• claire-warner

Wellbeing and the Feelings Wheel

This week's blog comes to you from awesome guest blogger, Katie Simmons of the British Red Cross. A few weeks ago I was leading a wellbeing session on how people are coping with ongoing uncertainty and that being able to talk about and encouraged to talk about how you're feeling, especially when those feelings are impacting focus, motivation, productivity etc, can be really helpful. Someone in the session told us about how their boss, Katie, had started using a feelings wheel to help them express and articulate their feelings.


So, I approached Katie and asked if she would explain more about what she's implemented and how its working. I hope you enjoy it!


There have been many challenges over this last year, but if I had to find one ‘silver lining’ in the gloom, it would be the way we have begun having honest conversations about how we feel in the workplace. I’ve struggled both personally and professionally with the ups and downs of Covid, lockdown and the ‘new normal’, but feeling able to be open with my colleagues has made a real difference.


I’ve been part of the leadership team of the British Red Cross as Director of Fundraising Strategy for the last two years. We’ve been on the frontline of the Covid response, pivoting our services to help those most at need as a result of coronavirus, and pretty early into the first lockdown in March 2020, we realised as a leadership team that if we were going to succeed over the uncertain period ahead, we needed to consciously put the wellbeing of our people front and centre.


We focused on working with our teams (via workshops and surveys) to understand what good support looked like, and rapidly put in place new ways of working such as a 2hr Zoom ‘amnesty’ in the middle of the day, an invitation to work flexibly as needed, and a suite range of other tools, resources and coaching to help our people.


But alongside this offer, it felt really important to create spaces and ways for people to talk about how they were personally coping. In a work environment, with the perceived pressure of being ‘professional’, it’s not always easy really share how you are feeling. To overcome this, and to create a route into more emotionally honest conversations, my teams have started using a ‘Feelings Wheel’ tool.

Created by the psychologist Robert Plutchik, the wheel describes eight basic emotions: anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and trust and then dives into different degrees of each emotion. It can help provide the language to articulate and begin to make sense of your feelings, particularly important over the turbulent times of the last year.


We’ve put this tool to work in a couple of ways. In larger team meetings and gatherings, we use it anonymously, using the annotation tool on Zoom for people to mark how they are feeling, then open the floor for anyone to share with the group.


In smaller groups or on an individual basis, we’ve taken the anonymity away and used it in a less structured way as a route into a conversation about how people are feeling.


I’ve seen a number of different benefits from this approach. It has helped people understand that they are not alone in how they are feeling. It has also created a space where their feelings are validated; whether that’s ‘actually, lock down is working well for me’, ‘I’m struggling’ or ‘I’m angry and frustrated by this situation’.


More generally, I’d say it’s built a more open and honest environment where it’s ok to say that you are having a difficult time and to talk about what support and resources you need to get through. I’ve seen a sense of empowerment as well, with people feeling more comfortable to ask for what they need and plan their work in a way that works for them.


Our focus on wellbeing over the last year has left a lasting impact. We’re currently working on the development of our Fundraising Strategy, taking a people centred approach and putting our supporters, volunteers and staff at the heart of what we do, recognising that thriving staff and teams are our route to success.

I’d love to talk more about the approach that we’ve taken to wellbeing at the British Red Cross, and how we are making thriving people and teams central to our fundraising strategy. I’m keen to learn from what’s working well for others. Get in touch on Twitter @simmonskt or find me on LinkedIn.


Katie is an experienced senior leader in the charity sector, currently Director of Fundraising Strategy at the British Red Cross. She is responsible for developing an ambitious transformation programme for fundraising and supporter engagement at British Red Cross, alongside leading on fundraising innovation, supporter experience and planning and performance. In the past she has held senior fundraising roles at Diabetes UK and Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity, and has worked in a range of other UK charities including NSPCC and Bliss. She is a trustee of Cosmic and a member of the advisory panel for Missing People. She lives in Twickenham with her boyfriend and very demanding cat, Splodge.

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