Adelle Shaw-Flach is the owner of The Sweet Potato Consultancy and spoke at our Becoming Disability Confident event on 14th March. With one in four people estimated to have a mental health issue in their lifetime and the rise of “presenteeism” in the workplace, we spoke with her about the importance of considering wellness at work.
Hi Adelle, thanks for talking to us about workplace wellbeing, Can you let us know background and career and how you got into this sector?
ASF: I am a public health nurse and have spent most of my career working with people to prevent, detect and improve ill health. I assess the health needs of both individuals and communities. I then started teaching the new generations of public health nurses. I have worked with people from a variety of backgrounds and with conditions including:
- new mothers
- postnatal depression
- mental health issues
- domestic abuse
- physical health issues
- pediatric wellbeing
I have seen the full spectrum of what can happen when life gets difficult! I became a lecturer and in addition to teaching, I also mentored students. People are people whether they are clients, students or employees! We are all human and that can be messy and challenging.
“People are people whether they are clients, students or employees! We are all human and that can be messy and challenging. “
How did you become interested in wellbeing in general and more specifically in the workplace?
ASF: When I was a lecturer I observed the impact that working crazy hours had on both myself and my colleagues’ health. I saw skilled employees struggle and become unwell which caused them to leave the company because of the impact it had on their health and wellbeing. Often they would end up unemployed or take a lower paying job.
I saw how poor management caused this. Complacent HR departments didn’t investigate why particular departments had high turnover rates or what they could do about it. I was given the responsibility to improve workplace wellbeing and it quickly became clear that there was a disconnect between what the organisation was saying and what was really happening.
I felt passionately that there was a better way to treat employees. I knew skilled people should be valued, not treated as commodities that were replaceable. I decided to take my expertise and use it to tackle mental health and its stigma within the workplace. It was time to break the cycle of sickness, turnover, disengagement and poor performance.
What does a wellbeing program look like?
ASF: There isn’t a typical wellbeing program and nor should there be. It should be developed on the needs of employees. For example, if a number of employees work remotely then their challenges may be loneliness and the associated risk for mental health. We would implement boundaries so that frequent use of technology wouldn’t negatively impact their lives and cause burnout. This may be particularly a challenge for mums of young children who often have such roles.
I look at the demographics, talk to employees and look at existing company information.
I draw on the existing research on wellbeing, public health, behaviour change and neuroscience and then design something bespoke.
There needs to be the understanding that one size doesn’t fit all. Needs are changing all the time and wellbeing programs should reflect that. There shouldn’t however be a quick fix approach which grants employees free fruit and cinema tickets!
There needs to be the understanding that one size doesn’t fit all. Needs are changing all the time and wellbeing programs should reflect that. There shouldn’t however be a quick fix approach which grants employees free fruit and cinema tickets! A lot of the focus lies with managers who should lead by example and be aware of their own wellbeing, in order to look after an employee’s.
What impact does it have on organisations?
ASF: The impact of wellbeing programs is one of the hardest things to prove as changing behaviour, attitudes and culture takes time. The biggest impact happens within a company when people start talking about mental health, wellbeing or whatever their challenges may be. This is when profound cultural change takes place.
Wellbeing is the one human connection we all have. We all will have challenges with our physical and mental health at some point. It’s the glue that connects us as humans. Once we feel comfortable with each other, then many insecurities become safe to share including mental health illnesses, hidden disabilities and disclosure of LGBT identities. You may also see a reduction in sickness and turnover or an increase in performance and productivity.
I also have a tool I use to measure impact called Motivational Maps, but when done properly cultural change makes the most profound impact by creating widespread inclusion.
Are there any specific wellbeing techniques that pertain to people with disabilities?
ASF: Life with a disability can be challenging, and can result in stress and mental health challenges. Recognising that, for example, a person with dyslexia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome will find it harder to do what others can complete easily. Developing awareness of when you are overwhelmed and stressed is important. Rather than pushing through, you must ensure that there is balance in your life. This can mean doing less but being more effective. For example, we know that being outside in nature is good for our mental health. If we go on a walk outside with friends we have met three of our needs in one go! We can’t do everything, so choosing what gives maximum benefit is key.
The Sweet Potato Consultancy can provide a variety of services, such as: appropriate wellbeing strategies, workshops and programmes for leaders about mental health, stress and engagement, support for indviduals at risk of burnout, wellbeing workshops for employees (this can be on sleep, technology, stress and mental health) and they speak at conferences. Get in touch for more information.
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Written by Shannon Kelly – Shannon is a writer based in Chicago and a Journalism graduate from the University of Illinois. She uses a manual wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, and is passionate about international travel and the environment. She frequently documents her experiences of living with a disability on Disability Horizons and her personal website.