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Now’s the time to look after employees

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Healthcare workers have faced unprecedented stress and strain over the past year, and their wellbeing is at stake as the pandemic continues. Steve Mason of Thrive explains how NHS Trusts, private health companies, care homes can show staff that they care

Of all the segments of workers who have been impacted by the pandemic, healthcare workers have arguably been some of the hardest hit. They have truly been the frontline response, and have faced unprecedented strain: work overload, fear of getting the virus, lack of contact with loved ones, lack of sleep, inadequate resources to do their work, burnout, and new cognitive stresses. Not only have they experienced a rising workload, but they have also seen a rise in traumatic workplace situations.

These burdens have left many of our healthcare workers feeling stress and anxiety levels that are off the charts. Their roles often come with a strong emotional connection to the work they do, adding another dimension to the mental and physical toll.

The Rise of Mental Health Symptoms

A study in late 2020 looked at the prevalence of mental health symptoms among healthcare workers in the UK mid-pandemic, and what they found was startling:
• 28.1 per cent had high levels of depression.
• 33.1 per cent were experiencing high anxiety.
• 27 per cent were in the top quartile for stress.
• and 60.6 per cent had experienced a stressful or traumatic event related to COVID-19.

The study also found that it was frontline workers in health care who were significantly more likely to experience these symptoms.

A lot has been said about vulnerable populations during this time — those who are at risk for contracting COVID-19 and for experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms when they do.

But what about our employees of NHS trusts, private health, care homes and care in the community who have sacrificed so much and are feeling the devastating effects?

You may have wondered how you can support your vulnerable workers and ensure they have what they need for their own well-being during this drawn-out, difficult time. The answer — or part of it, anyway — may come from listening to your employees and creating ways that they can connect with others.

Creating a Culture of Care in Healthcare

Workers who are in the business of caring for others need to know that they are cared for too, and this care (or a lack thereof) comes through loud and clear in the communication styles and tools used within their workplace.

More communication is preferable during times of heightened stress and expectations. Workers want to be in the know, not in the dark. That doesn’t mean, however, that they want to be constantly inundated with an endless stream of one-sided leadership updates or broadcasts.

It’s been well documented that when it comes to the well-being of healthcare staff, the keys are transparency, consistency and empowerment.

Letting Colleagues Have Their Say

Communication should be developed with the worker in mind, not just state the things that leadership or senior staff wants to make sure are conveyed.

This means that communication should recognise that workers have a lack of time and probably mental bandwidth, as well, to absorb resources and engage in activities that promote self-care. It’s also important to involve staff at all stages of developing well-being support to avoid a disconnect between what staff think is important and what leadership or management thinks is important.

Two-Way Communication & Connection

Reconsider the shape your communication with employees takes: is it easily digestible and can it be consumed and understood within the time constraints of a busy shift? Does it exhibit transparency and consistency? Do your preferred communications channels allow for two-way communication, interaction and feedback so workers feel they have a voice? How would they prefer to receive communication, communicate their needs, and connect with others within the organisation?

Create Safe Places

Healthcare workers need safe outlets on the job for expressing concern and feelings of overwhelm, and asking questions. They also need to know what support resources are available to them and where to find them, including counselling services and trust chaplains, as well as digital guides for managing their well-being. These things should be easily accessible, as well.

Make Positivity a Priority

There are a number of ways that you can make a point to lift employees’ spirits and their well-being during this time. For example, encouraging time off can make a big difference. It’s important that workers actually take breaks and that they get adequate rest time between shifts.

But there are also cultural shifts that can be implemented that help improve well-being while on the job. Ensure that there are established ways that workers receive praise for jobs well done (both feedback from peers and from leaders). With the right leadership, input from staff, and the right tools, fun, rewards, and celebration can become a daily routine, not an infrequent occurrence.

You have likely seen the effects of the pandemic on your employees in healthcare, and it’s become clear that there’s no rapid end in sight. Now is the time to take the steps required to ensure that your care workers feel heard, understood, and that they know exactly what resources are available to them to support their well-being.

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