A Workplace Chaplain’s story – a year at Swiss Laundry

I have been the Workplace Chaplain at Swiss Laundry for just over a year. Although it is called Swiss Laundry, it has noting to do with Switzerland. Swiss was the finish given to table linen and they have been in business when Swiss was used! I thought that I might be able to get the family washing done – on the cheap. No way as the laundry deals with hotel linen, hospital linen, including towels and the machines are huge with huge bags of dirty and clean washing going overhead on automated systems.

I started just after the really hot weather last summer (2022), and with some trepidation I entered the laundry. Going downstairs to the laundry machines and automatic irons and folders, the heat increased and my unease increased along with the noise of the machines. How would I be received? Would I be able to carry out the tasks of a Workplace Chaplain?

I found out I had little to fear. After I had explained who I was, or what I am now, they seemed to accept it, as they had previously had a Workplace Chaplain who had retired.  What I said had to be translated for some of the people there, not because of my Essex accent but because their English was not too strong.

I have found them to be a friendly group of many different nationalities and this enriches the regular trips I make to the Laundry. It took time for people to stop and talk, or in the case of some areas, carry on working and talk, but more talk now happens. Do we talk about deep issues? Occasionally, such as the loss of a wife, or the loss of an employee who suffered a heart attack. However, most of the time this year I have used it as a getting to know them and they, me. It seems to be working and so I am being told more and more by the people who work there.

What training did I have? None really, although I was a Baptist minister for over 30 years which I felt has given me a good grounding for chaplaincy. We all have our ups and downs and I have seen a couple of downs. As for ups it has been talk of a wedding, becoming grandparents again and such like.
I did not know I would find it so stimulating and enjoyable.

Rev Richard Owen

A need to take health more seriously in the Workplace

Workplace absences have hit their highest level in over a decade, according to a report which is urging employers to take health more seriously if they want to retain staff.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) said that analysis of data from over 900 companies employing 6.5 million staff found an average 7.8 absence days per employee over the past year.

That was up a whole two days per person compared to pre-pandemic levels. While minor illnesses were the main factor behind short-term absences, stress was also high on the list – with work-related and cost of living pressures among the reasons.

The report said 76% of respondents had been off work due to stress over the past year, adding that it was also a top cause of longer-term absences. Mental health was blamed for 63% of long-term absences.

The human resources body said just over a third of organisations had reported that COVID-19 remained a significant cause of short-term absence.

The findings chime with official figures showing long-term sickness running at a record rate. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said earlier this month that more than 2.6 million people do not have jobs due to their health. It reported that the list had grown by 464,225 over the three months from April to June, compared to the same period last year.

At the same time, a report on the issue by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) described the growing numbers as a “serious fiscal threat” to the UK.

The think tank said long NHS waiting lists were a contributing factor – in the cost to the taxpayer as well as people’s declining health.

The absence report, supported by health plan provider Simplyhealth, showed that a variety of workplace support schemes were on the rise but many lacked flexible working options and health services.

The study’s authors suggested it was vital that companies, many desperate to retain staff amid current labour shortages, raise their game.

Rachel Suff, senior employee wellbeing adviser at the CIPD, said: “External factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have had profound impacts on many people’s wellbeing. It’s good to see that slightly more organisations are approaching health and wellbeing through a stand-alone strategy. However, we need a more systematic and preventative approach to workplace health. This means managing the main risks to people’s health from work to prevent stress as well as early intervention to prevent health issues from escalating where possible.”

Claudia Nicholls, chief customer officer at Simplyhealth said: “With record numbers of people off sick, employers have a vital role to play in supporting them through workplace health and wellbeing services. They can have a positive impact on the economy and ease pressure on the NHS. Despite an increasing number of workplace health and wellbeing services being put in place, employees are experiencing increasing mental health issues and the highest rate of sickness absence in a decade. However, focusing on fixing sickness alone is unlikely to uncover areas where any significant improvements can be made; companies need to implement preventative health and wellbeing strategies that are supported by the most senior levels of leadership and build line manager skills and confidence to support wellbeing.”

