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Be the change - small acts, big impact

Updated: 4 days ago

How your individual efforts can begin to create a culture of wellbeing.


I talk a lot about wellbeing in the workplace, often people at all levels of an organisation feel powerless to make a difference. They look to senior leadership teams to drive the culture change but actually, we all have a part to play and can make a difference with our small daily actions.



Today I wanted to share three real life examples I have witnessed recently whilst delivering training in different organisations. These are small, local actions by individuals that have a big impact.

I have changed names as not everyone wants to be in the limelight.



Supporting an individual


I was asked to support a factory that was closing with the majority of employees being made redundant. Many had worked there for their whole life, it was a community not just a job and the closure had hit people hard. My role was to provide wellbeing support through the process and offer the opportunity to share fears, talk and look forward. I ran small groups and some follow-up 121s.


In one session I met Jeff, he initially appeared extremely anxious to be part of the group, he sat with Tony who I later understood was there to support him.


Jeff had worked at the factory for 45 years since he was 16, he was seen as a great worker, completed everything to a high standard and was praised by his managers, he felt proud of his work and status in the organisation. On the flip side, he couldn’t read or write, had extreme anxiety, couldn’t go into a shop or use public transport and struggled with everyday tasks.


Here is where Tony and a group of other workers came in, not because it was their role or they were asked to do it, but because they cared. For many years they supported Jeff in a range of ways. He brought in any letters and they read them to him, helped him deal with bills etc, and called companies with him. They noticed he rarely ate much at lunch, just some crisps, so they started bringing him in a sandwich or buying him something from the canteen. His coat was old and torn so someone gave him an old one of theirs.


They also supported him in the job, coming to meetings with him, to help him feel calm and explain what was happening. Male workplaces can often be full of "banter" but Jeff didn’t like that, If new staff started teasing him, they would help them understand the teasing upset Jeff and he was then left to focus on his job.


The factory was Jeff’s family and support, it was all he knew. Tony and his colleagues allowed him to lead an independent meaningful life, whereas in other circumstances he may have been left at home, on benefits and unsupported, detrimental to his mental and physical health.


They were concerned about the impact of the closure on him, financially he was nearly at pension age and redundancy would help, but how would he fill his days, who would support him, where was his purpose?


Between us we started on a plan and contacted some local voluntary groups, it had to be somewhere he could walk to, as he couldn't use transport. Did anyone need a regular volunteer and could also offer him support? We found a lunch club for older people where he could help with serving and cleaning up and in return they would read his letters and give him lunch. Tony has taken him for a visit and we hope Jeff will start next week.


Tony and his colleagues have made a huge difference to Jeff’s wellbeing, and their own, helping others is good for us, it releases feel-good hormones, gives us a sense of purpose and helps build communities.

 

Bringing the team together


A more corporate organisation this time, that often worked in silence, people rarely even looked up to say hello, managers communicating mostly via email and high burnout rates. I had been asked to provide stress awareness sessions but immediately saw what was needed was connection.


A junior assistant, Anna, who had been there only six months was in a session, we chatted at lunchtime, she was desperate to get to know her colleagues and change the wall of silence. It was November so we talked about Christmas being a good time to try something different.


She came up with the idea of an office advent calendar, each member of the team would share a fact about themselves “I did London to Paris bike ride” or” I make jewellery” anything non-work related that people wouldn’t know. Then every day a fact was shared and people had to guess who it was, sometimes there were extra clues. All correct answers popped in a hat and over an afternoon cup of tea together the winner was pulled and they had the advent chocolate.


A simple, inexpensive idea, that involved everyone, got people talking, learning about each other as humans and brought them together for a tea break each day.


Anna broke down the barriers to communication with this act, they have since done other small activities together and have kept an afternoon tea break. It is still a work in progress but she made a difference.


Connecting whole organisation


Finally a receptionist/security guard, Chitti, in a large office that included a call centre. The company was undergoing restructuring, a lot of change and extra workloads which was leading to low morale. I worked here on and off over a few years and Chitti had a huge impact on me.


His area was completely shut off from the main office, staff walked through to enter but his role could seem very isolated. But not for Chitti, he said hello with a smile to every member of staff that walked through, using their name (there were hundreds of staff) remembering little details, "Is your daughter feeling better? " "Did you enjoy the film?" Etc


He made everyone smile, he made them feel seen and valued, just in those small acts. He did the same to me, using my name, asking about my journey from Brighton, and welcoming me like a long lost friend. I would then sit in reception until I was collected, enjoying watching a great communicator at work. I would see the change in body language as he greeted people.


Every session I did I asked, “who supports wellbeing in the organisation?” Most replies were “no one” or “a colleague they sat by” but rarely did they say Chitti, his work was going unnoticed. When I pointed it out it was the most animated I would see the employees, they all appreciated how he made them feel, and it gave them a lift.


Chitti wasn’t doing this to gain praise, he was doing it because it aligned with his values of connection, he was giving his role meaning and purpose, and he was enjoying his role more by giving to others in those tiny interactions day in and day out.


Final thoughts


In all these examples the individuals decided to make a difference themselves, they were not in positions of power but saw a way to prioritise wellbeing.  We often overlook the importance of meaning and purpose which has been evidenced to support wellbeing and growth. prioritising making a difference all these examples added meaning and purpose to their roles,  benefiting the wellbeing of those around them as well as themselves.

 

Whatever our role we can find a way to add meaning and make a difference, what can you do from today?


Do you have other examples of individuals making a difference I would love to hear your stories.

 

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