All of our lives have been changed by the pandemic and the social distancing measures necessary to limit its spread. Health and social care staff are dealing with the impact of this in their home and their personal lives, and the space in between.
Your staff may be dealing with their our own health issues and the vulnerabilities of family and friends. They may be living away from home to protect the people they love or at home trying to juggle work and caring responsibilities. Here are some things that we hope will help you support them.
Psychological First Aid pays attention to people’s safety and practical needs first.
Having access to the correct PPE is fundamental to personal safety and infection control. It also helps staff feel confident that the organisation employer is taking their safety and wellbeing seriously. To help you keep up-to-date on the needs of your staff, you can find the latest guidance from the Scottish government here. There’s also a helpful video produced by NHS Education for Scotland that describes the most common problems associated with PPE, providing practical examples of when PPE should and should not be worn and demonstrating the correct procedure for donning and removing it. If you have staff working from home it’s important to get them the equipment they need to be able to do this.
One consequence of the pandemic is that we may now be more aware of the lives of colleagues outside of work. Your staff may be under pressure because they can’t get shopping for themselves or for an elderly relative, or because the lockdown has brought financial worries. The current situation may have amplified problems people were facing already and/or disrupted happy plans. It also limits the things people usually do to relax or cheer themselves up.
Look out for signs that someone is struggling and may need support. Know what help is available and pass this information on (see under “Every day needs at Home”, “Every day needs at work “and “Getting help”).
Follow this link if you would like more information on how to use Psychological First Aid to support your staff.
Minority Ethnic staff may be aware of evidence that suggests people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
If an employee that you line manage is from a BAME background and is feeling anxious, you should discuss with them how they can best protect themselves and their family during this period.
Every employer will have to conduct a Workplace Risk Assessment to minimise exposure, and to protect their staff by reducing the risk of transmission.
To help line managers and staff, the Scottish Government has developed risk assessment guidance and an accompanying tool. Employers and employees can use this simple risk stratification tool to measure a person’s COVID-age. The tool works by combining known risk factors including age, ethnicity, gender, weight, and health conditions, to measure the risk of infection and to make sure preventative measures are in place.
Minority Ethnic staff all have access to this tool and can discuss any concerns about their COVID occupational risk. Line managers should have sensitive conversations with an employee. The conversation that takes place between a manager and a member of staff are the most important part of the process, and the outcome of these conversations should be agreed by both parties.
If agreement cannot be reached then staff can seek further advice from their GP, Occupational Health Services, Health and Safety Professionals, Trade Unions, Infection Prevention Services, or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
Further research is ongoing, and we will continue to reflect any changes that need to be made to the guidance, based on new clinical evidence.
If you’re managing staff who are living with a disability, you may need to support your staff to work from home by making assistive technology and other equipment, such as specialist chairs and desks, available in the home environment. You’ll find a range of resources to help with this on the Business Disability Forum website, including specific guidance on supporting disabled employees to work from home.
Some technology companies, particularly those providing assistive technology, are offering help to employers and employees to ensure that they get the most out of their technology. Here’s a list of what’s available: Offers from Assistive Technology Providers.
For some disabled employees, working from home will present other challenges that relate to unsuitable home conditions or to the sense of isolation people can feel if they’re living alone. To help you figure out what will work best for your individual employees, try looking at the guidance offered here on supporting disabled employees working from home. There’s also advice on the signs to look out for if you’re concerned about the physical or mental health of a disabled member of staff.
If you’re managing a member of staff who is experiencing domestic abuse, you may be the first or only opportunity they have to tell someone. So if you suspect that someone is experiencing abuse, check with them about how they’re coping and whether they feel safe at home. As their manager you can ensure that they’re aware of support services available, and you can check the impact on their health and wellbeing, and how you can best support them. Have a flexible approach, for example, if it’s not safe at home, is it possible that they could access the working environment?
Resources for managers on violence against women, work and Covid-19 can be found here: Equally Safe at Work.
The following confidential national helplines and online support are available:
National Domestic Abuse Helpline Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Scottish Women’s Aid Helpline: 0800 027 1234
Men’s Advice Line Helpline: 0808 8010327
Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline: 08088 01 03 02 Text: 07537 410 027 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline Tel: 0800 027 1234 or email email@example.com
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline Tel: 0800 999 5428 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre Helpline: 0808 801 0301
Action on Elder Abuse Helpline Tel: 0808 808 8141
There are many things that protect health and social care staff against the emotional toll of the work they do with people who are seriously ill, or vulnerable in other ways. These include the support we get from colleagues, a sense of purpose and pride in doing an important job to the best of our abilities.
