Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Practical tips to improve wellbeing in the workplace

By Gill Shelton, Associate Chief Pharmacist - Workforce at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge

I work in a large teaching hospital in a pharmacy department consisting of approximately 270 staff members, including 20 trainees.   Our staff work across 25 different teams within pharmacy and we are geographically spread across the Trust and have a number of colleagues working off site.  During the pandemic, we have also had a number of colleagues that have been self-isolating or shielding at home.  Supporting the wellbeing of our staff is a key priority for the department.

Getting started

In line with the general increase in prevalence of mental health problems observed nationally, the Pharmacy Education and Training team has provided increased levels of bespoke wellbeing support to individuals when it has been required.  We wanted to move from a position of delivering reactive support to a proactive approach to positively improving wellbeing.

We developed a wellbeing strategy that focused on trainees initially, with the intention of enabling trainees to build their skills around resilience and to positively manage their mental health and wellbeing. Trainees are the future of the profession and what they learn will hopefully move into the wider workforce.  We also recognised that some trainees do not have the same kind of support network outside of work as other employees, as they are often new to the workplace and the city.

Helping trainees

Put simply, we’ve made wellbeing a key component of the regular discussions between trainees and their tutors/supervisors.  We have put wellbeing questions at the top of the meeting form for discussions between trainees and their tutor/supervisor, so that it becomes the norm to ask about how you are. It provides a focus for open and honest wellbeing conversations.

We also assign all trainees a buddy, who is normally a newly qualified staff member. We recognised that the ‘buddy’ might struggle with what to do with some of the information they are hearing and so we provided them with some simple places to signpost the trainee to and also provided support for the ‘buddy’.  

There are clear expectations set for what trainees should expect from colleagues and similarly, to define what we expect from trainees. We have also worked with an external Wellbeing consultant to pilot some ‘Recharge and Refocus’ workshops which build resilience skills. When trainees start in the workplace, some of the areas they find most difficult are the time pressures, managing workload differently to university and being in an environment where decisions they have to make are not straightforward and require professional judgement.

Leading with wellbeing

The wellbeing journey that we started was focused around our trainees, but has now naturally evolved to enable a strengthened wellbeing support model for the wider department.

We now lead with the wellbeing questions in all 1-1s with employees and their line managers. As well as asking ‘How are you?’ we have discussion prompts to ask questions around time pressures in the workplace and feedback on workload.  It’s all about nudging conversations along and encouraging listening whilst normalising these kinds of discussions.

We also want people to take their breaks!   We have piloted a number of approaches to this including an email nudge, an agreement to partner with a colleague and agree a time to remind each other about taking a break or actually taking a break with a colleague. It is all about finding individual prompts to take a ‘high quality pause’ – even if it is only for 5-10 mins.

Across the whole trust, there has been significant opportunity and encouragement to access wellbeing support resources, especially during pandemic. This sets a great organisational culture, which is then easier to further embed within our team.

Our Wellbeing Forum

The CUH Pharmacy Wellbeing Forum was conceptualised prior to the pandemic and we proceeded to establish the forum in Spring 2020.  The forum gives staff a voice to raise wellbeing issues and to offer suggestions on ways that wellbeing could be improved across the department. The first meeting involved a lot of brainstorming and group members identified 4 or 5 key areas to work on. The area we focused on initially was helping new starters and existing staff returning from extended leave to get to know colleagues. We are developing team photo pages using PowerPoint as part of this.

The Wellbeing Forum have also reviewed the Pharmacy induction packs for new starters and have adapted them to create a ‘return to the workplace’ pack for those who have been shielding / isolating or on long term leave for more than 3 months

The RPS workforce survey from 2020 highlights that many staff feel uncomfortable accessing support from their employer. Our trust provides daily bulletins which often signpost to apps and other wellbeing support that is available. We are aware of the stigma around mental health and asking for help, but we also recognise the power of hearing from a colleague who has found resources useful. Lived experiences are hugely powerful.  As part of our recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, members of the Pharmacy Wellbeing Forum have been sharing their experiences of accessing support that has positively helped their own wellbeing.

What’s next?

We’re reviewing our team rest facilities and are starting a ‘coffee connections’ pilot, where staff pair up to take a proper break and get to know a colleague that they would not normally work with on a daily basis. We continue to embed the initiatives mentioned in this blog, to listen to the staff voice and to think creatively.  Above all we want to create a feeling of inclusion and belonging to help normalise the promotion of good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. 


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