Wellness Action Plans are a proactive way to care for wellbeing in the workplace
Employers are looking for innovative and proactive new ways to care for their staff’s wellbeing. The mental health charity Mind has come up with a Wellness Action Plan (WAP), a personalized tool to help employees manage their health at work.
“We know that rates of people working, but still living in poverty have risen sharply – and that unpredictable, low paid jobs, which don’t support people’s wellbeing, can have a devastating impact on people’s mental health,” says a spokesperson from Mind.
A WAP is an incredibly useful document to share with managers to help them support their teams and to start proactive conversations about staying mentally healthy in the workplace. It can also be used by a manager if they are taking care of a staff member with a mental health problem especially if they are returning to work after time off.
What is a WAP?
It’s a personalized, practical tool to help employees recognise what keeps them feeling well at work as well as what makes them feel unwell, and it suggests the type support an individual would like to receive should they need it. Not a legally-binding document, it is confidential and intended as an agreement between a manager and team member.
What’s in a WAP?
1 Approaches to support a person’s mental health.
2 Early warning signs to look out for.
3 Workplace triggers for stress.
4 Potential impact of reduced wellbeing.
5 What support an employee would like from their manager.
6 Actions and positive steps an employee will take with their manager if they are feeling stressed.
7 A timeline to review the WAP and the type of support offered.
8 Anything else relating to staying well and healthy and work.
A good place for managers to start is to put a time in the diary for a one-to-one session with each team member, kicking off the conversation by offering a copy of Mind’s Guide for Employees: Wellness Action Plans to encourage them to make a start on their WAP.
Individuals know themselves better than anyone else so when working on a WAP together, managers can encourage their staff to consider how they feel when they are flourishing at work, what they perceive a positive work environment to be and how they help themselves to stay healthy mentally. If a person has had mental health issues in the past, it can be useful to discuss this and what strategies they used to feel better. As a manager, it is important to be led by staff – managers should be there to offer support and guidance on what is reasonable in the workplace rather than offering advice or suggestions.
The most effective WAPs are flexible with regular feedback between the manager and individual to ensure it is working well.
Practical suggestions to put into a WAP
1 Flexible working hours might help someone avoid the rush hour if they have difficulty being on busy public transport or who needs to attend weekly therapy sessions.
2 Providing workload support and help for prioritizing work.
3 Allowing annual leave to be spaced throughout the year.
4 Offering quiet spaces for breaks away from a busy, noisy workspace or to work in if open-plan offices are distracting.
5 Offering mediation if relationships with colleagues require intervention.
These should be reasonable adjustments to allow an employee to continue with their duties without being at a disadvantage compared with others. Adjustments depend on an organisation’s resources and what is reasonable to provide.
Why it’s worth WAP-ing
1 Employees will have a sense of empowerment over their mental health and they are less likely to come up against problems such as work-related stress.
2 Managers who are proactive about wellbeing demonstrate to their co-workers that mental health matters to the organization.
3 WAPs are a way to start a conversation about mental health in the workplace, which remains a tricky topic for some.
4 People do better when they feel better: a manager who understands the needs of their staff will get the best out of them – productivity, performance and job satisfaction.
5 Managers should also develop their own WAPs.
A note on confidentially
WAPs are usually confidential between a manager and employee, although in the event of a WAP being used if a staff member is unwell, a manager can ask permission for a copy to be sent to HR. In a crisis, a manager can break confidentially in order to fulfil their duty of care to an employee.
Addressing a mental health problem with a WAP
It isn’t a manager’s role to provide medical advice but they can support a staff member by encouraging them to be open about their problems, making sure they know what they say is confidential, being positive about what the person is able to do (rather than what they can’t) and offering training or mentoring (consider setting up a mentor scheme if your workplace doesn’t already have one).
Working together is the greatest help a manager can offer in helping people manage their wellbeing at work. Recognizing and rewarding someone’s hard work goes a long way to building confidence and resilience against mental health issues.
Mind has a WAP template online for employers and employees: https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/taking-care-of-your-staff/employer-resources/wellness-action-plan-download/
Mind is a trusted and comprehensive resource for mental health in the workplace, with comprehensive information sources, training and consultancy including e-learning