Article reproduced from Sky News 26th September 2023.

Celebrating Chaplaincy – together at Peterborough Cathedral

On September 16th we attended a special Evensong at Peterborough Cathedral dedicated to “Celebrating Chaplaincy”. Over 20 Chaplains from across Cambs and from different settings attended with networking and refreshments afterwards.

At the service a booklet was launched on:
“Chaplaincy in Peterborough”
which has been compiled and edited by Professor Paul Ballard (former trustee of CWC) using experiences of chaplains throughout Peterborough.

Light Project Peterborough, who manage the Street Chaplains in Peterborough, has coordinated the contributors and CWC have encouraged and funded the artwork, printing and design costs.

Prayer for Workplace Chaplains used at Evensong service

Loving and ever-present God,
You come to find us wherever we are,
and there is nowhere beyond your reach.
We give you thanks for chaplains, lay and ordained, paid and voluntary,
who live out your presence in workplaces and organisations
throughout this county of Cambridgeshire and all over the world.

As we celebrate and affirm the work they do,
and the difference they make to the wellbeing of people and organisations,
so bless all those currently engaged in chaplaincy
and all who are exploring if this may be the way forward for them,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
We pray for the various workplaces across Peterborough and Cambridgeshire where chaplains currently serve,
and for those who offer chaplaincy on the streets of our towns and cities;
We ask that they may feel recognised, heard and valued
for what they contribute to their respective contexts;
coming alongside people and listening to their stories,
helping them to encounter your love for all your people.
Sustain and strengthen them in their ministry,
and at this time of economic stress, uncertainty and hardship for so many,
encourage more workplaces
to recognise the support that chaplaincy brings to their workforce.
We pray for those chaplains who are able to use their role
to speak truth to power,
to defend the vulnerable and challenge injustice;
that they may be granted your wisdom and your courage;
through Christ who is the Prince of Peace.

Closing Hymn at Evensong celebrating Chaplaincy

Lord, you give the great commission:
‘Heal the sick and preach the word.’
Lest the Church neglect its mission,
and the gospel go unheard,
help us witness to your purpose
with renewed integrity;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.

Lord, you call us to your service:
‘In my name baptize and teach.’
That the world may trust your promise,
life abundant meant for each,
give us all new fervour, draw us
closer in community;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.

Lord, you make the common holy:
‘This my body, this my blood.’
Let us all, for earth’s true glory,
daily lift life heavenward,
asking that the world around us
share your children’s liberty;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.

Lord, you show us love’s true measure;
‘Father, what they do, forgive.’
Yet we hoard as private treasure
all that you so freely give.
May your care and mercy lead us
to a just society;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.

Lord, you bless with words assuring:
‘I am with you to the end.’
Faith and hope and love restoring,
may we serve as you intend,
and, amid the cares that claim us,
hold in mind eternity;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us
for the work of ministry.

Words: Jeffery Rowthorn (b.1934)
Copyright © 1978 Hope Publishing
Tune: Abbots Leigh

Celebrating Chaplaincy!

 On September 16th a special Evensong at Peterborough Cathedral will be dedicated to “Celebrating Chaplaincy” (see the invite below).
At that service we will be launching a booklet on:
“Chaplaincy in Peterborough” which has been compiled and edited by Professor Paul Ballard (former trustee of CWC) using vignettes and experiences of chaplains throughout Peterborough.

Light Project Peterborough, who manage the Street Chaplains in Peterborough, has coordinated the contributors and CWC have encouraged and funded the artwork, printing and design costs.

We wish to thank The Dean and Canon Precentor of Peterborough Cathedral for integrating this service of celebration into Saturday Evensong.

Also, we are grateful to Richard Vernon of EPRINT for his professional work and patience!

