What does a high trust environment really feel like? 

Hear from Darea Flanagan, Wellbeing Engagement Manager at EON-UK as she shares her thoughts on how EON created a safe space for staff to open up and share their experiences during the pandemic and the genuine personal impact this has had on people.

Why did you set this monthly wellbeing session up?

For World Mental Health day 2020 we wanted to ‘celebrate’ our mental health journey. It had been the 10 year anniversary of us signing the Time to Change organisational pledge and so we spent some time  going through the archives, and was reminded of some sessions we did as kind of focus groups ,called Time to talk from 2015 a series of sessions where each Board member hosted a session to talk about mental health and to start a journey of employee voice in shaping a mental health programme. We wondered if we could breath new life into them or even to just hold a few as a ‘throwback’ exercise. Our organisational structure has evolved so I extended the initial ask out to our Top 100 with the expectation that 3 or 4 of them would respond positively to host the session. Within 24 hours we had 24 willing volunteers and needed a plan!

What sort of topics did you cover and why?

We had just started our winter wellbeing campaign which was covering topics that we had put into a 10 week plan, they were data led, from our Employee Assistance programme, our sickness absence data and our colleagues survey as well as looking at national campaigns and public health campaigns so we tied it all in with a health campaign, awareness and personal stories. We had some ‘general’ sessions which had no topic at all and  others have covered grief and bereavement, menopause, isolation, anxiety, Men Only to tie in with International Men’s Day, life in lockdown and relationships.

Were there any pre-existing issues/ areas lacking that required this building of trust?  

We knew that is we wanted leaders to be comfortable and confident and colleague to feel they were confidential the key to success was trust , connection and authenticity. The subjects we were covering had the potential to be raw and deeply personal. Our mantra is to provide a positive culture where #choosetocare is at the heart of it but we had to be realistic too. We were putting a programme together of 20 sessions that covered emotive topics at a time of a global pandemic, national politics and organisational change. The leaders who volunteered were given a list of the topics that we wanted to cover and asked if they had any lived experience of those and if they did to take that  session. It was an amazing experience that before we had even held the first session out leaders were sharing and being open about their own personal experiences, that helped with engaging them in the session and helping them to use their own experiences to open the conversations on the day and helped with the integrity of the leaders whilst hosting the time to talk

How did you build a safe space for people to share?

If you are asking colleagues to share and open up in the workplace it has to feel safe, without that there will be no value and little honestly and can cause a certain amount of distrust; why are you running these, what will you do with what I say, why should I open up to a leader I don’t know? All of these things were in our minds but because the intention of the sessions came from  a genuine place of openness and respect we were able to tell the strategic narrative clearly and passionately around the ‘why’ and also the ‘how’ we got there. 10 years of campaigns and promoting internal support services as well as regular articles, blogs, educational materials and awareness sessions had laid the foundation blocks of trust and commitment to making E.ON a better place to work. For several years we had taken colleague stories and used them to highlight certain issues, conditions and circumstances, about 100 stories in all giving a colleague perspective and helping wellbeing, mental and physical health to be promoted in a positive light whilst really spotlighting topics and signposting to internal and external services. We made sure the time to talk sessions looked on brand and they were easily recognisable, we also made them easy to sign up for, we kept them at 35-45 minutes so they felt accessible and safe for our operational colleagues. We clearly advertised the topic, used MS teams and ensured that we promoted these positively. Whatever we did worked as all 30 of them in total have been well attended, that’s over 400 colleagues who have shared, listened and supported each other. We knew that to build a safe space we had to set them up for success so kept the participants at a maximum of 15 so it was intimate yet not intimidating and structured it so there was a facilitator to introduce the session and to set the tone, things such as putting people at ease, talking about the integrity of the session, they why and to be genuinely inclusive remind colleagues to be open, honest and reiterate the confidentiality aspect. IN addition is was important to put everyone at ease, we shouted out that you didn’t have to be on camera, it was ok to pause if you were upset, you weren’t going to be singled out to talk and it was ok to use the chat if you didn’t feel able to speak. Those things may seem small but add them together and they make a big difference. As I mentioned the leaders all had lived experience of the sessions they chose to host so could introduce the session with a personal story which was so powerful and set the right environment for others to follow, We also have a network of internal champions called Wellbeing Warriors and at each session there was a Warrior who attended who could also signpost to service and support if there was a requirement adding to not just the safe space to share but also to continue the commitment to a supportive workplace.

What are people saying as a result?

We would never have imagined the positivity and engagement these sessions have had at all levels of the organisation. After each individual session the team chat gets filled with ‘thank you’s’ ‘I don’t feel alone anymore’ ‘WOW, thank you for sharing’ ‘Powerful’ and a genuine feeling of relief, pride, connection. Its hard to explain the community and connection and the power of sharing in words. As the wellbeing Engagement Manger I have set these up and attended every one of them and each one is so different but the same things happen, the power of sharing and conversation is amazing even our CEO has attended a session and together with the Top 100 leaders who hosted, the colleagues who attended and the Wellbeing Warriors the overwhelming emotion is that these have been so successful, so successful that the initial 10 weeks has led to a commitment to continue them into 2021 and already the programme has extended into topics around Diversity and Inclusion as well as Wellbeing.

The sessions are not restricted to a positive impact in the moment, we are seeing the impact of them grow and stretch into engaging managers, our strategic narrative for change and a genuine employee voice where the stories, thoughts, journeys, circumstances and issues are being heard and whilst keeping confidentiality taking themes to build our support networks and to sense check policies and procedures that will have the ability to be revised and strengthened.

By far the most rewarding part of what people are saying is the personal impact, not just from colleagues but from the leaders too. Each and everyone of them have taken something from their session, some of them have buddied up with others for continued support, some have set up support networks such as the ‘fan club’ from the Menopause session and others have sent messages to say how amazing it was to see that E.ON really cares and wants to listen.  Many of the Leaders have asked to do follow up sessions, some of them have been so engaged that they have added a topic at their own leadership events or peer meetings and some have even set up policy review groups because they were so touched by the stories and want to drive continuous improvement.

It’s hard to measure the success of the sessions but from the feedback and many of the benefits we will never know but I’m so proud of everyone involved, the power of small to make a big impact truly is in action.

Author Bio: Darea Flanaghan, Wellbeing and Engagement Manager, EON-UK.
Photo Credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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