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Working Towards Wellbeing: An Introduction

April 8, 2021

There’s no doubt that mental wellbeing in the workplace has come into sharp focus over the past year, but we have a long history at the Tavistock and Portman of thinking about how to make sense of our emotional experiences at work.

This can be seen in the very beginnings of the Tavistock Clinic, just after the First World War, when a generation of men returned from the battlefield struggling with psychological difficulties; needing help to return to their personal and professional roles with some ease of mind and freedom from the impact of their experiences.

Today, the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust continues to provide training, consultancy and organisational mental health services that focus on our experiences in the workplace. Our new ‘Working Towards Wellbeing’ Mini Courses draw on some of our key approaches to understanding the human experience – recognising that sometimes we are influenced by aspects of our unconscious behaviour, knowing that we are part of a wider system that has an impact on us, and understanding that we continue to develop throughout life.

Wellbeing in the workplace?

Promoting mental health in the workplace is about more than just trying to make sure people feel happy in their jobs, or ensuring that people have been trained on mental health conditions. It is about working towards an inclusive, professional environment which recognises that mental health is represented by a wide continuum of experience, and is able to gather the best of people’s efforts on behalf of the whole organisation.

Our approach, which rests on our clinical understanding and experience about individual psychological wellbeing, is aimed at thinking about an effective and creative workplace as a system, where we are all in a position to support and develop each other’s emotional health.

The key to these new courses is that they recognise that ups and downs in working life are unavoidable, because no matter how or where you work, relationships are key. Even a lone worker needs to interact with the wider system in some ways, and is impacted by the way others feel and behave. We know that, in relationships – no matter how hard we try to control or organise them! – human beings will always be at their creative, messy, unpredictable best… and their worst. These courses are aimed at highlighting what works, what can get in the way, and what you can do as an individual to help to create and sustain a workplace that supports emotional wellbeing.

Working Towards Wellbeing

There are four courses in the ‘Working Towards Wellbeing’ suite, and they can be approached individually or together, in any order.

Written and presented by my Add | Wellbeing colleague Angela Bagum, ‘Maintaining Hope in Uncertain Times‘ is particularly relevant as we come out of the extraordinary experiences of the past year, when many workplaces are facing huge challenges and readjustments, and when the task of gathering energy and purpose in the workplace is really tested by the losses and disruptions we have all faced, no matter what sector or role.

Drawing on expertise from the Tavistock’s Trauma Service, ‘Trauma, Self-care and Caring for Others‘ is also highly relevant to the experiences of the pandemic, and to what happens next, as we know that it is in the period after exposure to a potentially traumatising experience that we are more vulnerable to distress, and also when we need connection and mutual care the most.

Leadership, Followership and Mental Health‘ takes a particular look at a key dynamic that is not always at the core of approaches to mental health in the workplace – the leader-follower relationship and the power it has to create meaningful cultural change and strengthen emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Lastly, ‘The Resilient Workplace‘ sets the organisation, rather than the individual, at the heart of resilience. It focuses on the ways in which organisations can support individual capacities to adapt and transform challenging experiences – and, in the process, work better together and perform more strongly as a whole.

Considering our approach

All four courses are about being at work, and ask the learner to make links between the ideas presented in the course and their own professional role, wherever that might be, as part of our unique model of ‘learning from experience’.

The courses are aimed at a wide audience. We know that the ideas and approaches explored are ones that are relevant no matter your area of work, and the aim is always to try and make those practical, ‘real world’ connections as immediate as possible by presenting the material in different ways. Participants are offered regular opportunities to reflect throughout the courses – by engaging with some guided questions after watching a video, for example, or by identifying situations from their own workplace that may be similar to brief vignettes from the course.

The courses are short and, crucially, flexible. We know that many organisations express support for becoming more aware of the importance of mental health, but finding ways to inform and develop awareness is less straightforward. The courses’ self-directed approach allows participants to learn at a time that works for them, and in a place that feels comfortable. Some of the concepts may take some revisiting or further reflection (particularly when making those important links to participants’ own experience), and this format makes it easy to come back to parts of the course as things start to connect up.

Each course features experts from within the Tavistock and Portman’s range of services, and holds at its core our belief that the more we understand what is going on around and within us, the more likely we are to be able to work well, and to manage change. And if we can understand and manage our own workplace experiences better, we will have an impact on others too – even a small change in one part of an organisation can shift its overall direction of travel towards better mental health and wellbeing.

Interested in finding out more?

Our new ‘Working Towards Wellbeing’ Mini Courses have been developed in collaboration with the Tavistock and Portman Add | Wellbeing team to nurture mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Drawing on the key principles of systems-psychodynamic thinking, each five-hour Mini Course combines stimulating, theoretical ideas with a clear and practical focus on the most pressing challenges and development needs facing organisations today. 

Each course can be undertaken independently or as part of a convenient course bundle:

To discuss group bookings for your team or organisation, please get in touch with us by emailing DigitalAcademy@tavi-port.ac.uk.

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