Profile: Hannah Pearsall, head of wellbeing at Hays

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Hannah Pearsall, head of wellbeing at recruitment firm Hays, which has about 3000 employees in the UK, loves her job and the company, where she’s worked for 21 years.

One of the realisations she’s had in her wellbeing role, which she took on in February, is that “there’s a huge difference between the provision of wellbeing content and initiatives and the creation of a culture that enables people to make positive choices”.

While she believes that wellbeing initiatives and campaigns have their place, her priority is creating a culture of wellness and the initiatives they do run must fit into a holistic strategy that aligns with business objectives. She says she’s constantly telling her colleagues that “wellbeing is not about yoga and bananas!”

We caught up with Hannah to ask her more about what she is doing on the wellbeing front and why. You can catch her at MAD World, too, where she is Chairing a panel about wellbeing champions networks.

Can you tell me about your wellbeing focus at Hays at the moment?

What we’re finding with wellbeing is that initiatives that aren’t seen as ‘wellbeing initiatives’ have the greatest impact. So, for instance, we’ve found it’s much more impactful to focus on the fundamental features of the workplace and the way that individuals are treated on a day to day basis.

We are currently rolling out two workshops ‘Conscious Inclusion’ and ‘Managing Well’. The latter, in particular, looks at the ways that managers can influence wellbeing and recognises the way in which the role of the manager has changed over the last couple of years in particular with the advent of hybrid working.

Pre-Covid you could say that the manager role was quite one dimensional because your team were right in front of you. Then, everyone was at home and now we are officially hybrid, which has had a big impact for us. So this workshop is about helping managers understand how they develop their management skills to be effective in this new world.

The Conscious Inclusion workshop is about creating an environment that’s open and fair for everybody, raising self awareness and fostering psychological safety, so people can make mistakes without fear of what’s going to happen as a result. It’s also to encourage people to recognise some of their shortcomings when it comes to things like unconscious bias and acknowledging that nobody’s perfect, we all have biases despite our best intentions.

It’s looking at really practical ways in which we can create a culture that’s much more open and fair where people can share vulnerability. In society vulnerability is associated with weakness but, actually, vulnerability is our best way of connecting with people; the more we can do to encourage people to be authentic and share, the better culture we create, which feeds into everything that we’re trying to achieve from a wellbeing, but also overall business, perspective.

Is there anything that really surprised you when you developed this new material?

I suppose it’s that point that it’s the little things that can have a big impact. I’m working in wellbeing day in, day out, so I guess I’m much more aware of how actions might impact and I think it’s been a real journey educating people on this front. What’s really become clear is that it’s not about throwing lots of wellbeing initiatives at people but, rather, creating an environment in a culture that fosters positive choices and behaviour when it comes to wellbeing.

Can you give me an example of how this training would then be taken on practically by a line manager?

Yes. One of the exercises at the end of the workshops is about creating a conscious inclusion charter within each team. That is where the team themselves come up with a list of practical ideas for how they can achieve a consciously inclusive environment.

The ideas coming out of this are, for example, holding a monthly meeting to talk about differences in a team and making sure all voices are heard. We have a number of different employee networks. We have Hays Black Network, Parents @Hays, Pride (our LGBTQ+ network) REACH (Recognising & Enabling All colleagues and Conditions at Hays, our network for colleagues living with long term ill health, disability or injury – visible or invisible). We’ve been talking about how to be a better ally and how everybody can play their part. How allyship is less about just calling yourself an ally and more about actually taking actions.

So, for example, have you got your pronouns on your email signature? And your LinkedIn profile? And a key part is getting people to recognise that it’s OK to challenge and call people out if we hear or see things that are being said or done in the office that we’re not comfortable with. We’re going to make mistakes and this, again, comes back to the importance of vulnerability, connection and empathy.

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We talk a lot about the challenge of being vulnerable as a manager because there’s this perception that you’ve got to be totally in control and confident and never get anything wrong. And that’s actually complete rubbish!

What has the feedback from managers have been like?

It’s been a bit of an eye opener in the sense that we’ve never had any training like this before and these things – compassion, empathy and vulnerability, for example – are the kinds of things we don’t normally talk about.

Can you tell me more about how you help managers to create psychological safety in their teams?

Yes. We talk about the conditions that are important for compassionate conversations. What I mean by that is a compassionate conversation isn’t about fixing somebody’s problem, it’s about using good listening skills and responding in a non-judgmental and supportive way and creating a safe space for somebody to share.

Can you tell me why you decided to make the Conscious Inclusion course mandatory to all and the Managing Well required for managers?

Because until everyone understands the individual role they play in achieving conscious inclusion, we’re not going to achieve it. Up until this point I think the perception may have been that it was more our senior leadership teams that were responsible for creating the culture. Making the course mandatory makes really clear that it’s a collective responsibility. It offers people a safe space to discuss these topics because we are sometimes pushing them out of their comfort zone and recognising that some of these exercises might make you feel a bit uncomfortable and hard to talk about – but that’s the intention of the workshop because we’ve all got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable or we’re never going to be vulnerable and be able to truly show our authentic selves.

Have you done anything else to help employees adjust to this new hybrid culture?

 Yes – we’ve also issued a guide, which is, you could say, a ‘wellbeing etiquette’ guide containing hints and tips. A small but impactful example is that just because a colleague has got their green dot showing on Microsoft Teams doesn’t mean you can just call them unannounced. And if someone has the red dot symbol on, then don’t call them because that is really distracting as they’re obviously in the middle of something.

Another example is if someone has their out of office on, then think – do you really have to copy them in to that email you’re about to send? Could you avoid clogging up their inbox by just holding back? All these kind of actions, that people might not consider big, have the potential to really impact on wellbeing.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for somebody reading this article on getting line managers to understand wellbeing better and buy-in to it?

I think it’s got to be around collaboration because wellbeing as a standalone function is never going to achieve what we’ve talked about today. It has to be fully integrated with learning and development, HR, operations, EDI, reward and benefit, etc. In order for wellbeing to become a top priority day in, day out and to form the culture we’re trying to achieve, you’ve got to collaborate. It’s got to be woven through everything we do.

Hannah will be Chairing a panel at The MAD World Summit, which is taking place in Central London on 11th October. MAD stands for Make A Difference. Now in its 5th year, the Summit is the go-to solutions-focused conference and exhibition for  employers who want to embed mental health and wellbeing as a strategic priority. Find out more about the different ways to register and sign up here.

If you’re an EMPLOYER, you can sign up for 3 x 15 minute 1-2-1 meetings with exhibitors at the Summit. This will also entitle you to a FREE DELEGATE PASS WORTH £595.00 and access to all sessions. Terms and conditions apply, view here.

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