What is Chaplaincy in this context? Paul Ballard defines it as:
“Chaplaincy is an important aspect of the mission and ministry of the Church. Often hidden and unrecognised, chaplaincy lies alongside and is interwoven with the ministry of the congregation or parish and with social concern. Its distinctive involvement is with the place of work or commerce, their pressures and demands. There are, broadly, three patterns of chaplaincy.
1. Chaplains appointed within and as part of a secular organisation (examples: hospitals, schools or prisons)
2. Chaplains invited into places of work by invitation and negotiation, often part-time and sometimes as an extension to ministry in the congregation. This is the ‘Industrial Mission’ model (examples: businesses, offices, factories, sport)
3. Chaplains in the public square, often in collaboration with secular authorities, such as the police and local authority, and local enterprise.

Each of these is found in Peterborough. Chaplains can be full or part-time, ordained or lay, salaried or voluntary….”
We are very grateful for the stories and experience that the chaplains have contributed to this booklet, which taken together, gives an up-to-date realistic picture of “faith in the workplace”.
Indeed, something to Celebrate!
We do hope that readers of this newsletter will be able to come to the Cathedral Evensong, refreshments and chat on 16th September and Celebrate Chaplaincy in Peterborough!

Please do email CWC via info@cambsworkplacechaplaincy.org.uk so that we can cater appropriately!
Clive Morton
Vice Chair 
Trustee, Cambridgeshire Workplace Chaplaincy.

Working with grief and loss in our role as chaplains

As chaplains we meet people at challenging times in their lives, facing the illness or death of someone they are close to or indeed facing their own mortality. We meet people who through a variety of circumstances have lost home or job or relationships. The foundations of their lives have shifted, and they have yet to find secure ground on which to move forward.

My work as a chaplain has much in common with my work as a volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Support. Those who refer to Cruse will have had a significant bereavement either quite recently or often many years previously.  They are preoccupied with feelings of loss and in turning to Cruse for support they are looking for a way to manage the pain of loss and to move forward.

Grief is not straight forward. Our coping mechanisms are determined by many factors including the support we have in our lives, our personalities, our experience of previous losses and what happens on our journey forward. Each of us has an individual response to grief and loss and there is no single map to guide us. The journey from loss to recovery is not linear. There are many obstacles on the way and most of us need a helping hand at some stage.

As chaplains we are accustomed to working with loss, yet it is good to be reminded of the skills which will help us in our work, and which are most effective in helping others. Dr Catherine Grimley of the University of Warwick has recently launched a report that gives new insight into how age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality can all affect people’s choices of formal and informal support as well as how they find it. There are differences in responses between the under 50’s and the over 50’s.

Over 50’s often saw seeking help as a weakness and don’t like causing a fuss. They are also more reluctant to use technology or digital support which is on offer. The under 50’s report lack of time and a perception that support is not available. Participants from ethnic minority groups found the value of support was compromised where there were language barriers and a lack of cultural and religious understanding. LBGTQ+ respondents valued non-judgemental understanding and a feeling of belonging which may be lacking in wider society. Men preferred more informal and practical support and many people asked for practical coping strategies.    

In this comprehensive report certain universal requirements for bereavement support, informed by participants in the study, stood out: The importance of attentive and caring listening.  People need to feel understood. They need to be able to talk openly without fear of judgement. They need a safe and supportive space in which to explore their feelings. The chaplain or counsellor also needs to give dedicated and unhurried time to the bereaved.

Let us be mindful too that those of us providing support to the bereaved in our chaplaincy roles have invariably suffered our own losses and supporting others on their grief journey may also trigger reactions in us. Worden reminds us that counsellors are well known for their inability to negotiate their own help and support systems. Those of us engaged in grief work need to know where we get emotional support, what our limitations, when we have reached saturation point and how to reach out for help when we need it.

Good supervision should be built into the fabric of our roles. If it is not, we may need to reach out to other chaplains for support and to raise our needs with our supporting organisations.

And finally, from The Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (image credit):
“When have you been at your strongest?” asked the boy.
“When I have dared to show my weakness”.
“Asking for help isn’t giving up”, said the horse.
“Its refusing to give up”.      

