According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6.8 people experience a mental health problem in the workplace and 12.7% of all sickness, and absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions. Indeed, their research suggests with better mental health support, UK businesses can save up to a staggering £8billion per year. 

In 2020, the Association for Project Management was able to measure the relative state of resilience and wellbeing in the project management profession and found that the strain on psychological health and sense of purpose for project professionals are both high-risk areas:  

The Work-related Resilience scale portrays project professionals as a less resilient group (65 per cent average) compared with the norm group (77 per cent average). This means there is much room for improvement in their levels of confidence, adaptability, purposefulness and social support in the face of difficulties.

Since then, the world (and our industry) has been thrown into chaos with a worldwide crisis, which has brought the wellbeing of teams to the forefront of the work economy, leading to substantive changes in the way people and organisations operate. 

Many organisations already demonstrated behaviours that showed them to be ahead of the wellbeing curve, with practical opportunities to focus on the mental health of their employees. Others have woken up to the challenges faced by individuals since 2020 and are now considering wellbeing initiatives as part of their day-to-day and strategic objectives, and reaping the benefits of more engaged, motivated, and productive teams. 

Success Stories

Johnson & Johnson has had this on their agenda even as far back as the 1970s when they recognised the importance of well-being giving their employees permission to take care of themselves. By promoting a culture of health, supported by the physical built environment, and everyday activities, the well-being theme is apparent throughout the company. 

Accenture is keen to offer choice to its employees such as flexibility in the way they choose to work and encourages its employees to choose a key wellness goal that matters to them and then supports and rewards them for accomplishing it. Through promoting confidential support services, they acknowledge that work-related stress can be linked closely to what’s going on outside the workplace. 

Bupa knows the effect a healthy working environment can have on employees, so as well as helping Customers to achieve their maximum health potential, Bupa puts a lot of energy into taking care of its own employees. Their focus includes a performance energy initiative that has been developed with a clinical psychologist to help people manage their energy levels, feel more in control and be better able to deal with daily pressures with cultural differences in different territories. 

Is my Organisation Wellbeing Focused? 

Wellbeing is a very personal matter, and therefore it can be difficult to be objective when looking at how it is handled (or not) organisationally. Our experiences (how has my mental health been managed), and our limiting beliefs (this place doesn’t understand people) make it easy to remain in our own river of thinking and not see the bigger picture. 

During 2020 in particular, all organisations adapted to the challenges of working from home indefinitely, albeit in different ways. One of the ways to consider the focus on employee wellbeing is to think about this unique situation using the following questions: 

  • Did my organisation create opportunities for teams and individuals to get together more often? Regular meet-ups 
  • Did my organisation make it easy for teams to connect? Technology  
  • Did my organisation invest in being in the home to remind individuals that they are still part of a wider community? Care packages 
  • Did my leadership encourage non-work interactions between team members? Friday lunch drop-ins 
  • Did my leadership provide access or support for counselling and coaching? External or internal coaching support 
  • Did my organisation take the time to bring people together in a fun way? Cocktail making classes, quizzes 
  • Did my organization bring together people with a common goal? Couch to 5k for charity 
  • Did my organisation make it easy to come back to offices at the pace of the individuals? Organised Face to face events, change travel expectations  
  • Did my organisation change its built environment to support a safe return to work? New office layout 
  • Have any initiatives carried on since the ‘world began to open up’? Continued events/opportunities to connect 

The answer to these questions helps us to determine if our organisation has learned to consider wellbeing in an authentic way or if any activities have been a flash in the pan. Once this is understood, PMO teams can consider and plan how and what they can bring to continue to authentically support their teams. 

PMO Steps for a Positive Wellbeing Future 

The Association for Project Management PMO Specific Interest Group wrote an article on changing the PMO focus to become Project Wellbeing Offices (PWO). In that article, they gave a few short steps to making wellbeing a key part of the services PMO teams offer their Internal Customers. 

  1. Hold up a mirror to its own practices and interactions with project teams across the organisation considering if there are any practices they can change to make the delivery team’s lives easier or more supported? 
  2. Build awareness of mental health and enhance wellbeing, signposting to further sources of support for staff. 
  3. Closely examine intelligence-gathering systems to spot the early warning signs of poor mental health. 
  4. Walk and talk rounds, asking directly how different individuals’ days are going can make a huge difference – people can, off the back of this, feel recognised and supported. 
  5. Getting people together and mapping out the sources of stress considering that people, situations, and events are a good way to frame reasons for stress with a view to improving current ways of working. 
  6. That is not to say that PMOs need to start changing their name (although this might help in some scenarios), but instead take time with each of these steps to ensure not only that the PMO team offer the services, but that its Internal Customers actually know they exist, how they can access them, and trust that they will be in a safe space to talk and explore their needs. 

The Reality

Wellingtone NetworkingOur most recent Wellingtone Networking Event for PMO Practitioners focused on wellbeing including a bit of a reality check for the group and showed that overall, Leaders understand and acknowledge the importance of this topic.  

Interestingly most people commented that this was already a focus before the pandemic, however it has since become a much more important part of working and leadership practices. 

There was some concern that this was something that although has been a focus when working from home (where people had no choice but to change their way of working/living), that focus is waning as people can choose how to work accommodating hybrid home/office setups; with little support for organisations on supporting their employees coming back to work. 

In the networking group, a gap was acknowledged in terms of upskilling our PMO (and other) teams to understand the wider mental health and wellbeing context; which is much bigger than connecting as a team. Just as we must upskill our delivery teams in the technical skills they need to be successful, we must also educate the PMO teams and leaders that are enabling good project management practice. 

The Importance of Wellbeing in PMO

Next Steps

Mental health and overall human wellbeing are not things to jump into blindly. Neither should they be addressed inauthentically or piecemeal because it seems fashionable right now.

This is serious stuff.

As a team responsible for those who are managing change in a (known to be) stressful industry it is important that PMOs are themselves informed.

So, looking firstly at ourselves as Humans and deciding if ‘could I as an individual benefit from some coaching or psychological support’?

Next looking at the organisation to understand the wider position on this important topic, should then help to define a good practice approach that the PMO can put in place to really make a difference.

The questions at both of these levels provided here can help us to step into the lesser-known environments (external and organisational) that can impact the successful delivery of projects, programmes, and beneficial change; which is all about people after all.

Further Reading

PMO Coaching and Mentoring

Wellingtone offers PPM and PMO coaching and mentoring, working with someone who will support your journey personally and professionally through the use of tried and tested techniques tailored to you that will help you identify, develop, and deliver your own action plan.