The Wellington City Council takes wellbeing seriously in all its workplaces, whether head office, recreation sites and those who work on Wellington’s streets.
For its 1600 staff split across the various sites, the council has a wellbeing strategy that highlights four main themes: heart health, emotional and social wellbeing, musculoskeletal, and drug, alcohol and smokefree issues. The wellbeing strategy is run by the council’s Wellbeing Group, which the council’s Wellbeing Advisor, Trish Knight, describes as “a highly motivated group of people”.
“One for the Blokes” is an example of the Wellington City Council recognising a wellbeing need within its workforce and moving quickly to address that need.
Why mental wellbeing?
After a few men approached her wanting help for mental wellbeing issues, Trish knew she needed to do something. “I’d wanted to focus on mental wellbeing for a while. I knew if I’d heard from those men, there were very likely a lot more men out there who needed help but couldn’t talk about it, or were uncomfortable about broaching their issues.”
With men comprising around 45% of the council’s 1700 strong workforce, the Wellbeing Group decided to call it “One for the Blokes.” “We wanted to create something positive that would give men some practical skills to use. We wanted to talk about depression but we knew it had to be different to engage the men. We decided to use humour and make it as fun as possible, while still keeping it down to earth.”
Trish needed to look no further than the Wellbeing Group to find people willing to lead from the benefit of their own experience. “One of our Wellbeing Group, who is a well-respected person in the organisation and a senior manager, volunteered to share his story. Another agreed to share as soon as he was asked.
"They both had very different stories to share, and they’re great mates so they already support each other really well.
Taking action – running a workshop
The group decided their approach would be running a workshop aimed specifically at getting men talking.
Again, wanting to keep the tone of the workshops light while still respecting the seriousness of the topic, Trish enlisted two experienced facilitators she trusted would bring the necessary humour to the workshops, along with the expertise to discuss mental wellbeing.
Engaging the audience
Next the Wellbeing Group set about getting staff along to the workshop. “To get the word out about the first workshop, and to grab people’s attention, our two facilitators dressed up as ‘The Two Ronnies’ and were videoed doing the ‘Depression News’, telling jokes,” says Trish. “It was so bad it was great.”
It was shared through WCC communications and on the council’s intranet. Trish and other members of the Wellbeing Group also talked about the upcoming workshop to as many staff members as they could.
Trish says attendance at the first workshops (where the maximum number is 25) was tentative, with more women than men going along. “Those people went back to their workplaces and told their colleagues they needed to go,” she says.
How the workshops are run
The humour continues throughout the workshop. Trish welcomes everyone and introduces the facilitators, who warm everyone up in a safe environment. “They talk about the challenges of depression, the concerns, the causes and what can go wrong. They talk about the heavy stuff but not in a heavy way.”
Then a video of the first manager’s story plays, after which that manager answers questions and the facilitators talk some more with the group. Then the second video plays, and the second manager talks. “Then there’s more talking, more sharing, especially about what you can do, how they can manage depression, where they can go for help.”
At the end, there’s an unexpected flourish. “We like to finish with something surprising, and what the group doesn’t know is that one of the facilitators is an opera singer. So he gets called on for a song and belts out something uplifting. It’s a great way to finish.”
What happens after?
Support after the workshop is really important, says Trish. “We’re creating this supportive environment but we need to think about what happens when people leave the workshop. The council does have support mechanisms in place. It’s handled on a case-by-case basis. Anyone can access counselling, and our managers who share their stories in the workshops are very supportive and will often spend some time post-workshop with some attendees.”
The workshops have taken on a momentum of their own and now tend to be quite popular with more men attending than women. “It’s a real buzz at the end of one when you see how people have responded,” says Trish.
A few are now more openly talking about mental wellbeing issues and know they’re not alone. “The great thing about the workshops is that just by attending they’ve met at least 20 others who have had the same experience.”