The Perceived value of bereavement support and the impact of inequalities on availability and access: Accessing bereavement support. Dr Catherine Grimley and associates. University of Warwick Press. May 2023.
Grief counselling and Grief Therapy. Worden J W.   Routledge. 2003  
The Boy, the  Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Charlie Mackesy. Penguin 2019

Mary Hanna
Trustee, Cambridgeshire Workplace Chaplaincy.


It’s that time again. The queuing at airport check-in time. The stuck-in traffic time. The over-heated kids time. Yes, holidays are coming or, even, looming ahead! Looked forward to and quite possibly dreaded in equal measure. And especially in the light of recent inability to travel and the threat of industrial action of various types, things could be even more fraught!

Now the above description is clearly overdrawn, but there is sufficient truth in it to give us pause for thought. Everyone needs holidays. Their derivation from “holy days” gives some clues about their very serious value.

“Holy” means “set apart”. Different, not the usual place or activity. There’s value in being “elsewhere” and not doing what we usually do. So, ‘phones turned off and emails not looked at seems a good idea.

“Holy” means being in a different place, not necessarily physically but certainly psychologically. The mind and emotions need space for rest, for recuperation and reimagining.  They need to be filled with glad things and stimulating things that refresh us mind, body and spirit. Scenery, art, different cultures can all help here.

“Holy” means giving self a rest. Now that seems a problem for holydays since they, of necessity, involve lots of choices about what I want to do. But what I mean is letting go of the often insistent sense that I have to do this, I have to get there, I have to achieve, I have to be noticed, I have to get the contract, I have to be promoted, I have to promote this, I have to arrange that. I really need to stop and that is not easy. One help is simply to concentrate on the “other”.  Focus on the needs of others, giving up first place and relaxing into someone else’s agenda.  Family can help here!

But perhaps a good way is to go back to “holy” because that is where God comes in. There is huge value in focusing on the One truly, “in charge”, “responsible”, and letting my desires, thoughts, plans and schedules settle back into God’s. This is what prayer is about and there are many resources to help us relax into the reality that it does not all depend on me (lots of apps like “Lectio 365” and “Open Prayer Book” if an actual book isn’t readily to hand!).

And even if God does not seem a very present reality to me, taking time to be still, to relax, to focus on “not having to work everything out for myself” and finding simple space may open up new vistas of wellbeing.

Wishing you some holiday/holy time this summer!

Paul Hills
Vice-Chair, CWC

Behind the figures – long-term sickness and ability to work

As Alastair Reid covered last month, the post-pandemic world is very different and we’re still uncovering aspects that are a hang-over if you like, or a lag in seeing the effects from a data point of view. But behind statistics is a much more diverse picture.

Take the news this week that ‘Long-term sickness leaving 1.6m UK adults over 50 unable to work’ and my first instinct was to attribute this to long covid following the pandemic, but also reading the statistics and the news around this announcement from the Office for National Statistics show this is a diverse health issues but also an economic one. 

There has also been data shared for economic inactivity by age group in July-September 2019 and July-September 2022. It showed that of the 2.8 million people out of work because of long-term sickness, nearly 60% were aged over 50. In total, almost 40% of economically inactive 50 to 64-year-olds were out of work because of long-term sickness (e.g. delays to hip and knee replacements are cited affecting this group).

A rise in long-term ill health has significantly reduced the size of the UK’s potential workforce across all ages since the pandemic. But it is a particularly large driver of the reduction in available workers in their 50s and 60s, with the number of 50- to 64-year-olds economically inactive – neither working nor job-hunting – up by 375,000 since Covid struck. In total, 27.6% of this age group were now inactive; an increase of 2.4 percentage points since before the pandemic.

Mental health charities say PTSD and related mental health conditions are prevalent since the pandemic. In the Independent it revealed a record 2.5m people are off work with long-term sickenss as unemployment rises again.

Explaining the rise in long-term sick, Mr Morgan of the ONS added: “The strongest increases in ill health have been in the conditions related to mental health, particularly in the young, a rise in people having musco-sceletal issues – so a rise in people having problems connected to the back and neck – with some theories of the increase in home working contributing to that.

