Mental health awareness: is it time for a 'whole employee' work culture?

15 May 2019
Equality, Diversity and InclusionEmpathy
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Oxfam's Kate Kellaway Moore and consultant Kim van Niekerk share in this blog six activities that they believe can help the mental health of fundraisers and their employees, an area they say is often neglected.

How did you feel as you woke up today? Hopeful, excited, sad, nervous, frustrated, angry, are some of the myriad of emotions we can face on a daily basis when it comes to our work. Yet, so often, we’re encouraged to set our emotions aside. Emotions are to be “managed at work” we’re told. But, what if actually tapping into our emotions could benefit our work? What if building work culture rooted in a better understanding of our emotions could actually improve our organisations?

Over the last decade, we’ve been slowly embracing the positive side of emotion at work. Happiness, focus, passion, determination are just a few of the great emotions we love to have around the office. What we haven’t been doing at the same time is helping people get a balance of how to maintain those positive emotions in the face of stressful conditions. Limited budgets, limited staffing with high targets and high stakes can mean we neglect the very core of employee welfare: their mental health.

We have started to see a rise in support popping up for professionals and we wanted to share six of our favourite activities which think could change the face of how we work together for the better:

1) Mindfulness. It is a term that has been about for a long time and has gone through an unbelievable surge in the last 5 years. The term brings up 159 million hits in Google alone and it is creeping its way into our offices in a number of different ways. One of these ways sees teams starting meetings with a ‘mindful minute’. It involves everyone taking a moment to settle in their chairs and focus on their breath to reconnect with how they are feeling and what is going on in their head. By doing this, they can acknowledge what is going on, let it go and become more present to the new space they find themselves in. Added bonus, they can feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed by a busy day.

2) Meditation. A key part of mindful practice, mediation is also increasing in popularity in particular thanks to apps such as Headspace and Calm. Teams are seeing the huge value of just 10 minutes of daily practice. Non-judgement meditation which involves you concentrating on your thoughts and emotions without judgement and extending it to those around you is being shown to increase perspective taking and empathy in neuro science research. With regular practice, we could find ourselves seeing a colleagues’ fear and anxiety before their negativity and find much more helpful ways to relate to each other. Teams are also using the apps to share their regular practice and make recommendations for particular meditations they are finding useful and even getting together in breaks to meditate together.

3) Labelling emotion authentically. In Nepalese, there are 20,000 different words for emotions. How many can you list that describe your range of emotions on a daily basis? As a culture of professionals, we don’t encourage connecting with our emotions and yet research is consistently showing us that just by labelling our emotions privately to ourselves and openly to others we can decrease the impact of the negative emotions by 50%. Think of the improvement in workplace culture if we could take the edge off the stressful times just by accurately labelling how we were feeling instead of stifling the emotion.

4) Clearing inner space. To do our best thinking, we need to engage the prefrontal cortex part of our brains, particularly when we set about solving problems and processing new information. Yet in a world of distractions and busy to-do-lists it can be hard for our mind do its best work. To create focus, you can do this simple visualisation exercises: spend 1-2 minutes reflecting on what is on your mind that would prevent you being fully present for that moment in time. Imagine you are physically holding all of that in your hands then, with a deep breath, stand up and throw it away towards a window or a door. A simple way to create presence and clear our minds for important meetings and our most innovative work.

5) Journaling. It might take you back to your teenage years but the practice of writing a journal can positively impact our health and happiness. It can help us to process our emotions, break unhealthy thought patterns, and help us to understand our world in new ways. Start by setting aside just 5-minutes a day to write down some bullets of how you felt that day. A simple task that can soon become an essential habit.

6) Unlocking the potential of mindset. It is a simple truth but what is going on in our minds influences our behaviour and actions. If you think “people won’t care about what I say”, you will likely feel riddled with doubt and be unlikely to speak up when the next moment comes. But, the flip side is that it gives us huge potential to consider what alternatives we could replace it with. Breaking down our assumptions, considering what alternatives we have, and supporting people through coaching, are all ways we can start to see the huge benefits when we begin to replace our internal narratives with something more supportive and nurturing.

All of these activities have one thing in common: they don’t set emotions aside, they put them at the heart of the work. We’ve seen ourselves how they can start to improve relationships, unlock new thinking and, just as importantly, increase our own self-worth. What if these activities became so much more? What if they became part of our collective effort to place care, our well-being, our happiness, at the heart of every organisation’s culture across the fundraising sector? Now, there’s a thought.

Kate Kellaway Moore and Kim van Niekerk are two of the mindful co-founders of a resource for professionals looking to nurture their best mindsets for a joyful working life. This blog was written for Mental Health Awareness Week.

Kate Kellaway-Moore
Kate Kellaway-Moore
Head of Partnership Hub at Oxfam GB
Kim van Niekerk
Kim van Niekerk
Fundraising consultant and coach
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