No, really: how are you?

1st July 2021

I have been reflecting on the impact the past 18 months has had on wellbeing, its importance and what it means to me. Everyone has been forced to stop and think over this period and the small things have become far more impactful, both in positive and negative ways. While the dictionary definition of wellbeing is ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’.

To me this feels somewhat limiting, and a high standard to consistently meet, especially throughout the pandemic. For me, wellbeing centres more around how I’m feeling and how well I’m taking care of myself at any particular moment, which, yes, does contribute towards my health and happiness. But I don’t think of these as the goal.

The importance of small things

I’m someone who thrives on a routine, so getting outside every day for a lunchtime walk has become a ritual, as has doing 20 minutes of yoga before turning my laptop on in the morning. On the odd day that I don’t manage either of these I’ve noticed a difference in my mood and productivity. According to the charity Mind, this makes perfect sense. They state that ‘bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing’.

It seems that it is the small things we do on a daily basis that have the biggest positive impact on our wellbeing, yet these are the things that I barely used to notice.

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Opening up the wellbeing conversation

Here at CMC – like many organisations – we have recognised the importance of employee wellbeing and, about a year ago, four of us became Mental Health First Aiders. Our collective experience, and our new understanding of mental health, led to the birth of CMC’s wellbeing initiative. We wanted to open up the dialogue around wellbeing and remove stigmas that can get attached to the term, particularly when mental health itself is discussed. Throughout the pandemic, we have also focused on helping colleagues maintain their feeling of connectedness, and we now hold regular coffee catch ups with the purpose of discussing absolutely anything but work!

So now, instead of having the casual, passing conversations that office life provided, we have tried to purposefully check-in with colleagues in a gentle and caring way. This also means shedding our British tendency of politeness and avoiding awkwardness. We often think that we need to have the answer to someone’s problem, when what they need is someone to ask them how they are and truly listen to their answer, and, in that moment, be empathetic. This isn’t easy and requires trust on both sides: one to ask and the other to be brave enough to answer. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but we have all come a long way in a short space of time.

In fact, through having more honest and frequent catch ups that aren’t about work itself, I actually feel more connected to my CMC colleagues than I did before the pandemic. Until March last year, I spent 5 days a week at my client’s office and had little time outside of that to meaningfully engage with colleagues who were based elsewhere or working on different projects.

This new connectedness has been largely enabled by home working and continues now as I gain more normality by splitting my time between home and the office.

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Lasting changes

As I said in the introduction, like many, the pandemic has forced me to stop; to learn how to relax and switch off instead of dashing around London without taking a breath (and usually running perpetually late!). I won’t lie, it’s been hard to make this change and it still doesn’t come easily to me, but now I can’t imagine living life as I did before. Though I’m not sure it will be the same normality as before: it’s been such a transformative period. A recent survey by Nuffield found that only 10% of adults plan to resume their life as it was prior to the pandemic; many want to continue working from home. It’s important not to feel pressured to do what we did before, whether it’s how we worked or how we generally lived our lives. As we edge back into normality, maintaining a slightly slower pace by carving out some time to relax most days is something that I want to keep doing.

Organisations must not see their pandemic-related wellbeing measures as temporary; they need to become the norm. Especially as, according to research by the BMJ that the mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to have a longer-lasting impact than the physical implications.

As you may have seen from other articles and blogs from my fellow CMC colleagues, we’ve been working to become a more agile organisation. Part of this is reflecting on our culture: an agile organisation has a supportive and encouraging culture – the wellbeing initiative aligning effectively with this. The subtle behavioural shift that I have witnessed in myself and my colleagues this past year is reflected in the way that wellbeing has become even more prominent for CMC as an organisation. Collectively – as an organisation and as individuals – if we each take responsibility for wellbeing, we can make a big difference. Just because we are (hopefully, fingers crossed!) coming out of the other side of the pandemic, let’s not forget about our colleagues, as we need to keep supporting one another.

It’s good to see that we are shedding the superficial ‘how are you’ in favour of wanting to know and discuss how someone really is, and actually listening to their response, whatever it is. Of the many changes the last year has brought, this is, I hope, the one that sticks.

By Ellie Cooper, Business Change Consultant at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd