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If we don’t look after our people, how can we expect them to look after others?  Case Study: Connection Support

If we don’t look after our people, how can we expect them to look after others? 

We spoke with Amy Delisser, Deputy CEO at Connection Support to find out more about their work, with a particular focus on their workforce.

Connection Support started in 1995. It’s focused on empowering people to change their lives and build resilience for the future. It’s grown from a tiny voluntary sector organisation to an organisation with over two hundred workers and volunteers. Over the years the work it does has become more and more complex. Connection Support’s workforce is working with more people, and they are working with people more intensively, across areas such as housing & homelessness, mental health, young people and parenting, offending and refugee and asylum seekers support. 

A couple years ago, Connection Support’s leadership team decided to do the Best Companies Employee Engagement survey. An area of focus that came out of the survey was how can Connection Support improve the well-being of their workforce. 

As a voluntary organisation with less funding for development activity than their colleagues in other sectors might be able to afford the leadership team could’ve decided to do very little, but that wasn’t something that the leadership team felt was the right approach to take. 

They started by exploring well-being issues with people across the organisation and set up a well-being working group to help them look at what the feedback they were getting from their workforce meant. The key question being: what can we do differently and how can we help? 

Connection Support came up with five themes. These included:

  1. How can we create a culture of well-being at work;
  2. How can we foster positive relationships across the charity
  3. Improve and promote policies that enhance wellbeing
  4. Take care of and support our workers better
  5. Improve our working environments to promote wellbeing

One of the things that Connection Support introduced early on was asking people at interviews – ‘So how do you manage your well-being?’ Not a question that many interviewees would expect to be asked.  

From making sure that well-being is part of everyone’s monthly supervision, to enabling people to be open and honest about their well-being, Connection Support wanted to pull people together so that they could feel able to talk to each other and be connected to each other – even when people were remote working.

Well-being champions, learning and sharing with each other and focusing on enabling everybody’s well-being to improve – alongside developing a culture of well-being in all aspects of Connection Supports work – was important. Workshops were developed for staff on self-care and managing your own well-being – which were open to everyone. Online meditation and mindfulness and trauma release training was developed as well. 

By continuing to listen to people and engage with people, workers began to identify their own challenges and their own training needs and find ways to meet them. One of the early groups to be established was a menopause group. A number of workers have said that the menopause group is one of the best things that has happened at work this year and just goes to show that the senior team care about them. A peer-led neurodiversity support group has also been established and is going well. 

It’s too early to say what impact the wellbeing programme will have on recruitment and retention. What can be said is that Connection Support has a workforce that feels more satisfied and confident in the workplace. In the last twelve months, a number of workers have said that Connection Support is the best place they’ve ever worked, they feel well supported and are able to be their authentic self.  Senior managers being honest and truthful has helped a lot as well. 

This culture of looking after each other isn’t very usual and it’s not very usual for the senior team to get involved in it as well. If people are sending emails after five in the evening Connection Support have encouraged people to include a line in the email that says, ‘I might be sending this, but I’m not expecting you to reply out of office hours. They’re also piloting a traffic light system in the offices, which enables people to share how they’re feeling that day. 

The well-being champions meet every month, and the well-being festival is being planned for next year – including activities such as art therapy, yoga and meditation.  

They have an area on the intranet focused on well-being, where some of the managers have written blog posts about things such as: how they manage their stress; how they manage their sleep; mental health for men; fitness and nutrition, menopause and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This has helped more people to get involved, to contribute their own perspectives and become part of the working groups. 

As a voluntary sector organisation Connection Support might not be able to offer an extra £10,000 in pay but they can offer flexible working and better benefits. They can find ways to look after people and their well-being. Yes, working at Connection Support can be pressurised at times, but there are different ways of looking after people that you might not be able to achieve outside of a voluntary sector organisation. A core part of this is the values by which you support your workers and how you expect your workers to support others – if the glass is always half full, if the organisation doesn’t put time into staff support, people are going to burn out quickly. Enabling workers to refill their tank and have the confidence to say when they’re getting to the end of their tether is important. Over 88% of Connection Support workers feel they could go to their manager if they needed help. 

As well as planning the festival for next year, Connection Support are doing some work looking at how they can enable the workforce to feel psychologically safe, able to speak up more in meetings and challenge things in any meeting in all parts of the organisation – so Connection Support can learn from what goes well and what doesn’t always go well. 

Connection Support sees itself as a family organisation. It’s a growing organisation, but it wants to remain family-focused. An organisation that is values led and supports its workers to stay well and use the knowledge and skills they have to offer the people they support great support. It’s a journey, and Connection Support has many more ideas that they want to explore. 

More about Best Company Award Connection Support won for being an outstanding employer.

More about Connection Support on their website.

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