“And we’ve also seen an increase in the category of post viral fatigue, so perhaps long-Covid having an impact there.” What’s the answer? Well, there is a contradiction in terms of what government has recently been saying about getting people back to work (and keeping them in work).

For example, on one hand the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, promised a “fundamental programme of reforms” to get millions of people back to work in a keynote speech. The drive, he said, would be the key to fixing the UK’s “productivity puzzle”.

However in contrast the mental health charity Mind has accused ministers of not having properly consulted affected communities before announcing a decision to change the benefits are assessed for those living with a disability or health condition.

This relates to Government plans to reform disability benefits putting vulnerable people with mental health problems at risk from being sanctioned and exposed to harm (according to Mind). The mental health charity said the changes “make little sense” and warned it was “extremely concerned for the safety and income of people with mental health problems” under the new system. Kim Chaplain, a specialist adviser for work at the charity the Centre for Ageing Better, said. “These new stats make clear that long-term sickness is part of the challenge that the government needs to find solutions to.”

Bee Boileau, a research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the findings were troubling. “This rise in long-term sickness for economically inactive people is very concerning,” she said. “It adds to growing evidence that the UK’s health is worsening.”

So, do we want people in work whatever the cost? The whole self at work means the mental health of someone is just as important to the physical health – more investment is clearly needed to support people.

Jane Thompson
Development and Admin Assistant, CWC

A Celebration of Chaplaincy Evensong 16 Sep 2023

Sat 16th September 3:30pm: A Celebration of Chaplaincy Evensong (at Peterborough Cathedral)

About: Join us at a special celebratory service at Peterborough Cathedral as part of Evensong with a visiting Choir. All Chaplains from across Cambridgeshire are warmly welcomed along with supporters of CWC’s work.

Refreshments and a chance to network will be offered afterwards; therefore, so we can manage catering requirements please register your attendance by emailing Jane Thompson via info@cambsworkplacechaplaincy.org.uk

You can download the formal invitation here.

Wellbeing. Wellbeing, Wellbeing

Could be forgiven for admitting that our wellbeing seems to be a subject in which we should all be actively engaging. Could also be said that the marketing is targeted at the reasonably well off.
But in our country (as in others) there are a majority with no voice and very few resources and are unlikely to be able to access wellbeing services and products.

It is so good that these subjects are now being seriously considered in the workplace. In well run organisations mental health and wellbeing sit in their rightful place, ensuring everyone has access.  Moreover this access is independently audited. However, this is not the case everywhere, very likely for reasons of resources, including time and expertise. A business with three staff is unlikely to have the time or resources to significantly engage with workplace wellbeing.

How do my thoughts link to workplace chaplaincy?
Some of the more obvious impacts of the pandemic in our daily lives are still being experienced and will continue to affect us for some time yet. The obvious effects  on the workplace are well known. What we are now seeing are the emergence of the less obvious, for example, the impact on younger employees, especially those in training, the difficulties associated with hybrid working, team building, energy, problem solving, socialising, to name a few.

Workplace Chaplains are in a good position to engage in workplace wellbeing, being able to, as someone said, ‘loiter and listen with intent’. This is not only beneficial to individual members of staff but is also useful  to management  as it can flag up issues, anonymously, that can be of significant benefit to the business or organisation.

During the pandemic our chaplains, apart from those working in health, fire and police services and other critical situations, just could not function as effectively as before, despite their desire to do so. Their regular presence is such an important part of how they engage. As a result we made a decision to become more digital, one of the initiatives being our successful Workplace Wellbeing Hub.

During this period we improved our mental health and wellbeing knowledge to add to the services we are able to offer, where needed, in collaboration with health and wellbeing specialists. We feel this will be a very useful resource for smaller enterprises and organisations as we find additional ways to be effective.
Another benefit of our digital activity is to present the benefits of workplace chaplaincy to a wider audience. This digital presence, being relatively new to us, is evolving and we still have lots to learn.

