Health and Happiness workshop - a report

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Welcome – Professor Jeremy Pritchard

The Health and Happiness event began with a warm welcome from Professor Jeremy Pritchard who addressed an audience of colleagues from both professional services and academia representing all of the Colleges from across the University as well as Academic Services. Professor Pritchard gave a fascinating insight into how the workshop had evolved from working with Lorraine Gaytten and other colleagues as part of the University’s Senior Leadership Programme into the event that took place at University of Birmingham on Wednesday 13th December 2017. Professor Pritchard explained that the subject of happiness is a key national priority in Dubai at present, with important research and outreach work being led by the Dubai Minister of Happiness.Taking the Dubai agenda forth the Health and Happiness workshop utilised the expertise of University of Birmingham researchers and associated organisations to investigate the importance of happiness as part of an ongoing conversation about mental health and wellbeing within the workplace. The event was hosted by the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business. Attendees on the day tweeted via #UoBhealthhappy

The interdisciplinary research and practical workshops were conducted by practitioners and academics from Behavioural Medicine, Philosophy, the Business School, Lloyds Banking Group, Cardiff University and the Costs and the Benefits of Optimism Project. Centred upon the theme of happiness,the following principles were explored throughout the day: health, fitness, satisfaction, social support, productivity, personal goals, work/life balance and duty of care as an institution.

health and happiness event

Is Ignorance Bliss? Unrealistic Self-Assessment and HappinessDr Anneli Jefferson, Costs and Benefits of Optimism Project

Dr Anneli Jefferson from the Costs and Benefits of Optimism Project at University of Birmingham gave an interesting oversight into the concepts of ‘positive illusions’, ‘the better than average effect’ and ‘unrealistic optimism’, which she defines in her presentation (link). Here, Dr Jefferson explored these concepts in terms of whether they are beneficial or detrimental to our health and happiness and gave key examples to support each opposing side. Throughout her presentation she referred back to the overarching impacts of these key themes in relation to both our working and personal lives, which she defined as being clearly interlinked.

During the question and answer session Jefferson’s presentation provided lively discussions between colleagues from a broad range of backgrounds, including questions from Professional Services as well as academics from the fields of Geography and Biology, which creating interesting discussion amongst those present.

Happiness: How Do We Measure It? How Does It Affect Our Physical Health?Professor Anna Whittaker, Professor in Behavioural Medicine School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences

Professor Anna Whittaker’s presentation offered a whistle stop tour of the impacts of wellbeing on our physical and psychological health, our working life and our overall happiness as individuals. Here, Whittaker defines happiness in broad terms as ‘low stress, low depression and low anxiety’ and identifies that paramount to achieving these states of being or ‘goals’ is having a positive social support network, a lack of loneliness and positive mood.

On the subject of stress, Professor Whittaker shared research that she has conducted which illustrates the negative impacts of stress upon our nervous systems, which can cause reactive changes to blood pressure, adrenaline levels and can even be damaging to our internal organs and immune system where depression and chronic stress are factors. Professor Whittaker highlighted that some of the most common causes of stress are bereavement, unemployment, job strain, marriage and caregiving responsibilities, which again have strong connections with both personal and professional life and highlight the need to provide appropriate support networks.

How are Happiness and Health Linked by Capabilities (Things People Are Able to do and to be)? – Dr Iain Law, Philosophy, University of Birmingham

From a philosophical research perspective, Dr Iain Law explored happiness as a key concept in the work of Philosophers from Aristotle to contemporaries such as Roger Crisp and Johannes Bircher. In his overview Dr Law defined that in Aristotelian terms happiness is seen as avoiding unhappiness by doing ‘supreme good’, the idea that happiness is linked directly to being a good person with high moral standards. Whereas in the writing of Johannes Bircher wellbeing and health are defined more specifically as having the potential or ‘capability’ to deal with life, social norms and having the resilience to fulfil vital life goals.

Using the World Health definition that ‘health is complete wellbeing of physical and mental dimensions’ Dr Law discusses the problematic nature of this definition, questioning whether as humans we are ever of true mental and physical health.

Group Work - Question 1: How can we measure happiness in our workplace?

During the group breakout sessions Academic and Professional Service colleagues collaborated to respond to the question ‘how can we measure happiness in our workplace?’ Here, attendees used their personal experiences in order to help shape future practice. Generating outstanding cross-curricular discussions, colleagues from across the University and a variety of sectors exchanged ideas, experience and expertise.

Key ideas that were generated on how we can measure happiness in our workplace:

  • Report on staff attendance
  • Generate staff surveys and set aside staff time to complete
  • Regular wellbeing discussions with Line Managers
  • Line Manager to take overview of wellbeing within the department – training for wellbeing/mental health
  • Group support networks for wellbeing
  • PDRs to incorporate a wellbeing agenda – creating a scale of health and happiness
  • List of staff values to echo positive work/life balance agenda
  • Professional services and research impact
  • Encouraging staff to engage in mindfulness activities to target stress
  • Workload – business taking stance to help reduce/manage stress
  • Closer relationship between Professional Services and Academic staff through more integrated events
  • Public acknowledgement of recognition for job roles e.g. website engagement to praise staff
  • Cultural change towards a ‘collective enterprise’
  • Wellbeing created by compassion e.g. restrictions on working life

Wellbeing and Work: Working Time, Work-Life, Balance and Flexible Working Arrangements – Dr Daniel Wheatley, Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham

Dr Daniel Wheatley from the University of Birmingham’s Business School gave an excellent insight into key strategies used to measure workplace wellbeing such as the ‘Subjective Wellbeing’ approach using a Likert scale to report on personal wellbeing and quality of life. (link to PowerPoint)

Using current research findings around flexible working arrangements such as job share, flexible working hours and working from home, Dr Wheatley discussed the benefits and detriments of flexible working policies on workplace wellbeing. Some recognised positives in favour of flexible working patterns included; autonomy over working life, flexibility of care and responsibilities, productivity and cost reduction. Meanwhile, the negative impacts included factors such as limits to career progression, not being ‘visible’ in the workplace and potential social isolation, which highlight potential development needs for staff on flexible working arrangements going forth.

