Bringing psychological safety to the forefront with data-driven diagnostics
Northern Housing Consortium is a membership body representing the views of around 96% of housing providers across the North of England, with events and procurement services extending beyond the North, to over 400 members nationally.
Catherine Wilmot, Executive Director (Operations & Finance), Northern Housing Consortium discusses how the organisation is redesigning the workplace in favour of a collaborative hub space and agile working, after state-of-the art diagnostic tools revealed a new approach to staff wellbeing would enhance psychological safety in the workplace.
Employee wellbeing is a main priority for the Consortium and a decision was taken pre-Covid, in May 2019, that, although the team of 34 were motivated and engaged, more could be done to support them. Social housing is an extremely fast-paced environment to work in and individuals are exposed to challenging situations. There was a consensus that general wellbeing advice was insufficient, concise data highlighting specific areas that could be improved and a means to gather measurable results were required, in order to safeguard the team and improve overall effectiveness.
It is also essential that we maintain high staff retention to limit operational disruption and ultimately, as a not-for-profit membership organisation, to drive the best value for our members.
Wellbeing Works, a performance, engagement and wellbeing consultancy, was appointed and CEO, Hamish Moore recommended we utilise Team Works, a diagnostic tool used to measure psychological safety, to discover what drives the team, threatens the team and soothes or calms the team.
Hamish explained that a psychologically safe culture is one where it is safe to be in a minority of one in decision-making or discussions, safe to speak out about feeling at risk or vulnerable in the workplace, safe to respectfully challenge the status quo, safe to ask for help, safe to admit to an error or mistake and where people feel valued by their line manager and colleagues.
Senior management was particularly attracted to the categorising of how well a company was performing in terms of staff wellbeing, with companies receiving a score of thriving, surviving and hiving, following completion of a survey by employees. Thriving, whereby a team is deemed to be likely psychologically safe, is the goal all organisations should be aiming for. Hiving means a team has impaired levels of psychological safety and surviving indicates a team is at risk of avoidable psychological harm.
Overall, the report confirmed the Consortium was performing well, with a result of 50% thriving and exceptionally good scores for soothing and trust in management. Areas such as concentration and workload showed room for improvement and we have been working to address this.
A lack of quiet areas due to poor acoustics in our Sunderland office, was revealed as a key issue affecting concentration and the building was amended by way of installation of absorption materials. However, the advent of truly agile working during the pandemic, meant it was the ideal time to start looking to relocate to a smaller, collaborative office space that will reduce traditional desk space by an estimated two-thirds and facilitate better creative thinking and meeting space.
Relocating is a massive undertaking and many would think it unwarranted to add extra stress during a pandemic. However, the results provided to us by Team Works and the clear recommendation we should address the lack of concentration and focus displayed by many of our team, meant we felt reassured and justified that our decision to move was the right one and fits alongside our member value strategic objectives as we transition to a hybrid-working model.
As is the case for many organisations, Covid-19 created many challenges for the housing sector, putting increased pressure and workload at the feet of frontline employees. Northern Housing Consortium worked tirelessly during this period to meet the rapidly changing demands of members, even increasing engagement levels through virtual interactions, but thereby increasing staff workloads. This meant we needed to continue to invest a great deal of time tackling the risk areas of operations, highlighted by Wellbeing Works through ongoing staff consultation and close virtual working.
Communicating with the team has been a key priority throughout the pandemic, as employees settled into home working. Management committed to increasing check-ins and team meetings, CEO, Tracy Harrison, recorded a daily video and informal Friday meetings were introduced to boost morale. A Consultant Clinical Psychologist was brought in to talk about how to look after individual mental health and indicators that might suggest colleagues were struggling and accredited Staff Mental Health First Aiders have been put in place. We also encouraged employees to flexibly manage their work structure, using lunch breaks for physical activity to encourage relaxation.
We are just at the start of our diagnostic-led employee wellbeing journey, enabling focus on specific areas of risk identified and we have already seen significant results. Whilst some other companies and organisations have perhaps struggled with employee engagement and mental health during the pandemic, fortunately, we had unknowingly prepared ourselves for a year of drastic change and uncertainty, due to being proactive and taking measures to ensure the cohesiveness of the team.