The Forestry Commission’s Inclusive Wellbeing Culture

Creating an inclusive wellbeing culture in a large and diverse organisation with employees found all over the country can be a real challenge.

Tara Chambers and Wali Rahman from the Forestry Commission’s Wellbeing and DE&I team reflected on their experiences of working towards this in a recent webinar.

Set objectives and get going

Creating an inclusive wellbeing culture is an ambitious aim, particularly in a disparate organisation. To achieve that aspiration, understanding exactly what you are aiming at is vital as Wali sets out below.

“With diversity and wellbeing going hand in hand within the Forestry Commission, our objectives are to:

  1. Champion and deliver culture change through initiatives, so everyone who works for us feels like they belong and they’re valued.
  2. To drive an increase in the diversity of our workforce, harnessing the benefits and representing our communities.
  3. To embed best practice, learning and ownership of E, D&I within the organisation to increase capability, cultural intelligence, awareness and confidence when engaging in difficult scenarios.
  4. Engaging with key stakeholders to lead interventions and initiatives that drive up performance, creating a cadre of high achieving and engaged staff.

“You’ve got to be evidence led and that comes in various forms through surveys and data. There’s a lot of groundwork before you get to the strategy point. At the same time that shouldn’t stop you from getting on and doing the work.

Implementing strategy and embedding it in culture is key. In order to make a start you need to gather evidence and data but what you actually do is more important than what a piece of paper says.”

Get buy-in from the top down and bottom up

Despite being a small team, Wali and Tara have had success in where other organisations struggle by recognising that to embed diversity, inclusion and wellbeing into culture, they needed to first have buy in right at the top.

A great example of this is that the Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission is the chair of the E, D&I Board, achieving buy-in right at the top. Additionally, the team are regularly asked to give updates to the Board, maintaining that engagement with senior leaders.

They also believe that managers are key to this agenda and seek to empower all staff to have a voice and contribute to initiatives, reinforced by the fact that D, E&I is part of the leadership management program.

This confirms that wellbeing is seen as a function of leadership rather than HR.

Get people involved

Building culture from the bottom up is helped by enthusiasts across the organisation. Many of them are in staff networks, volunteering their time, going above and beyond their job description and contributing to the work of the Wellbeing Team. Reinforcing the team are:

  • 44 trained inclusion ambassadors.
  • Bullying and harassment and discrimination ambassadors
  • An LGBTQ+ Staff Network
  • Disability Neurodiversity and Carer’s Staff Network
  • Ethnic Minority Staff Network
  • Women’s Staff Network
  • 34 wellbeing champions
  • 130 Mental Health First Aiders trained

Communicating this work is as important as doing it, as Tara points out:

“We also work towards a plan with our communications colleagues, engaging staff from across the organisation to contribute to blogs and stories as well as the opportunity to participate in events such as lunch and learn events. So, it’s covering a wide range of topics to keep everyone involved. And the key message for us is that inclusion is about everyone. Every single person in the organisation.”

What is it that generates success in engaging the senior leadership and the executive do you think?

Tara: “I think is important that senior leaders know the benefits of the top-down approach as well as a bottom-up approach. We’ve focused on taking a personal approach through blogs and that needs to come from a variety of roles; personal stories have excellent engagement.

I reached out to the Executive Board really early on in that planning process and expressed how grateful I would be for any takers to write a blog or even just provide a quote, for Stress Awareness Month.

And that’s where I started. I emphasised how that would be a great opportunity for an executive board member to lead the way in talking openly about stress by sharing their experiences.

Early communication was key, making sure that they had lots of time to do it. The result is that over 70% of our executive board committing to producing wellbeing columns.

That active contribution has really modelled talking about wellbeing, where people feel safe talking about wellbeing because they can see the powers that be are doing it too.”

It’s evident that lateral thought has gone into the approach, recognising that executive leadership are still human. They are under pressure; therefore, they still need the time in order to contribute effectively.

Be human-focussed and authentic – Build it and they will come

Wali: “But learning is not enough; applying skills is really key. “

The Forestry Commission’s approach is people centric and human led and not over-reliant on technology, recognising human interaction is invaluable as Wali highlights:

“Passion and drive come from personal experience and we work hard to bring all those efforts to work. This is really increasing our visibility in the organisation and developing a deeper trust from staff.

We’re being approached by staff who want to help and share ideas; as colleagues become more aware of our approach, they see that we value their opinion and input and then they actively want to add to the content.

This approach is what builds the inclusive culture, building a sense of permission for other people to contribute and recognise that there is a platform for them.

The team have seen that colleagues openly sharing lived experiences provides a chance for others to connect with them on another level, with staff from a range of roles providing the maximum opportunity for representation.”

Tara adds to this by saying: “This shift is really key in the narrative in crossing over into a space where we’re not only recognising what challenges we face, but what resources we have to balance our wellbeing.

Because this comes from the Forestry Commission definition of wellbeing, which emphasises the importance of balancing the challenges we face with the resources we have to really regain balance in our lives.”

This investment in a two-way relationship is what has brought team results by getting much more from teams and individuals themselves.

Wali and Tara have done this by showing a direction of travel and providing opportunities; providing those to managers is vital, especially when it comes to embedding inclusivity.

What is the key thing to get off the ground for an organisation? And where do you get started if you don’t know where to start as a wellbeing team?

Tara: “I would say don’t guess what your staff need, ask them. Give them the opportunity to contribute and influence the direction you take.

Surveys are a great way for staff to anonymously share their thoughts and feedback. And if you want that to be done a bit more arm’s length, there are other companies that offer those services.

And then get started…”

If you would like to learn more about our quick start workplace mental health programme, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

Written by: Olly Church, Co-Founder

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