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Maria Mander on fostering a culture of wellness

Oct 21 2021

We’re excited to have Maria Mander on our panel for our upcoming event.

Maria is the founder of the Mander Wellbeing consultancy. She’s also currently working as a Wellbeing Specialist for The Growth Company’s programme: Skills for Growth – SME Support.1

Maria is an expert at fostering a culture of wellness within organisations, helping them develop a thriving, healthy, engaged and high performing workforce. With everything that’s happened recently, there’s never been a better time to discuss what this involves.

In our Q&A with Maria, discover key employee wellbeing lessons that can help you build a healthier business, driving the performance of your teams and strengthening your position as an employer of choice. 

How is The Growth Company a champion for employee wellbeing?

“The Growth Company has a strong wellbeing and EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) community. The community informs our wellbeing initiatives, including employee assistance providers (EAPs), discount schemes, access to counselling, neurodiversity workshops, financial wellbeing support and much more.

“The company also has trained mental health first-aiders as well as specific support groups for people who are ex-military, carers or parents. It rolls out mental health awareness campaigns regularly too. Plus, it’s a member of the Good Employment Charter, which aims to improve employment standards for all organisations of any size or sector across Greater Manchester.

“What stands out to me is how great The Growth Company’s comms are. All these messages about the importance of employee wellbeing come from the top. It feels authentic – you really get a sense that the leadership are investing in and looking after their people.”

What challenges have your clients faced as a result of the pandemic?

“As the majority of business owners will know, the challenges of COVID-19 has been extensive. More recently, companies have had to ensure their offices are covid-secure to bring their people back safely. And they’ve had to tackle the “Pingdemic” where entire teams are off work because of self-isolation rules. Simply adapting to these kinds of obstacles can be both costly and exhausting.

“Then there are the mental health challenges. Everyone has struggled in some way. On top of general COVID-19 anxiety, people have lost loved ones, been made redundant, delayed dealing with health problems, suffered from Long Covid … the list is incredibly long. Leaders have been affected too. Given that they’ve been firefighting for a year and a half, it’s easy to see why they’re emotionally and mentally drained.”

How does the Skills for Growth programme help SMEs during these difficult times? 

“A lot of businesses have had to evaluate the way they operate and restructure because of COVID-19. And they have huge skill gaps – the skills crisis was already bubbling under the surface before the pandemic. Now it’s been intensified.

“The Skills for Growth programme provides ongoing, free support (it’s fully funded) to businesses, helping them address these challenges. For example, each company gets assigned a dedicated Skills Coach who assesses their current talent and skill deficiencies. Then we help them upskill their employees, filling important gaps and enhancing their team’s performance.

“We also reinforce the importance of creating healthy working environments because this ties into the skills crisis. So many people have re-evaluated their lives since the first lockdown. 

“Now they’re prioritising their wellbeing and have stronger values. They want to work for companies that give them a sense of belonging and purpose. And they want to be a part of social, environmental and ethical progress. Companies need to adapt to these new needs to attract and retain top talent, ensuring they can secure and hold onto the skills needed to flourish.”

What steps can companies take to make employee wellbeing a central part of their culture? 

“The first thing they need to do is get buy-in from the leadership. Leaders and managers have to become role models by demonstrating positive behaviours. And you have to ask employees what they want. Because not everyone will want a free gym membership. Perhaps they think access to an online GP would be more beneficial. You won’t know unless you ask. 

“It’s also important to factor mental health issues flying under the radar, like menopause. 1 in 6 women will be over the age of 50 by next year, and many of those women are in high profile jobs. Symptoms of menopause can impact a person’s mental health and, as a result, their performance at work. Having someone specially trained in this area can go a long way in supporting women experiencing these personal challenges. 

“You also need to create a budget for employee wellbeing, like you would for your training initiatives. Establish what you want to achieve for your organisation then budget for the skills and resources needed to achieve your goals.”

Why should businesses focus on building an employee-led culture?

“People are your business. You’ve got to invest in them … and it’ll be the best investment you’ll ever make. Putting people at the heart of everything results in a healthy, high-performing and resilient workforce. Because it increases people’s happiness, and happy people produce great work. It’s as good for them as it is for your bottom line.”

Enjoyed our Q&A with Maria? There’s more just like it

Next up, we’ll be interviewing Rhian Greaves, Legal Director at DAC Beachcroft. She’ll be sharing exclusive insight into how the employee wellbeing agenda fits with HSE and regulatory expectations, among other pertinent topics. 

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1This project receives funding from the European Social Fund as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England.

The Department for Work and Pensions is the Managing Authority for the England European Social Fund programme.

Established by the European Union, the European Social Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support skills development, employment and job creation, social inclusion and local community regenerations. For more information, visit the GOV website.