If flexi working is not the whole answer to worker wellbeing, what is?

women takes part in 4 person work zoom call
May 24, 2022

If flexi working is not the whole answer to worker wellbeing, what is?

By Nicola Hartley, CEO & Founder Mint & Co

Statistics reveal that we are struggling as a nation with mental health, more so than prior to the pandemic. We have collectively and individually been through so much. And although we are now working more ‘flexibly’ than ever before (with many businesses now offering sole or partial flexible and remote working, having adapted during Covid) this isn’t necessarily translating into happier workforces. We are still transitioning (and some still reeling) from the effects of Covid-19, and we are finding that there are aspects to flexible and remote working that might not always suit every individual’s needs. 

True Freedom and Genuine Care

For some, being able to work part time hours and to choose the window in which those hours are completed, may deliver enough freedom and autonomy to better suit their lives and improve wellbeing. But until people can be fully in control of their diaries, until work is measured on outcomes achieved rather than hours worked, until workplaces genuinely care enough about wellbeing in the round (as much as their bottom lines) can it be said that workplaces are truly invested in worker wellbeing, and do workers have any real freedom at all? 

I believe that people need not only freedom and flexibility to thrive, but also a supportive place that values their overall wellbeing. They have a wonderful philosophy running through policy-making and business in Bhutan grounded on the principle of Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product – collective wellbeing literally trumps output, but it can also improve output as a bi-product.

I wonder how many workplaces exist where employee/worker wellbeing is genuinely being considered with true meaning and warmth, beyond the lip service of fancy policies that live on an intranet. How many managers and HR teams are being trained to ask how their staff are actually feeling and what is happening in their lives? Are we asking enough of our workplaces and managers? Do people feel brave, and supported enough, to be able to be truly vulnerable and open up about their lives?

We are emotional beings

During Covid lockdown, I spoke to a friend of mine who works as a very senior manager at a large supermarket chain, and sadly one of her team took his own life. This company had every generous policy under the sun around such topics as flexible working, bereavement and sick leave. But what they realised they had forgotten to do, was simply to ask their managers to talk to their team on a human level, to ask about their lives, to build a close relationship. After this event, weekly catch-ups with the manager were implemented, to get to know their staff on a personal level, and to ask about their emotional and mental health. 

Recently, at a SXSW screening and talk by Brene Brown for new HBO series and audiobook ‘Atlas of the Heart’, Brene talked about a short exercise they do at the start of every remote team call, which involves asking each staff member to state 2 words to describe how they feel, giving a good indication of each team members’ wellbeing that day and where there might be something to check in on. She made the simple but critical point that we are emotional beings and we have to address emotion at work as well as home. We don’t stop being emotional beings in the workplace.

Motivations for creating a new ethos in the legal industry

When I set up Mint & Co (legal and business affairs for the creative industries) and in the 5.5 years since, I have been grappling with some of these questions. As a law firm employee, I didn’t know how to talk to my (largely) male law firm bosses about how depressed I felt after a relationship breakdown, or if I might be able to take time off (I didn’t want to put anyone out  so I took holiday days). Because I tried to leave the office ‘on time’ (still 7pm)  on days when we didn’t have deals to close, I was told I was not ambitious enough, or a team player. My horrendously late nights the previous month, forgotten. In my later in-house role, as a young mother, albeit not as hierarchical or pressured, I still felt cheated out of my daughter’s bath-times and bedtimes and missing important milestones in her life. I knew other people must have felt like this too. 

How we care at Mint & Co

I knew I wanted to create a company where people had genuine freedom to accept or turn down work, to be completely in charge of their own diaries, to be able to nurture other interests, to not have to miss anything they didn’t want to miss, to be able to take time off for any reason, whatsoever, if they needed. But I also knew the flipside to working remotely and flexibly as a lone consultant was the isolation of not being part of a wider in-person team, with water cooler moments, shared learning, laughs, and true support. Creating a nurturing community was at the forefront of my goals for Mint. 

We still have much we can do, and want to do, but some of the things we have implemented at Mint really do make a difference to people’s lives in the way I’d hoped. People can schedule their diaries with complete autonomy and freedom. People have a sense of belonging to a team; we share knowhow regularly, we vote annually on charities we want to share Mint & Co profits with, we meet up quarterly in person and remotely in between, we communicate informally via Whatsapp as well as email. Client service levels and turnaround times are clear to clients from the outset. So much of what causes stress and pressure on lawyers is the fear of not meeting a client’s expectations. We also have a wonderful Client & Talent Relationship Manager with a coaching background, who is skilled at nurturing relationships with our team and managing client expectations. We care about our people, and our team genuinely feel looked after and supported.

We can all do more, but let’s start here

There is more we want to do, there is more we can all do. But I think starting with genuine compassion and interest in someone’s whole life, not just their work life, is a basic step that so many companies are still missing. Flexible working policies don’t always get served up alongside these elements of genuine care and connection. We all need to think about how we can bring more of those elements into our workplaces. And we need to ask the difficult questions when we join a new organisation, to find out how they approach, and value, staff wellbeing. For top tips on how to show ourselves safe care and improve our own wellbeing read my blog here

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