What is the most important thing we need to talk about today?

In my organisational role this question is very familiar to anyone I manage, as it is the first question I ask in every 121 we have. If you have ever wondered why someone doesn't seems to be engaging fully in the conversation, perhaps you should give it a try. After all, when you have got something on your mind, something that is really concerning you, how easy do you find it to focus on what someone else wants to talk about? So the easy answer is to get it out in the open first. And be prepared to listen and acknowledge that the answer might be business, and it might be feelings or a wellbeing matter.


When we went into national lockdown earlier in 2020 it came about very quickly, and everyone had to adjust to a new normal. For some this was easier than others. We had the benefit of early spring good weather to get outdoors for some exercise and gradually increasing daylight hours. Nonetheless the change was significant. And now, with a further period of restrictions announced, the question is, how will you take care of the people you work with?


Wellbeing this winter will be more important than ever. Our teachers are continuing to go into school so that children can continue their education, and experience that all important social contact that they need. Doctors and nurses continue to care for us in ever more challenging circumstances. And really importantly remember the services that we all rely on like the staff in the shops, the cleaners who keep the public buildings clean, the refuse collectors, and many more. Then there are those who continue to work at home, where the boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred.


People I 'meet' with regularly have got used to the 3pm visit from the dog who comes to sit on my lap. At over 30kg he doesn't quite fit, but does love to join the conversation. Colleagues with cats that have walked over the keyboard and hit 'delete' on the document they spent hours working on. And whatever happened to work clothes? When was the last time yours came out the wardrobe? Or is it still an important part of your day to feel dressed right for work?


Over time those boundaries can feel harder to maintain, and as our home lives have crept into work, so for many have their work lives encroached on home. And perhaps that makes it easier for us to realise that when we have those 121 conversations it can't just be about business. For people to perform at their best at work, we also need to consider the whole person, and that includes their mental health and wellbeing. Starting with being prepared to listen to whatever it is they have to say. Remember, sometimes all they want, and need, is to be heard, to feel listened to.


So what are you doing to support your colleagues with their wellbeing this winter? The dark evenings and colder weather might mean people get outdoors less, so how about a conversation about how they can take a break during daylight hours, if possible, to get out for a walk, and look at the working hours more flexibly. Or how about learning something new? If you want to learn something new for free, then there are plenty of opportunities online (you might want to check out Futurelearn if you haven't already found it). Or how about your organisation - do they have any work based courses you could follow? Many offer learning for wellbeing as well.


NLP has some great tools for improving mental wellbeing so check out the link if you are interested. Or if you are lucky enough to be working for Leeds City Council, check out PALS for a workshop running in November and December. But if you don't yet have any NLP skills to support your staff, just try asking that question - "what is the most important thing you want to talk about today?" and go wherever it leads you.

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