact that Covid-19 affects BAME communities disproportionately, there is a rare combination of a call to arms on equalities at the moment, and it always helps to build teams around a common goal. The business case for equality I have already made elsewhere. Let me draw on two elements of Tai Pawb’s 5 goals as set out in their Equality Mark (QED*) — an inclusive workplace and meaningful customer involvement as being two things housing associations must demonstrate to gain the accreditation.

I would draw a particular focus on promoting an inclusive workplace throughout the employee life cycle at the moment. Remote recruitment presents new challenges for example, and new and long-standing colleagues alike can become isolated all too easily. Left ignored it could foster inequalities further down the line. We cannot just rely on historic practices to keep us safe, the change is too profound.

Secondly, inclusive and meaningful involvement with our customers is changing rapidly and will be increasingly important. As Covid-19 accelerates change our existing assumptions will become obsolete at the same pace and we need to be listening much more. Working on equalities and proper involvement and listening will help us adapt and improve as organisations and will help foster community spirit.

The second wellbeing area to focus on is technology and systems. I think we are over the rush of ordering laptops now, but there are plenty of “trojan mice” collaborative and simple tools out there still to be explored (I have had great fun finding a few more through Helen Reynolds #31DaysOfCreativity this month). Thanks you Helen Reynolds! I don’t think the housing sector is making enough of these new tools and we would do well to encourage more use. We cannot simply port old meetings and work styles online so there is some urgency here, but we do have to be mindful of introducing new tools so that they do not overwhelm colleagues at the same time (as a massive enthusiast for trying things out always, I sometimes under-estimate learning curves!)

There is also real value in investigating internal controls and systems, and leaning them out, particularly reducing the number of colleagues involved in processes wherever possible. My experience is that complex approvals can be more difficult to achieve remotely, and the principle of economy was always important but its screamingly so now. I speak as a Company Secretary to still has to physically use our company seal and I have experienced the minor madness of driving round colleagues houses to obtain the necessary signatures in lockdown! Sadly, I have no magic wands for that. But if there is anything you use regularly and can be automated or workflow-ed, then I recommend taking the plunge, for wellbeing reasons alone, and not just the obvious efficiency savings.

Thirdly, it’s useful to position this time as an opportunity for personal investment, training and development, and reflection. Of course, currently, many sectors and UK workers are facing some pretty difficult circumstances, and there is still huge fear even in relatively stable sectors such as mine. I have found it personally very helpful for my morale to focus on learning new skills (for example practising doing videos, and overcoming my aversion to seeing myself on camera and these very week notes in fact) and seeing both the positive feedback I have had and the progress I have made. Even if budgets are stretched, there seems to be an explosion of free webinars at the moment, and the potential value of colleagues sharing learning is immense. I think it can help give back a sense of control and empowerment, which at the moment is sometimes in short supply. I’m also doing some mentoring in my spare time currently and I think I get more from that than the mentee! So that’s my third prescription. It might be low or no cost, but make personal investment and development a priority at the moment.

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Working on my wellbeing and resilience on my holiday — near the top of Sugarloaf

Finally, I recommend organisations improving wellbeing by improving their transparency at the moment. For many organisations, how they cascade information and decisions have been utterly transformed and ironing out any communication problems is one we have had to work on more than once. Uncertainty is difficult to deal with, so anything we can do on that helps even if it is to say “an office return decision won’t be made until X date in the future” for example. Organisation’s concern escalation procedures and whistleblowing may also need to be reviewed — what happens if you cannot physically have a quiet word with someone in a corridor?

Broadening and strengthening opportunities for colleagues to get involved through different channels is also important — I think it’s still intimidating to speak in a virtual meeting of 40 people just like it can be IRL, and not everyone is extroverts. So much non-verbal communication is lost online that developing, refining and ruthlessly focussing on meeting protocols seems to be pretty urgent, if not done already. New habits are being forged by relentless repetition in this new world and we need to be intentional about those habits if they are to help wellbeing.

I’m not sure if this is a conventional angle on wellbeing but I do hope this will help with practical steps in tackling frustrations and challenges. I know there is so much more than can be said on the subject, in particular mental health, but time does not allow, sadly.

Next week will be the last of the 12-week notes in this season, and I will read my week notes through and share what I have been learned. Heads up — I think it has been a worthwhile project so far…

Caffeine intake — one suspicious takeaway coffee which was not as decaffeinated as it seemed!

Experienced Chief Finance Officer -track record in Welsh social housing and third sector. Chartered Accountant (FCA BFP). Views my own - my space for blogging.

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