I’ll take this opportunity to thank every chaplain for everything they do. You are so beneficial but so often unacknowledged.
Please add the Commemoration Service at Peterborough Cathedral on 16th September to your diaries, everyone is welcome, we’d love to see you, just let Jane know so that we provide enough refreshments (email jane@cambsworkplacechaplaincy.org.uk).

Alastair Ure Reid
Chair, CWC

Does your workplace pretend to care about mental health? Here’s how to tackle ‘wellbeing washing’

Is your employer all talk and no follow through? From mental health days to virtual counselling, there are so many ways companies ‘appear’ to prioritise the wellbeing of their employees.

But digging into the specifics a little more, it’s sometimes a different story entirely.

A snap poll earlier this year found more than half of employers are guilty of ‘wellbeing washing’ (AKA, appearing to care about mental health but failing to provide any real or tangible benefits) – in a similar way to greenwashing.

And this can take various forms.

It might be a mental health seminar hosted… during a lunch break. Or offering workplace wellness programs… but not giving employees any time to use them due to ever-growing workloads.

The ‘mental health’ pawn is played by toxic workplaces to make it seem like action is happening, when nothing really is.

Bex Spiller, a workplace wellbeing consultant and the founder of The Anti-Burnout Club, explains:

‘Effectively, it’s a way for organisations to look good from the outside, without dealing with many of the issues going on that are causing poor workplace wellbeing in the first place. 

‘Announcing to the world that you provide stand-up desks and lunchtime yoga classes, but not lessening the overall stress and pressure on employees in the first place, is wellbeing washing.’

Ringing any bells?

Bex says another example is a company celebrating things like World Mental Health Day but not actually looking after their employees’ mental health.

She says: ‘This could be by not providing adequate time off for mental health conditions, unrealistic workloads creating more stress, or fostering a culture of presenteeism where employees are worried about taking time off to recover.’

Also, employees simply not knowing where wellbeing initiatives can be found, or how to access them.

It’s a way for organisations to look good from the outside, without dealing with internal issues. With the current cost of living crisis, there’s a lot to be stressed about right now. But throw in a demanding employer imposing high pressure and a heavy workload, it’s only natural for employees to be feeling burnt out.

‘Wellbeing washing is dangerous because it doesn’t actually improve employee wellbeing – in fact, it can do quite the opposite,’ adds Bex.

‘Employees feeling stressed, overwhelmed and under pressure may end up burning out and suffering from long-term physical and mental health conditions.’

Also when these fickle promises and vague pledges come to light, workers are likely to feel gaslit – and will see-through their employers.

Bex says: ‘When a company is wellbeing washing, it can cause employees to disengage and lose trust. 

‘We see this time and time again where employees feel undervalued and not listened to because an organisation is just paying lip service to better workplace wellbeing. When this happens, it can lead to lower productivity, and higher staff sickness and turnover rates, which can then impact a company’s bottom line. 

‘According to Deloitte, investing in employee mental health sees an average return of £5 for every £1 spent.’

So what can you actually do if you think this is the case where you work?

Bex says: ‘If you suspect your employer is wellbeing washing then I’d really recommend being open and honest about what it is that you need from them for better support.’

How to address ‘wellbeing washing’ at work:
Bex suggests using something like a Wellness Action Plan to set out:

  1. What affects your mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, including any particular triggers such as a high workload.
  2. How this may have an impact on your work.
  3. What you need from your employer for better wellbeing and any reasonable adjustments that could be made.
  4. What steps you can take yourself to stay mentally healthy at work.

Bex says it’s good to use this tool to get the conversation going with HR or management about how you and others need better support at work. 

She adds: ‘Know that it won’t always be an overnight fix, but if you find that you’re being ignored then it may be time to look for somewhere with a more supportive company culture.’

Also, know when enough is enough.

Bex continues: ‘Changing jobs is often a last resort, but no job is worth your health. 

‘If management are just wellbeing washing and you find it’s having an impact on your health, then it may be time to move on. There are plenty of workplaces who are more supportive and who walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.’

Article researched and edited by
Jane Thompson, Development Assistant, CWC.
(Original article from Metro.co.uk)