Supporting psychological wellbeing: practical tips for managers
Supporting wellbeing through change: practical tips for managers
Contributing to a thriving and healthy workplace is everybody’s responsibility. During times of uncertainty the role for managers becomes particularly important in fostering wellbeing and supporting staff to seek help if they need it. This information sheet contains some practical tips, advice and reminders to support managers and teams during periods of uncertainty. This includes Machinery of Government (MoG) changes.
It is important that you communicate early, often and consistently during periods of uncertainty or organisational change. A consistent, compassionate approach reassures staff their wellbeing and mental health is valued.
Organisational change is by its nature uncertain. You may not have all the information right away, and it is important you communicate this uncertainty with staff. You need to advise staff when they should expect the next update.
You are an important point-of-contact for staff who may feel anxious about change. Have an open door policy, or provide mechanisms for staff to provide feedback or ask questions.
Reassure staff it is OK to ask for support, and demonstrate this through promotion of:
- peer support networks where available
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) contacts
- associated resources and services through all corporate channels.
This is important for staff entering a new agency and those who may be unfamiliar with the resources available. Make sure any resources can be accessed independently of networks and systems which may be difficult to access during a transition, or which new staff may not be familiar with.
Use your leadership team
You and your leadership team can be mental health champions. Leaders at all levels can champion mental health and wellbeing throughout the change process. Small steps, such as initiating conversations about mental health and wellbeing, are an important way to demonstrate commitment to staff wellbeing. For new staff to the organisation, reaching out in this way can provide a familiar face and voice in an unfamiliar environment.
You can set a positive example for staff. You can encourage self-care practices such as
- setting realistic goals and timeframes
- avoiding excessive hours
- acknowledging difficulties and working on solutions.
You can encourage regular, proactive check-ins to support colleagues who may be feeling overwhelmed. You can continue to check in with staff over time to encourage feedback and respond to their changing needs.
You can acknowledge milestones and recognise and celebrate individual, team and organisational achievements. This can be as simple as acknowledging the small steps in the change process and the need to continue delivering business-as-usual work. This encourages staff who may feel disconnected from the ‘bigger picture’ and provides opportunities to reach out and congratulate colleagues on their achievements. Demonstrating how these achievements are supporting the change or the strategic goals of the new agency are a great way to on-board staff into a new work environment (and farewell staff who are off-boarding).
We all experience and respond to change differently. Common responses to organisational change can include:
- stress and anxiety.
Some staff thrive on change, and you can harness this energy to support others through challenging responses. While many people can use their own internal and external resources for support it is important that you respond to teams and staff experiencing stress. You can help staff to identify supports, work together to find solutions in the workplace, and link them to relevant resources and support.
Understand the ‘window of tolerance’
One way to understand people’s reactions is to use the ‘window of tolerance’. By framing behaviour and reactions this way, you can intervene with supported strategies before behaviour becomes unhelpful.
When people are in their window of tolerance they can:
- think clearly
- make decisions
- solve problems
- be empathetic
- help others.
Staying within the window of tolerance is the best way to have healthy and supportive interactions.
This is a valuable development opportunity for all staff. It allows us to act purposefully when we recognise the signs someone may be moving outside their window of tolerance.
Fight, flight or freeze
When stress builds up, you can be thrown out of the window into a flight, fight or freeze response (such as anger, anxiety, disconnected or feeling numb). These reactions are automatic and out of people’s control.
Ongoing exposure to emotionally impactful events
Ongoing exposure to emotionally impactful events (both at work and outside of work) can lead to a person’s window of tolerance shrinking. In this state they can find it hard to deal with even minor stressors and be more easily thrown out of their window of tolerance.
You can use a range of targeted strategies to help expand the window of tolerance. These include active listening, validation and working with people to find appropriate coping strategies and solutions.
Give staff all the support they need to become familiar with a new work environment. Staff will encounter new policies, resources, procedures and systems. You can make sure your team has access to policies, resources and appropriate training opportunities across a range of topics, including mental health and wellbeing. This has two benefits:
- staff become more familiar with their new environment more quickly and are more likely to cope with stress and anxiety.
- staff build their mental health knowledge and capability.
Staff need enough time to familiarise themselves with these policies. Encourage them to book time in their calendars to read on-boarding packs and complete on-boarding training. Make sure all content is accessible and available through potential network and system changes.
Flexible work and reasonable adjustment
Employment policies and expectations of staff can differ between agencies. It’s really important staff know how they can approach their need for flexible work or reasonable adjustment. Their previous agency’s policies and culture will have formed their view of such approaches and managers need to manage these expectations properly.
- inform staff of the agency’s policies on flexible working arrangements and reasonable adjustments, and prioritise responding to staff enquiries and feedback
- encourage staff to take regular breaks and to monitor working excessive hours. Proactively support staff to ease their workload.
- encourage staff to develop activities that allow new teams or team members to get to know each other, and establish employee networks and a connection to the new agency.
The My Best - A Conversation Starter template will help to start the conversation about practical supports that could be put in place.
Be inclusive and consultative
Take an inclusive and consultative approach. APS agencies are diverse, and different people may respond differently to change and require different support to perform their best.
We’ve also developed advice for HR Practitioners to support a diverse workforce going through change. It’s really important to remember that organisational change is not something people usually have a say in. They may have chosen their current agency or team because they strongly identified with its values or goals, and they may feel like they are losing an important part of their identity. By providing opportunities for consultation, and demonstrating the positive change this can have, you can give people opportunities to influence change and help people feel valued and supported.
- See the Machinery of Government changes – A guide for entities (finance.gov.au)
- Comcare has developed tools and guidance to assist organisations to reduce the psychosocial risks of workplace change
- Supporting a diverse workforce through change: Practical tips for Human Resource Practitioners
- My Best - A Conversation Starter template.