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Why monitoring staff wellbeing is so important in a post-COVID world
As anyone who works in social care reading this article will know, recruitment and retention remain two of the greatest difficulties that our sector faces. In England alone, according to Skills for Care, 16,500 staff vacancies and a staff turnover rate of 32 percent lays bare the challenges the sector faces. A lack of career progression, poor pay, and long hours are often cited as reasons why vacancies remain stubbornly high. But, there are other factors too.
Take mental health and emotional wellbeing for example. During the first two waves of the pandemic, a BMC Nursing paper reported that “up to 72 percent of deaths involving COVID-19 worldwide were care home residents”. In the UK alone, there were 35,000 excess deaths reported in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pain, grief and loss experienced by families and friends of the people living in care homes has been widely recognised. The distress and grief experienced by care workers during this period is of course not comparable, but it is no less significant. Furthermore, at least 850 of those who passed away during that period were care workers.
Anyone who worked on the frontlines, as I did during COVID-19, knows the devastating effect that losing residents and colleagues had on staff mental health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia increased, while Post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) and Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) are on the rise .
I worked operationally throughout the pandemic and witnessed first-hand staff choosing to leave the sector due to the strain on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. Those that stayed - and those that have now returned - are still working through their trauma and trying to find ways to move forward.
So, what can managers do to improve mental health, wellbeing and build psychological resilience in staff teams?
- It’s important to consider advance care planning for people who are being supported with their care. ‘Advance care planning’ (ACP) is the term used to describe the conversation between people, their families and carers and those looking after them about their future wishes and priorities for care. In the care homes that I have managed, I have always followed the principles of the gold standard framework.
- Ensuring that an advance care plan has been created. This not only satisfies CQC compliance requirements, but first and foremost it supports the person needing care to feel confident that their wishes and needs will be met, and provides a framework for staff to ensure high-quality care is provided during end-of-life care. It also has another value: managers and their teams are left in no doubt that they have done everything within their power to give that person the best end-of-life care they possibly could. That in turn can help to give carers, as well as the person’s family and friends, some closure and comfort after someone has died.
Creating a bereavement pack can support colleagues, family and friends of a carer or a resident, who has passed away. QCS, the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector, and the company I work for, has produced the ‘Bereavement Support for Social Care workers, Families and Loved Ones’ pack. It contains multi-media resources including leaflets, posters, checklists and podcasts that guide carers to support family and friends immediately after the loss of a loved one.
- Know how to spot the signs of poor mental health brought on by stress and trauma. Outside of the day-to-day business of work, strive to carve out the time to have regular one-to-one sessions with team members to ask them how they are and make sure they know it is okay not to be okay.
Another helpful initiative I saw the benefit of was training key staff members in Mental Health First Aid. Look out for changes in behaviour and be sensitive to patterns of work changing. Patterns changing may include absence from work. Conversely, it may amount to carers working long hours or many days without a day off. Changes in behaviour may include someone who is usually calm and cheerful becoming withdrawn and negative.
- Take positive, pro-active action. In addition to regular meetings with staff, walk the floor with staff daily to ensure they feel listened to and valued. These regular ‘touchpoints’ enable managers to monitor workload, plan the day, empower staff and in the process assess staff wellbeing on a daily basis. Group sessions, where everyone can speak without fear or prejudice and managers can listen to staff feedback and, most importantly, act on it, will also have a positive effect on both individual psychological resilience, wellbeing and team morale.
- Finally, when building psychological resilience amongst staff, there are simple but vitally important things a manager can do to promote the mental and physical wellbeing of staff. At work, they should be able to take regular breaks and they must have a well-managed rota that allows them to take control of the time they spend away from work. This is vital in order to promote engagement with their family and friends. It’s also crucial that staff eat, drink well and get enough sleep. These basic physiological needs form the foundations of Abraham H. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. Without these key building blocks in place, Maslow says that we cannot reach our potential and fully appreciate what life has to offer. This is where I will finish, but implementing a programme of wellbeing and psychological resilience anchored to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is where many journeys can begin.
You can listen to the bereavement podcast for free below
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