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How can museums improve their staff wellbeing?

In any workplace, staff wellbeing plays a vital role in ensuring that the environment is healthy, harmonious and productive. Without a valued team that pulls in the same direction, no organisation can hope to achieve its long-term objectives.

With a variety of mental health problems estimated to cost employers up to £42 billion per year, according to the UK government’s recent Thriving at Work Report, it’s safe to say that the promotion of good staff health and wellbeing is a fundamental aspect of the modern day workplace.

Of course, we are (hopefully) emerging from an unprecedented period in history; a time during which wellbeing has suffered and in which employers around the globe have become conscious of the need to place greater emphasis on employee wellbeing. This is particularly critical given that the ability to nurture personal bonds and a sense of community have been inhibited for so long. Indeed, for those now working remotely on a more permanent basis, it promises to be an ongoing challenge that organisations must address rather than ignore.

In the case of museums – places and spaces that are expected to inspire, engage and entertain – it is particularly crucial that those who create cultural experiences feel valued and comfortable enough to do so. And let’s be honest: if a museum environment can’t be one that enhances wellbeing, then surely there’s little hope for other industries and sectors.

The importance of wellbeing in the workplace

By investing time and resources into workplace wellbeing, museum staff and the wider institution can benefit dramatically. Simply asking the question: “Do our employees have what they need to work at their best” can yield solutions that ultimately contribute towards physical, psychological emotional and social improvements.

Although employee wellbeing should certainly focus on the welfare of staff, it is important to acknowledge that employers also benefit from employee wellbeing and employee engagement initiatives. While teams should be made to feel happy and healthy on a human level for compassionate reasons, we shouldn’t be shy about promoting the fact that it genuinely makes good business sense.

With a more proactive approach to wellbeing within the workplace, museum staff feel more valued, and institutions receive greater loyalty and productivity in return. With increased commitment and heightened morale comes better retention. This means reduced recruitment costs and a greater opportunity to develop staff members over time.

On the ground, relations between team members becomes more positive and productive, and the workforce performs better.

Museums: the perfect place to support wellbeing

Museums are well known for the benefits they offer visitors. From alleviating stress and anxiety to reducing social isolation to boosting self-esteem, cultural spaces have been shown to possess important therapeutic properties.

And while it may seem inevitable that those working within museum spaces should have no problem in retaining a happy, healthy state of mind, it is nevertheless important that time and resources are put into using those assets to nurture a positive environment for staff as well as visitors.

Often this can be achieved by simply protecting personal time for self-care – safeguarding lunch breaks and respecting designated working hours, for example. Providing time for people to step away from the day-to-day grind and instead be present in their surroundings is a subtle but highly impactful step that all museums can take.

Alongside this adherence to professional boundaries, museums may run regular schemes and activities for staff to successfully to enhance wellbeing. Whether that’s mindfulness sessions in the workplace, or even hand massage workshops to relax and soothe hard working employees, there is always room for institutions to think outside the box when it comes to protecting and rewarding staff.

It is also necessary to acknowledge that employees’ sense of worth often stems from feeling heard and valued by their employer. At a time when museums speak often about inclusivity and support for those who may feel marginalised, it is important that they seek to practice what they preach. This may involve the creation of forums, safe spaces and pathways for individuals to share ideas, air grievances or seek to develop their career.

Whether training the team for better wellbeing, modifying existing resources or introducing new practices, the key is to ask how positivity, kindness, communication and collaboration can be encouraged. Never underestimate the power of those little things; a cosy staff room or open door policy can make a big difference to someone’s day.

Something as simple as a conversation between individual staff members can have a profoundly positive impact and inspire the next step towards better wellbeing support.

And finally…

All too often organisations feel that they must drive employee wellbeing initiatives. In reality, often the best programmes develop by encouraging staff to propose and introduce their own initiatives. Employees are certain to have their own ideas about how they can be better supported, and it’s important that the institution is ready and willing to take these on-board.

Find out more about health and wellbeing in museums at the upcoming Museums, Health and Wellbeing Summit running 31st January – 2nd February 2022.

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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