“It’s not me. It’s us.” – Reflections on workplace wellbeing for National Work Life Week

9 October 2019

Kate Goodale from Add | Wellbeing looks at wellbeing in the workplace.

Stretching at desk

It’s official. Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is making its way into the mainstream and what better way to reflect on this in National Work Life Week.

Here at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, we are celebrating this huge surge in workplace wellbeing initiatives as we have been exploring the impacts of groups and organisations on people’s mental health ever since the second world war. This sea change in awareness can only be a good thing and we are all in this together – nearly two thirds of the working population will suffer from a mental health issue where work was a contributing factor, which is a shockingly high number. In other words, more people’s mental health will be negatively affected by work than not.

Yet only 16%* of employees feel able to disclose a mental health issue to a manager. How much is that to do with the individual or the workplace? Where do the impacts of the wider organisational culture sit in this?  What is the employer’s role in that?

So, as well as supporting the employee, we encourage looking at the workplace as a whole.

The work done by psychoanalyst Dr Wilfred Bion here at the Tavistock in the 1940s globally advanced the understanding of how organisations and groups affected individuals’ mental health. He pioneered work on preventative psychiatry based around morale and group relations. He is the author of every therapist’s essential reading: ‘Experiences in Groups’ (Tavistock: 1961). This has been a core approach to many of the services we now offer today, whether it be our wide-ranging clinical work with children, young people and adults, or our work in organisational consultancy. And it is how we approach our Add | Wellbeing in the workplace programme.

Our Add | Wellbeing in the workplace lead Lydia Hartland-Rowe explains “Some initiatives out there relating to mental health and the workplace take the individual as the main focus – both in terms of where the problems are, and how to address them. Our interest is in the dynamic between individual states of wellbeing and organisational and systemic functioning; about what goes on both consciously and ‘under the surface’. This is what we do and have done for many years.”Add Wellbeing transparent

We describe our approach as a ‘whole systems approach’ and although we hope organisations we are working with will have well-functioning systems, we have the significant added benefit of having access to expert specialist clinicians should that become needed.’

So, what does this approach look like in practice? Well, it starts with an openness amongst senior leadership to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. If you are a leader reading this, we encourage you to consider your own mental health and how you take care of yourself, which will promote self-awareness throughout the whole staff group. These conversations aren’t always easy and the results aren’t always immediate. Meaningful change takes time. 

Workplace wellbeing. It’s not me. It’s us.


*Stats from BITC Seizing the momentum

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