At the Benefex Winter Forum, we held a selection of wellbeing-focused workshops and talks which made up our Wellbeing Nirvana on the day. As part of these sessions, we were honoured to be joined by the wonderful David Beeney from Breaking the Silence, and Ruth Steggles, from Fresh Air Fridays.
Driving employee energy through your wellbeing programme
There are few speakers who have been – or will ever be – as memorable as David Beeney. At our Employee Experience Hackathon, David was introduced to us having had a successful career in media for 36 years but that wasn’t what he was going to be talking to us about. During those 36 years, David had suffered in silence with his mental health issue. Now, he advises employers on how to create cultures that are stigma free and is a qualified mental health counsellor for the charity Mind on a voluntary basis.
David was here to tell us his story. He give out some baked beans and bouncy balls explaining how they have helped to mask his panic attacks and were part of his coping strategy
2nd September 1986
David described this Autumn day as one of the worst of his life. He was interviewing a candidate, and suddenly became anxious; so much so that he struggled to breathe. He masked it as ‘feeling faint’ and it was never discussed again, brushed under the carpet like so many mental health issues. At 24, he thought his career was over and that his sanity was in jeopardy. Two days after that first attack, he was at a wedding with friends and family; laughing and joking, playing the clown. They had no idea how he was really feeling inside. His point? You just can’t tell how someone is feeling by looking at them.
Increasing the conversation about mental health
David spoke about the importance of using the right language in the workplace if you are to encourage more conversations about mental health. He spoke with passion about the linking wellbeing with energy and employee engagement. David encouraged everybody to ask people about their energy levels and to always talk energy and not mental health. He talked about the importance of normalising mental health and for us to talk about it in exactly the same way we do about our physical health.
1 in 1, NOT 1 in 4
There is a statistic that gets banded about, that 1 in 4 people suffer with mental health issues. David believes this is actually much higher, as this number only accounts for those people who feel they can speak out. He also suggested that men find it particularly difficult to talk about their mental health; unfortunately, this theory is evidenced in the number of young men who are driven to suicide. As David says: it’s not 1 in 4; it’s 1 in 1. Everyone has mental health – sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. What we as employers need to do is to provide an environment which is open, safe, energetic, and enables people to express their concerns without fear of judgement.
If you would like to find out more about the amazing work David does, you can visit his website, breakingthesilence.co.uk
Mindfulness, self-care and the great outdoors
This year, we wanted to offer an opportunity to take a step back from the stresses of the everyday, and send a message about how important it is to look after yourself – body and mind.
Ruth Steggles is the Director of Fresh Air Fridays, facilitating training and coaching in the great outdoors to support people’s wellbeing. Being a particular advocate of ensuring that HR professionals take some time for themselves, Ruth knows that they often spend so much time looking after everyone else, that they rarely stop to think about their own wellbeing.
“Mindfulness isn’t really my thing…”
Ruth knows that not everyone is on board with the idea of practicing mindfulness, but she asks, how can we be mindful of how others feel, and be effective communicators, if we aren’t mindful of how we are feeling, and do not communicate well with ourselves? Ruth believes that those who doubt the positive impacts of mindfulness just haven’t found the right techniques for themselves yet.
People aren’t naturally tuned to stay in offices or buildings for the amount of time we now do. Spending 8 hours or more each day inside, looking at a screen, listening to the issues of others, and dealing with the ongoing pressures of fast-paced working environments, is a recipe for poor self-care and, as a result, poor mental health. But, there’s a plethora of quick and easy ways to start combatting this.
Spending two minutes tuning in to how your body feels can be enough to help cope with stress and reconnect with yourself and others. Ruth says, “for us to thrive, we all need time in a natural environment,” so, stepping outside the office doors and into nature might be the best way for you. Starting and ending your day by spending a couple of minutes breathing in for a count of seven, and out for a count of eleven is a surprisingly powerful way to practice mindfulness.
Not everyone finds the same mindfulness practices effective. If these methods don’t work for you then check this out for more ideas
Sometimes you just need to listen
A recurring theme of the whole day was the importance of listening. Gemma Godfrey highlighted this in her keynote, when she spoke about the difference it made when it came to delivering a product people really wanted. Adam's discussion also touched on the impact of listening to your employees in order to put together a well-rounded wellbeing programme.
Ruth asked us to participate in a simple two-minute breathing exercise, and then turn to the person next to us to talk about our experience. But she wanted us to really listen to one another. We all tend to bring conversations back to our own experiences, and the result is that we often spend conversations waiting for our turn to speak, rather than taking in what others are saying. Listening, and feeling that you are being heard, are vital in developing trust with your employees, reducing conflicts, and can have a huge impact on our own personal wellbeing – there’s no greater way to show you care than to listen.
An attitude of gratitude
As we’ve seen from our own Simon Andrew, practising gratitude can increase long-term wellbeing; health, relationships, emotions and more. Ruth says, “your brain is constantly bombarded by information, and chooses to notice the things it thinks you need to see. When you start regularly appreciating things in your life, your brain gets the message that you want more things to appreciate.”
So, Ruth gave us rocks to include in our goody bags. Yes…rocks. The idea being to place the rock on your desk, in your pocket, or somewhere else you may regularly come across it – every time you see or touch it, think of something you are thankful for. The more and more you do this, the more likely you are to naturally begin to focus on all you are grateful for, without even encountering your rock.
If you want to know more, or you're looking for ways to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of your staff, Ruth and her team at Fresh Air Fridays can help. Visit freshairfridays.co.uk