Inspirational Woman: Anna Eliatamby | Clinical Psychologist & Director of Healthy Leadership CIC

Anna Eliatamby is a clinical psychologist and workplace wellbeing expert who has helped the UN, and global organisations develop mental health and wellbeing strategies and tackle toxic behaviours in the workplace.

She is the Director of Healthy Leadership CIC, a collective whose aim is to encourage ourselves and others to be more decent by looking at our positives and negatives and then working to make positive changes to ourselves and our organisations. Anna is the author of the Decency Journey Series of pocketbooks to help people flourish in their careers and workplaces. She is also co-author, with Grazia Lomonte, of Healing-Self Care for Leaders and their Teams which helps professionals to learn about their own qualities and behaviours; to learn about living with the underlying and unresolved and to understand factors that impact the wellbeing for their team.

Can you share a pivotal moment in your work with the UN or other global organisations that profoundly impacted your approach to mental health and wellbeing strategies?

I became involved in the Asian Tsunamis 2005 Red Cross and Red Crescent Response in Sri Lanka. This was when I realised the absolute importance of ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of personnel. Amidst the chaos of the response, we recognised how important it was to help leaders, staff and volunteers look after their wellbeing and mental health. Even if it was just to remember to have something to eat and, perhaps, get a little sleep. As the relief response rolled out, we offered sessions to leaders and staff on how to ensure their wellbeing.

I had been involved in leadership development and organisational change initiatives that included a small element of wellbeing. But this experience was the first time that I realised how crucial wellbeing and mental health are for everyone in an organisation.

Can you describe a success story where your strategies significantly transformed a workplace environment?

We had to adjust our mental health strategy to cope with COVID-19. We set up a regional structure with the leadership to help them consider what they should do to support staff and leaders. All the work done considered the multicultural arena in which there were many diversities.

We set up wellbeing support networks for leaders and separately for staff. Here, they shared expertise and experiences. The team created and distributed a global suite of psychoeducational material, including webinars on managing uncertainty and compassionate leadership. The staff also provided individual and group counselling in thirteen languages. Our regular pulse surveys helped global leadership gain an understanding of the psychosocial issues of that time.

The team earned a global award for its multi-cultural approach and people praised their work. People told us they benefitted from our work.

How do you approach educating organisations about the importance of mental health and wellbeing, especially in cultures where these topics may still be stigmatised?

Sharing the business case for mental health and wellbeing is the start. Doing this can be persuasive, as it helps organizations appreciate how the presence or absence of wellbeing and mental health initiatives affects their bottom line.

Then help them understand it is also important to look at organisational factors that may hinder wellbeing, for example, the lack of flexible working or toxicity.

If, however, there is still reluctance or bias, it may be best to let the organisation understand how important this is and offer to return later for another discussion. Confronting stigma rarely works.

What are some common challenges leaders face when trying to implement mental health and wellbeing strategies, and how can they overcome them?

The most common challenge is the lack of leadership support for this issue, and this can end in under-resourcing or wellbeing washing. Getting genuine support is key and it should start with the most senior person. You will need to persuade them how vital this is for the success of the organisation. The responsibility for this should be delegated to a senior person with authority, who is powerful enough to instigate change and convince others of the value of wellbeing.

The second challenge is making sure you choose a suite of interventions that are needed and useful. Wellbeing is not a regulated field and many claim to be experts. Involve staff in choosing valid interventions that they want and will use. Ensure that they allocate time for wellbeing.

Third, often leaders think that bringing in a wellbeing programme is enough for staff mental health. But these are useless unless you address, as well, those factors that have an adverse impact, such as toxicity and overworking. Dealing with these issues is necessary.

In your latest book, “Healing Self Care for Leaders and their Teams,” what key insights do you offer for professionals looking to improve their self-awareness and team wellbeing?

Be willing and ready to explore your own self-awareness and your leadership style at a level that is safest for you. This can be looking at your behaviours and qualities or, if you want, a deeper exploration. This can be frightening as we, as leaders, often assume that we are good at what we do. Taking that step into self-exploration will help you grow, and others will see it.

The same applies to the leader’s team. If you show openness to self-explore, then the team will do the same. They will look at how they are approaching their wellbeing, mental health, inclusion, and toxicity. And this will lead to greater collaboration and effectiveness.

How do you balance addressing both positive and negative aspects of oneself to foster personal growth and organisational change?

We all have positive and negative aspects of ourselves. In general, we function from the positive side and remain in balance. However, there will be moments when we shift to our negative parts. Usually, we recognise, afterwards, when we have done that. And we rebalance.

Learning what shifts you into being positive and what takes you into the negative is vital. Understand what the warning signs are, e.g., being stressed, too busy with no time to relax. Then work out how you will respond more positively when the warning sign appears, e.g. saying you need a break for a few minutes. Work out how you will rectify the situation if you move out of balance.

Very few of us consider that being in balance is to operate from our negative side. If we do, then we need to ask ourselves why and what we should do to change.

If you do all the above, then you will find it easier to lead organisational change, as people will sense your kindness and openness. They will be more willing to follow you.

What role does self-care play in effective leadership, and how can leaders incorporate self-care practices into their daily routines?

As they say, if you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after others. Continued self-care, beyond going to the gym, is vital, including emotional and psychological wellbeing. These impact your leadership and self-confidence.

First, look at how well you are looking after yourself in the key areas of life. How much time do you give to your own needs, even just pausing and doing nothing for 30 minutes? Incorporating self-care practices starts with wanting to look after yourself better. Identify where you are on this path to change. Are you ready and willing or still reluctant? If it is the latter, consider what will help you become ready. Or start with a small new habit, e.g. going for a walk for ten minutes, and add it to an existing and well-established habit. Introduce reminders for the new practice. Then, please begin the change.

What future trends do you foresee in the field of workplace wellbeing, and how can organisations prepare for them to ensure a healthy work environment?

People will see workplace wellbeing as an integral part of the organisation beyond the addition of a simple programme. Organisations will become willing to not only name but also address the aspects of the organisation that interfere with wellbeing. They will move beyond commissioning yet another survey or inquiry.

We need to recognise the interplay between wellbeing, mental health, inclusion and toxicity. They are not distinct topics.

We need to find ways of measuring wellbeing that are respectful of the whole person and their diversity, i.e. seeing life satisfaction as more than power and wealth.

Do you recommend any books or podcasts for those interested in improving their mental health and wellbeing, both personally and professionally?

The FT’s Working It series   |   Washington Post’s Well+Being pages   |   Mental Health at Work   |   Humans at work: Michael Glazer   |   Healthy Leadership CIC YouTube channel

Read more from our other inspirational profiles here.

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