Another thing that buffers us is a sense of expectation. Health and social care staff know that their work will involve caring for people who are vulnerable and seriously ill. This understanding and sense of preparation means we’re more able to cope with the emotional impact of our work because we have an idea what to expect and feel confident we can do something positive to help.
The pandemic has brought demands and changes that exceed our usual expectations so we need to do all we can to prepare and support people as they face the new challenges of their work roles.
This means having good induction plans in place for people who are new in post, redeployed or perhaps returning to the workforce from retirement. And remembering that although they may be experienced, senior staff, if they’re in an unfamiliar role and a new setting then they may feel deskilled.
It is important to acknowledge the exceptional challenges of the pandemic and to support staff to draw on their existing skills and experience. Help staff to access training that will aid them in their role and build confidence. There are resources to help staff with their work during the pandemic here.
Staff working ICU or in residential care may be familiar with end of life care but are facing new demands from the number of people dying, the challenges of working in PPE, and a potential sense of helplessness that they can’t deliver their usual care.
Other health and social care staff may be anxious that they can’t support vulnerable people during the lockdown and worry that they’re not doing enough to protect people.
In these circumstances, and in the context of chronic stress and exhaustion, there is a risk of staff feeling guilt that they haven’t done more, and shame that they’ve fallen short of their personal and professional values. This is called a moral injury.
This Royal College of Psychiatrists film about moral injury may also be helpful .
Elspeth a Consultant in Emergency Medicine, talks about the importance of training here.
Health and social care staff across the country have responded to the pandemic with dedication and energy, lots of energy. Working long hours, including at home, has stretched the boundaries between our work and personal lives. Some people have been energised by the challenge of responding to the crisis; glad to be able to do something useful and proud that services were redesigned in weeks. Others felt they had no choice other than to keep working these long hours because vulnerable people depended on them, in hospitals and care settings across the country.
Everyone will need a break at some point.
Talk to staff working at home about how they will take breaks from their computers and ‘phones during the day and be explicit that you want them to do this. Help staff who are at work think about how they can get breaks during the working day. Provide cover so that people can take breaks and make sure there are appropriate facilities for them to use, including quiet areas.
Discuss how and when staff will take their annual leave and make it possible by arranging cover. Keep an eye on people who seem reluctant to stop.
Please note that if people have been working full tilt for a long period, then they may not realise how physically and emotionally exhausted they are until they stop. Prepare staff for this and remind them of the resources and support available (including on this website) if they need it.
There’s helpful information about dealing with fatigue here.
Encourage staff to look after their physical and mental health and model this by looking after your own. Remember we all have different ways of doing this, some people may take up playing the ukulele during the pandemic; others will re-watch Friends from Season 1, Episode 1. Both are OK!
Avoid assumptions that everyone will be adversely affected by working through the pandemic as much as assumptions that everyone will be fine. Our resilience depends on a complex interaction between the demand placed on us and the resources we have available to respond.
A heartfelt thank you boosts everyone’s morale. Keep finding ways to show that you and the wider organisation recognise, appreciate and value the work of staff.
Be cautious about the language of “heroes”. It risks making it harder for people to ask for help and some staff feel uncomfortable being lauded for “just doing their jobs”.
People, including you, have worked incredibly hard in response to Covid19, often working in ways that are unsustainable beyond the short term.
They deserve our thanks but also our efforts to find ways to make their work sustainable as the pandemic continues and as we try to find a new normal.
It’s been more collegiate and collaborative but our anxiety is the good things will be lost
Check in with them.
Choose an appropriate time and ask how they’re doing. Let them know that you’ve noticed that they seem a bit different (e.g. flat, irritable, tearful) and are wondering if you can help.
Don’t be surprised if they don’t open up there and then. (Remember they didn’t know you were going to ask them, even if you spent ages preparing your approach. The main thing is they will have clocked that you are interested in their welfare and someone they can turn to if they want to in the future.
If they do open up, don’t feel you need to fix things. Listening is powerful in itself. Having space to talk and think and knowing that someone cares is really helpful.
Depending on the source of the stress, you can signpost them to this website for practical help, on understanding their reactions and tips on coping. If they would like additional support they can find information on where to call on the Support for You page.
If you would like more information on how to effectively support those around you during this time you can find more information here on Psychological First Aid. PFA is based on a set of principles that we know help people to cope with and recover from ongoing situations like those arising from COVID19. There’s also an e-learning module designed to teach the principles of PFA to anyone who is delivering health or social care.
Find advice and practical recommendations here:
British Psychological Society:
Psychological needs of healthcare staff as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Healthy Working Lives.
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