Putting wellbeing at the heart of everything we do at Sense

Wellbeing is central to the work we do here at Sense: not just for the people we support, but staff and volunteers too. Here, our chief executive Richard Kramer explains his plans to embed wellbeing at the heart of Sense’s organisational culture. 

Sense's chief executive, Richard Kramer, in conversation with another man with his back to the camera.

What will I be remembered for? What difference am I making? What is my legacy?

Hopefully, I have many years ahead of me as chief executive at Sense. But I’ve been prompted to reflect on these big questions following the spike in the number of chief executives either retiring from the charity sector or moving on to other roles. A typical chair will rank performance based on external factors, such as growth of income or profile. These are strong external indicators of success, but this is not the only legacy I want to leave behind.  

I want to build a stronger and more sustainable charity. This means creating a strong culture that embeds the right values, behaviours and approach across the whole organisation, and has a positive impact on the individuals we support. For me and for Sense, this means prioritising wellbeing.

All staff deserve a healthy workplace where they can be themselves

I have written previously that my personal background has shaped my approach to work and leadership. I do not believe that my professional life and personal life can be divided. Indeed, my challenges with my own wellbeing have given me a deeper clarity of the kind of leader I want to be, and the changes I need to put in place to succeed. These challenges have given me more resilience, a determination to succeed and the courage to follow my intuition at work.

I want to influence our staff teams in a personal way and give people a chance to grow. To do this I need to consider how I can operate in a way that supports my own wellbeing and creates the impact that I want for myself and our staff and volunteer teams.

My vision for Sense is to be truly inclusive. I want to create a healthy workplace in which staff and volunteers have a real sense of belonging, where they feel safe to bring their whole selves to work and where their views are listened to and acted upon. 

As part of our equality, diversity and inclusion agenda we must also show that we care about the wellbeing of all our own staff and volunteer teams. We can’t expect our staff and volunteer teams to care about our organisations unless we can demonstrate that we care about the wellbeing of every employee and volunteer.

This can’t just be my view imposed on Sense. It has to be the right thing for the organisation with everybody playing a part in setting this ethos. That means coming together to create a work environment where people feel emotionally connected, not just to our cause (which is incredible), but also to our organisation.

We must learn lessons from how we prioritised wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic

Sense already has a clearly defined purpose and set of values and behaviours which have underpinned successive strategies. Now is the time to make sure that these are more keenly felt and echoed across our organisation, so that they guide what people feel like when they work here.

“We want to make sure that a healthy workplace is part of our culture and ways of working at Sense.” 

Richard Kramer, chief executive of Sense

Showing support for wellbeing must be one of those values and behaviours that we’re committed to. That commitment to our values and behaviours needs to come from the top. It is not just what leaders say, it is what we do that counts. That means holding ourselves accountable.

At the height of Covid-19, wellbeing was a central concern in our organisation. We were all consumed with keeping the individuals we support and staff and volunteers safe and the organisation financially sustainable. We were worried about the collective wellbeing of Sense, with our own wellbeing severely impacted by the pandemic. We communicated more regularly with colleagues and introduced programmes to support our staff’s wellbeing. 

We made the rights calls during the pandemic. We have much to build upon now.   We must not lose sight of the benefits that this brought to staff teams, and we should continue to do everything we can to promote wellbeing for our staff and volunteers.

How we’ll be making wellbeing a priority at Sense

This month, we’ll be stepping up our work on wellbeing so that we embed support for people’s wellbeing in everything that we do. Our starting point will be to explore our vision and what wellbeing means at Sense with our staff-led Mental Wellbeing Network and Employee Forum. Crucial to the success of a wellbeing action plan is that it should be developed by a working group that includes representatives from all levels and sections of the organisation.

We will first look at our values and behaviours, our physical environment and approach to flexible working and our approach to personal development and learning. We want to make sure that a healthy workplace is part of our culture and ways of working at Sense.  

We will then examine how to promote wellbeing and reduce stigma, to improve our staff and volunteers’ knowledge of mental health. We will also explore specific programmes that might include resilience and stress management.  

The third theme will be looking at the roles and responsibilities of all staff and volunteers, and at extending support to staff and volunteers facing mental health issues. Ultimately, we will develop an organisation-owned approach to wellbeing. Only by taking this approach to wellbeing can we make sure that performance outcomes are sustainable over time.

My vision is for the emotional connection and wellbeing of our staff teams to become the golden thread that connects our strategy, culture and leadership together. This will then become evident at every touchpoint across the services, programmes and retail shops that we provide, the way we articulate our brand, our purpose and our work externally, and how we recruit and retain our staff and volunteers. 

So, what will I be remembered for? I believe that your true legacy as a CEO is what happens to your organisation when you leave (in my case, not for many years to come). I hope that our chair would be able to say: ‘Thank you for getting the very best from Sense and building a strong value-based culture with the wellbeing of staff, volunteers and the individuals we support at its core.’  

That would create transformational change and a lasting impact. This will be the ultimate legacy.

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