Concluding on a positive note, Dr Wheatley identified that whilst there are always areas to improve upon there are also terrific benefits within our working lives which include social benefits, identity, ‘togetherness’, a sense of purpose and life satisfaction.

Practical Solutions, a Personal Perspective- Ross Gardner, Group Public Affairs, Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business

Ross Gardner began his presentation by highlighting the excellent employee benefits offered by Lloyds Banking Group which include free Bupa healthcare, mental health line manager training and opportunities for volunteering and outreach work, before telling an inspiring personal account of his own journey within Lloyds Banking Group.

Ross shared his story with those present, having joined banking at a challenging time, just before the financial crash of 2008 where over 40% of the company employees were made redundant. However, despite the challenges that Ross faced, he wanted to stay focused on ‘keeping things going’ in spite of the stress, heavy workload and long commutes to and from work each day. Until one day he describes that everything subsided and ‘the world went dark’, upon experiencing this feeling Ross contacted his GP and was referred immediately to an OCD specialist as part of his company Bupa healthcare.

After taking a short time out of work and through building trusting relationships with colleagues based on open dialogues around mental health within the workplace, Ross felt confident returning to work. Whilst he reports that his OCD is still an ongoing battle and one which he must dedicate time to, Ross’ story tells the empowering difference that honest communication, colleague support networks and work/life balance can make within a workplace, which underpinned all of the core values of the Health and Happiness event.

Lifestyle Leadership: An Innovative Approach to Leadership and Wellbeing at Work - Rhian Roberts, HR Business Partner and Helen Spittle, School Manager Cardiff University

Rhian Roberts and Helen Spittle gave an inspiring presentation on the Lifestyle and Leadership programme being trialled at Cardiff University which commenced in January 2016. The project started as the result of the team becoming too ‘reactive’ to situations in the workplace which had noticeable impacts on happiness in the workplace such as poor sleep, fitness routine, low energy and little work/life balance.

As a starting point staff began to keep reflective logs to record personal goals, successes and benchmarking tables, which drew parallels to the Likert scales introduced by Daniel Wheatley earlier in the afternoon. A fundamental part of the process was for staff to identify barriers to achieving their goals and improving both physical and mental wellbeing.

Changes that were embedded over a trial period of 30-90 days included desk yoga, having ‘walking meetings’ instead of staff sitting at their desks, encouraging staff members to participate in sporting events during lunchtime, taking directed ‘thinking time’ and allowing staff to move around the room at meetings rather than staying seated (link to slides). The concept behind these workplace lifestyle changes was centred upon the theory of using mental space and movement to reduce stress and improve performance. Since implementing these wellbeing strategies Cardiff University report a significant reduction in staff sickness and absence, in addition to an overall increase in staff morale in the college where this strategy has been implemented.

Group Work - Question 2: How do you embed a healthy lifestyle into your workplace?

For the second group breakout sessions Academic and Professional Service colleagues identified the following ways to embed a healthy lifestyle into our workplace:

  • Compulsory Senior Management Mental Health training
  • Learning from Cardiff University and implementing a wellbeing trial
  • Create a policy for staff to not access emails in the evenings
  • Role models or buddy systems to help create a wellbeing network
  • Wellbeing embedded as a component in 1:1 sessions
  • Pre-planning for resilience as an integrated PDR component
  • Delivering “Resilience” modules/sessions in UG programmes
  • Embedding Voluntary work into working life due to known positive impacts on wellbeing
  • Improving “Togetherness” - collaborating and building relationships within the community
  • Creating open and honest dialogues with Line Managers to reduce stigma around mental health

Conclusion

Throughout the day attendees were taken on a journey of wellbeing and experienced a range of both research and practical led workshops and presentations conducted by practitioners and professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. Emerging themes such as the importance of providing staff with social networks, appropriate line management support, fitness, health and work/life balance were established as major priorities to improve happiness. Within the group work staff collaborated and shared ideas which indicated a genuine need and desire to improve ‘togetherness’ as an institution whether through social groups, buddy systems, open dialogues with colleagues or encouraged voluntary outreach work.

health and happiness event

Feedback from the day was overwhelmingly positive with over 90% of attendees stating their expectations were well met or exceeded and all attendees agreeing that leading and implementing the Wellbeing agenda for staff should be a high priority for the University.

Quotes from participants:

“Superb workshop – has really made me think about my working life and how I can better deal with it”

“Ross Gardner’s personal journey of tackling a mental illness in a challenging role reinforced the importance of empathetic line management support”

“Very well structured event, great to hear so many academic and practitioner perspectives around an agenda that is so important for all at the University”

“We need to build on this event, taking forward the agenda of Wellbeing, creating a Community of Wellbeing with Academics working in partnership with Professional Services colleagues to find workable solutions to benefit all”

“Would like to see more walking meetings and other easily implementable Wellbeing ideas from Line Managers”