Supporting the Wellbeing of key workers during Covid-19 pandemic
The media is awash with information about supporting staff who are working from home, have been furloughed or who have suffered redundancy as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. This matters. A lot.
But there are many thousands of staff who can’t work from home or isolate themselves – those who provide key services in hospitals, care homes, supermarkets, essential shops, and pharmacies. Hospital and care home staff are daily experiencing highly traumatic patient deaths and dealing with calls from relatives, raw with grief, who could not be with their beloved ones when they died. Shopworkers and Pharmacy staff are experiencing aggression and violence from customers who can’t buy what they want. All of them are coming to work knowing that doing so may put them at increased risk of contracting Coronavirus.
Support for these people is more than important. It’s vital. Nobody can pour from an empty cup. In this blog, we suggest ways in which the wellbeing of key workers can be supported during the unprecedented times we find ourselves in. Desperate times call for drastic measures. Some of these options carry a cost – others do not. Not every organisation or business will be able to adopt all of these but please, if you run a business, or are a senior manager in an organisation with key workers, consider what you can possibly do. People are risking their lives and the health of their own families. As leaders, we need to support their wellbeing in every way possible. So, what can we do?
Physical Safety Measures
- Do every single thing you can to ensure consistent access to personal protective equipment – screens, masks, gloves, aprons, face and eye protection, and make sure that people know how to fit, store, and use equipment. It’s challenging. Demand for PPE is huge and there are supply blockages. For NHS bodies the dedicated PPE supply channel can be accessed here.
- Implement and enforce safe practices (e.g. physical distancing measures), using taped distance measures.
- Make security a priority and follow up on any incidents of physical or verbal violence. Make sure your staff know you have their back.
If you don’t provide the basic physical safety equipment, don’t take steps to make social distancing measures clear to service users, and don’t protect your staff from violence and aggression, then nothing else you do to support wellbeing will have any meaning for your people.
Leadership and Communications
Visible, clear and honest leadership is essential. Make this a key part of your communication strategy.
- If you are not able to be physically present with your staff on a regular basis, use phone calls and technology – Zoom, Teams, FaceTime etc. to talk to staff, listen to their concerns and update them on actions being taken.
- Create a way for people to contact you when they need to raise concerns, or just to talk through a traumatic day (for example a hub which is checked constantly or a dedicated phone line). Make yourself available to call people back. Listen, and offer compassion and care. Have a range of services you can refer people on to if they need support that you can’t provide.
- Call people to check in on them. A phone call just to ask how the day has been and to see if anything is needed can be incredibly powerful.
- Send messages, cards and small gifts. Remind people that you know they are heroes and that they are valued.
Employee Assistance Programmes
If you don’t already have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) then consider contracting with one now. In addition to counselling, EAPs provide a range of practical support – including legal and debt advice and bereavement support. The best EAPs send out electronic packs of advice and links to webinars for staff each week during the crisis which can be shared through email or hubs. Make sure there’s a way of sharing these. Some staff don’t have access to email when at work so ask how they would like to receive this information.
Food and Drinks
If there are key staff who find it hard to shop due to the demands of work, then consider whether food and care parcels can be delivered to the workplace to make sure everybody has at least the basics which they need.
Sending free food, fruit, soft drinks and milk to the workplace to make sure that everybody can take a break and eat during the day, and ensuring that people have the equipment to make hot drinks, can really support your people’s wellbeing.
Travel to and from workplaces key workers at additional risk. Can you consider providing free parking spaces, taxi travel (some taxi firms are offering significant discounts to NHS organisations) and/or offering key workers an extra hour’s pay where they walk to work?
In addition to EAPs, Occupational Health providers and access to clinical staff who are deployed to provide health and wellbeing advice to other staff (particularly at a time when GP appointments are hard to source) can be a key component of your wellbeing strategy.
HR professionals can provide workplace advice, listen to staff concerns, offer guidance, address workplace tensions, and make referrals to other sources of support. They are trained and experienced in working with people in distress. Use them.
Many people are working excessive hours in order to provide services and care, as well as providing cover for colleagues who are sick and/or self-isolating. Monitor the hours being worked and ensure that rest breaks are taken (and that people have somewhere to rest and take a break). Additional staff may need to be temporarily employed in order to ensure those safe hours of work are possible.
Special Leave policies
Some people, while providing services to, and caring for others, will themselves experience devastating losses. Review your special leave and bereavement leave policies and, where necessary, amend them, to make sure that where your own people are being fully supported if they experience family sickness or loss of significant people in their lives. Returning to work in a stressful environment following a bereavement or other traumatic life event can feel impossible. Apply the policies sensitively and exercise discretion around giving people the time they need away from work.
Providing psychological support to people faced with daily traumatic events, those who are exposed to other people’s distress, anger and aggression, and those who are anxious and exhausted needs to be a key part of your wellbeing strategy. Which of these do you have or can you put in place?:
- Mental Health First Aiders who can identify, understand and help people who may be experiencing mental health issues. If you have existing staff who have been trained in Mental Health First Aid then consider deploying them where they can provide the maximum support. And remember to offer them support as well so that they don’t become burnt out. If you don’t currently have staff who have been trained then courses are available from a range of organisations, including MIND.
- Clinical Psychologists – especially in NHS settings there will be teams of clinical psychologists. Consider deploying some of these staff to provide support specifically for staff – including providing debriefing and support following critical and traumatic incidents and regular check-ins with members of front line teams.
- Counselling – via your Occupational Health provider, in-house counsellors, or the Employee Assistance Programme.
- Online mindfulness and meditation support packages or online access to a mindfulness coach.
- A wellbeing pack available to all staff or a central hub where wellbeing resources can be accessed. Resources may include any or all of the suggestions above, and links to further support – for example:
- Hub of Hope – a mental health database bringing grassroots and national mental health services together in one place. This enables people in the UK to identify local and national sources of support.
- Mind – Information and advice on a huge range of mental health and wellbeing topics.
- Turn2Me – free online support groups for anxiety, depression, stress management and other mental health issues.
- NHS in Mind– a range of free resources designed to help NHS staff alleviate and combat high anxiety, panic and fatigue.
- BMA counselling, peer support and UK wellbeing directory – available via 0330 123 1245
Finally – remember to take care of yourself as you support others. You matter too. A lot.