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Highlights of the Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference - 14th and 15th March 2023

If you want to experience real FOMO then get yourself to this conference next year! Two days, 18 topic areas, 200 sessions* and only one 'me' means that I only scratched the surface of what this event has to offer. But was it useful?

Here are my highlights and key learning from this year’s Health and Wellbeing at Work conference. There were many other sessions that were interesting and enjoyable, but these are my top two from each day pf the conference.

Tuesday 14th

There were some familiar faces to when I last attended this event, starting with my first seminar, delivered by Dr. Rachael Skews around Innovations in Coaching. This session outlined that there are three key innovations that coaches need to be aware of, according to Dr. Skews:

1. The focus on improving wellbeing as well as performance

Exploration of the use of the demands / resources model (Demerouti 2001 ) so that we can manage the balance between the two and a discussion around using Acceptance and Commitment coaching

Image: How demands and resources impact on health and motivation

2. The use of technology in coaching practice

Use of wearable tech and Artificial Intelligence within coaching practice

3. Professionalisation of Coaching Psychologist.

What chartered status may do to and for the profession

My main criticism of events like this one is that there is so much on the agenda that most sessions only last a maximum of 30 minutes, so they can’t go into anything in any real depth. I was intrigued by Skews discussion of the use of AI and wearable tech to enhance coaching, but there was little time to discuss what that looks like or how it works. I think she would have liked to have gone into more detail, but that is the format this conference always takes.

As with many conferences, some sessions were intelligent, some were entertaining and then the rare few managed to achieve both. One such talk was provided by Simon Fanshawe OBE, who's session titled ‘Overcoming the Anxiety of Speaking Up at Work’ focused on diversity and inclusion in way that put a lot of things into perspective.

Fanshawe, who was one of the founders of Stonewall', spoke about how, in the modern workplace, we can be paralysed by the fear of saying anything in case we offend or get into trouble for saying the wrong thing. He identified 3 ‘i’s of intent, intervention and inquiry as a means for us to reflect on and take action around making the workplace a safe – and curious – place to be. It was a thought-provoking talk, from someone with real credibility and a great sense of humour.

Wednesday 15th

Day two saw me spending time in the Employee Engagement hub, with the opening session ‘Improving Line Managers Effectiveness in Engaging Employees’, brilliantly delivered by Dr. Sarah Pass. Starting with a timely reminder of the MacLeod report (2009) and the four enablers of engagement, Dr. Pass went on to talk specifically about practical things that organisations can do to support managers in improving engagement including:

· Creating Accountability – line managers need to be accountable for engagement. Make it explicitly a part of their role and, if needed put it in the job description to make it a priority.

· Providing Training –Those that have had training are more likely to consider engagement as a priority and as part of their role, but will also report higher levels of their own engagement with the organisation.

· Establish it as a Priority- Line managers may see engagement as something else that they need to do and that they just don’t have the time to do. So, it needs to be considered as part of the workload and space made for it if we want managers to do it.

Image: Presentation Slide - Where do Managers fit in around Employee Engagement

The last session I wanted to mention was ‘Managing Resistance To Change’ which was presented by Dr. Zara Whysell. Another talk that perfectly blended humour and substance (with an anecdote about bookshelves, academics and identity which most of the room seemed to really relate to!) Dr. Whysell gave us a quick but thorough tour through the neuroscience of change, change models and the proactive and practical ways that we can help people through change.

Dr. Whysell definitely gave me food for thought when she made an interesting point on the use of models such as Kotter, which is a firm favourite here at Leaderful Action. The model, and others like it, advocates for creating a sense of urgency around the change. She highlighted that, if the change is already causing the employee to move into fight or flight mode, communicating a sense of urgency is more likely to increase that fear response, rather than abate it. We need to consider this before we decide how to lead and manage the change.

Image: Presentation Slide- How to Manage Change to limit the impact of the Stress Response

Honourable mention…

I should leave it at these four, but there was also a short talk in the HR Masterclass area that made me stop and take notice as I walked through the exhibition hall. Catrin Lewis, from Reward Gateway, gave an excellent overview of ‘How to Create a Dynamic Communication Strategy’. As someone who has implemented a number of strategies over the years, I found her approach really simple, engaging and interesting.

What caught my attention was the reference to the Ignorance Iceberg, which I had never heard of before, which says that the further up the organisation you go, the less you know about what isn’t working and that, by the time you reach the executive level – right when we should be able to see across the whole organisation – you only hear about 4% of what is happening. This gives a strong indication of how we need to ensure we communicate to the senior team as effectively as we do to the rest of the organisation.

Image: Slide about the type of content they share that helps create a varied approach

The Verdict?

I thoroughly enjoyed the learning that was to be had at the event, but I would have loved a chance to have heard more. No amount of planning or racing from one session to another could allow me to be at all of the sessions that I wanted to attend, so I was disappointed to have missed out on workshops around leading hybrid teams, managing mental health absence and reflective practice following stressful events, to name a few. I’m hoping to catch up on some of these using the post-conference resources, but for now, this has given me plenty to think about.

- Natalie

*a guesstimate based on the programme!

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