Helen Wood is Head of Staff Professional Development and Senior Mental Health Lead at The Loddon Foundation. Her breakout session at the SET24 conference in January 2024 will focus on embedding an organisational wellbeing culture, the importance of mental health first aiders, and how to access healthy coping strategies. Here she discusses her top tips for prioritising wellbeing at work and what she hopes delegates will take away from her session at SET24.
There is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but a good place to start is by becoming more self-aware and honest about what coping and wellbeing strategies we already have access to. That can prove a challenge, particularly when we lead busy and, at times, stressful lives and tend not to prioritise time for ourselves. Adrenaline and stress hormones can directly challenge our thinking and behaviours, and we need to remember that it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. So, to continue to provide the best for others, we need to start by looking after ourselves – and it doesn’t take the time, effort or money that we might fear!
For me, having regular opportunities to be outside in nature is fundamental to my health and wellbeing. There is a growing amount of credible evidence about the positive impact of blue and green spaces. You won’t find me in a gym (although arguably it’s something that would benefit me). I am happiest with camera in hand at a nature reserve or meandering along a riverbank hoping for that electric flash of blue when a kingfisher whizzes by. You could say that I am a lazy mindfulness practitioner – nature and photography is grounding, slows my (at times) frenetic work pace and connects me with something present. I am fortunate to live in an area where access to nature is easy but that’s not the case for everyone – that’s one of the reasons that I offer wellbeing walks for our staff team to give everyone who wants to the opportunity to get out and about and connect with nature in an informal and supported way. You can’t impose wellbeing strategies on people – what one person finds relaxing, the next person finds unhelpful or even stressful –, but it’s about creating a diverse offer that meets a variety of needs and allowing people to opt in.
Whenever I attend a conference, I am hoping to take away a few nuggets of information and practical ideas to implement within my own practice and setting. I hope that attendees will gain a sense that establishing a wellbeing culture at work is achievable with a small group of people who are invested, energetic, have a little resilience and wish to support positive change.
Change comes from us as individuals and evolving a culture takes a momentum shift – it can be a slow burn and it’s almost impossible to engage everyone, particularly in a large organisation, but the overall impact for recruitment, retention and employees feeling valued, and therefore even more motivated, at work is worth the effort. As a practitioner, I’m hoping to provide realism. If people leave the session thinking “I’m going to try that”, whether it’s a strategy for themselves or others, I’ll be happy!
I’ve been a member of SET for many years, have completed QTLS and ATS, and am a member of the Practitioner Advisory Group (PAG), and I have really valued the connections that I have made with other professionals working in similar and different settings. The post-compulsory education sector is a diverse beast, and we can all get a little insular when engaged with the daily grind. I have found past SET conferences provide an opportunity to stop, reflect and at times recalibrate. I would encourage people to go and chat to others – you’ll find like-minded colleagues as well as those who can challenge and stretch your thinking by presenting a different perspective.
In my experience, we’re a friendly bunch who share a set of values and want the best for our learners, and that often means that we are at the back of the queue when it comes to our own professional development. So, it’s an opportunity to focus on ourselves and our own professionalism and indulge just a little bit. I’m not going to lie, the food is pretty good too.