We recently launched a new service to help organisations take better care of their staff, by training team members to look out for the mental wellbeing of their colleagues. Our Staff Care Consultant BEN PORTER explains how this can make staff happier and organisations more efficient.
What is the Wellbeing Focal Points programme? In short, we train a group of people in an organisation to recognise when a colleague of theirs is facing a wellbeing issue, to offer support to them, and to signpost them to further support when needed. It’s a bespoke programme designed with an organisation, and so the end product can range from a simple buddy system to a more specialised peer support system. But it should always be a part of a broader staff care plan that includes other interventions such as: counselling, mediation and safeguarding. Fundamentally, the Wellbeing Focal Point programme is about prevention, and stopping problems escalating.
Can you give an example of how it works? Well it starts with a conversation between us and an organisation: we discuss why they want this scheme, how it will fit in with their current staff care plan, and what it can help them achieve. We then support the organisation to select ‘recruit’ peer supporters in the organisation. With a recent client, six of about forty staff chose to be peer supporters, which I think is a good ratio. And these were people with a good reputation, who were above office politics, and that chose to be part of it. Selecting the peer supporters is one of most important steps.
What does a successful programme help achieve? Well a preventative approach like this can far outweigh the cost of treatment. One major European study found that an organisation can save €13 for every €1 it spends on preventative psychosocial wellbeing. This is because if someone’s situation escalates, then it can mean weeks of sick leave, disruption to workflow, cost of appointments and lower productivity. But if you spot a problem earlier, then you can stop it escalating. That said, at first these schemes might impact at a less visible and more subtle level.
Is the humanitarian field good at this kind of staff support? Some do it well. For example, a UNHCR study found that its staff valued peer support more than any other staff care intervention. And World Vision also has been doing this for twenty years. But overall, I think it’s been implemented chaotically, ad hoc, and often ‘too little too late’.
Why do you think this is? I think there’s a few reasons. One of the biggest is staff turnover, which is quite high in this field. For example, you might get the perfect peer supporter trained up and well practiced, but then their contract ends and they go somewhere else. We also need leadership and management buy-in too, but there’s a high turnover at this level as well. So it’s hard to get traction. And this is what we are trying to do at Thrive – getting this message across to an organisation’s decision makers.
What makes for a good peer supporter? Just being a really good listener can change the direction of how someone is feeling. Listening to understand, not listening to respond. I don’t think we would need as many counsellors in the world if we had really good friends, and good, understanding colleagues, where we spend the majority of our waking time!
What would you say to people who like the sound of being a peer support person? It can be very rewarding to walk alongside someone as they struggle. It can give more meaning to your work, in a way even that tasks you’re hired to do might not fulfil. And so I’d say to them ‘do it!’.