Looking out for our staff
Over the past year working in social care has involved increased anxieties and stresses for our staff, as well as our customers. At Advance we have been sure to acknowledge the importance of staff wellbeing – both for staff members working on the frontline and those working from home to keep the organisation running safely and effectively.
Changes to day to day life have had their effect in the workplace, with housing and support workers not being able to interact with their colleagues and customers as they had done previously and with office based teams being isolated working from home.
We know that the services we provide to our customers will be strong, effective and high quality with an equally strong and supported workforce. As a high-performing organisation, investing in our staff wellbeing and development is a priority and over the past year has played a vital role in how Advance has adapted.
‘Wellbeing research suggests that good organisational leadership and a supportive work culture can have a positive impact on the psychological wellbeing of these staff before, during and after the crisis. During this period of increased period of pressure and anxiety, it is essential that employers send a clear message that staff wellbeing matters.
Key steps recommended for employers:
- Be proactive and make time to talk about how staff are feeling
- Encourage open and honest conversations
- Put support in place for staff and managers and make it widely available
- Support relationships between colleagues and teams’
[Taken from localgov website]
These recommendations are all points reflected in our work at Advance to support our staff over the past year, especially during peak times of stress and uncertainty. As a result of the pandemic, a Health & Wellbeing group was formed with senior representatives from across the organisation in order to discuss and determine an action plan for the future months.
Examples of the actions we committed to include:
- Advertising the staff representative group (The Voice) and scheduling an event for staff to raise and discuss concerns or queries with the group
- Working to assign mental health first aiders internally
- Making the Health Assured app available for download on work phones to people can access support on the go
- Determine ways to measure the progress of this work
All Advance staff members were later asked to complete a survey in order to gauge how the subsequent work improved communication and engagement during Covid-19.
The results were as follows:
- 90% overall staff satisfaction
- 80% of staff feel supported to deliver the best quality service
- Voluntary staff turnover reduced
- Sickness rates remained low despite the pandemic
In order to support staff on a day to day basis and create space for self-care and positive well-being, our Training Facilitator Max Godridge organised weekly events and updates which include a whole range of activities to encourage mental well-being.
‘The first thing I wanted to do was to provide staff with a regular way of keeping in touch with staff from other departments. So, I've been hosting a regular ‘Tea & Talk’ via BlueJeans at least once a week, ensuring these fall on different days and times to best ensure as many staff as possible have the chance to join me and others.'
These Tea & Talk calls have proved really effective for lots of members of staff who join the call to connect with others and have a break.
Michelle is a support worker who has joined the Tea & Talk calls, she said: ‘Attending Max’s tea and talk just gives me a break from working on my own and having interaction with other people along with meeting people in Advance who I might never have got to meet. We have all compared our stories as to what we do to entertain ourselves during lockdown and what we are missing the most. We have also talked about what we will do when we can get out. We laugh, we talk we support one another.
Max’s positivity lifts everyone and keeps conversation following. Max is always willing to tell a tale about himself to make people laugh!’
Max also joined team video calls to share mental health resources and to discuss wellbeing in general – this helped communication on an individual level in teams as well as across the organisation more widely. In order to reflect our diverse workforce, Max has worked to gather and research diverse resources to cater for everyone.
These range from support for home-schooling parents to fitness and cooking challenges to virtual aquarium visits!
Max added - ‘Fortunately for us all, we have very talented staff at Advance and so arranging various wellbeing activities has been really easy. Many of our colleagues have rushed forward to join the cause and get involved in some way to help customers and staff stay as positive as possible during social restrictions. From online relaxation sessions and Yoga classes to quizzes you can play at home, there has been no shortage of activities’.
In addition, various members of staff also contribute by running their own sessions to support their colleagues. We have had yoga classes, online reiki, mindfulness sessions and quizzes shared across Advance to encourage positivity and self-care. To ensure maximum outreach, Max sends round an email with updates on the week’s wellbeing activities and recommendations each week.
As well as being a support worker with Advance, Sally is a yoga teacher. Sally shared access to her classes to staff at Advance.
‘Our wellbeing helps performance at work, allows us to communicate effectively, maintains stress levels and gives us a sense of fulfilment. I was able to offer staff at work a weekly class via my private Facebook group. I am also attentive to colleagues who have been struggling with their own wellbeing for a variety of reasons. The way in which yoga is practiced encourages self-awareness of wellbeing from practicing essential breathing techniques to focus and balance, exercise and working the essential systems of the body. There is so much importance more than ever now in keeping the body moving and looking after the mind.’
With so many useful resources and recurring activities, a section of our internal intranet was created and developed in order to guarantee straightforward access and visibility. We now have a Health & Wellbeing area with pages for customer resources as well as staff resources. Events organised by Max or other staff members are advertised there as well as any useful tips, guides or activities.
The communications team additionally schedule weekly health and wellbeing posts on our online channels to promote health and wellbeing tips. These posts on social media and on the staff intranet are often a chance to engage in national campaigns to do with health and wellbeing or to promote healthy living and mental wellbeing. The weekly posts are also used as an opportunity to signpost to these designated intranet pages. Encouragingly, an analysis of the Health & Wellbeing page usage links directly to the weekly wellbeing posts – so, we know that our staff members are engaging with the support on offer.
‘We brought together two different pages of information – the staff health and wellbeing and the customer health and wellbeing – we really felt like they needed to sit side by side as any tools, techniques and support resources we promote to staff are just as relevant for customers and vice versa. It’s such an important issue and it is important everyone looks after themselves and is kind to themselves and others.’
Gary Slark-Hughes (Head of Communications, Marketing and Customer Engagement)
Promoting and participating in national campaigns
Throughout the year we have taken part in online campaigns to promote and share resources for mental and physical wellbeing. These have been a great way to engage staff as well as customers in the topic.
Examples of these campaigns and mental health organisations include, 5 ways to wellbeing as promoted by the Mental Health Foundation, Time to Talk and Brew Monday organised by the Samaritans.
For World Mental Health Day, our Customer Engagement Manager, Rachel Fox put together a blog about her ideal kind of weekend. She shared some great ideas for how to relax, reflected on what helps her to de-stress and it included lots of useful links to other resources.
During Mental Health Awareness Week we considered the theme of kindness and what it means. This was important for our staff as well as Advance customers and we shared an activity asking staff members to tell us what kindness means to them. We published photos and quotes from staff online which was a great way to start a discussion about mental wellbeing and share experiences and different perspectives.
The Voice is a group of Advance employees who represent staff views. Over the past year we have been sure to advertise The Voice and remind staff that they have plenty of options should they need to speak to someone.
Sinti Breitenberga, the chair of The Voice, released a video earlier in the year to remind staff of the importance of looking after their wellbeing, connecting with others and remind them of support systems in place. This video was published on the intranet which all Advance staff have access to.
One of these support systems, in addition to The Voice, is Ask Julie where staff members are able to ask Advance’s CEO a question or raise a concern. This can be done anonymously if they wish. In a time of increased uncertainty and teams not being able to meet in person in the same way, this resource has been a beneficial way of eliminating concern and sharing information in recent months.
Employee Assistance Programme
At Advance, we use a company called Health Assured, who provide a wide range of services to all our employees. These services include telephone or face to face counselling, advice around family issues including childcare and eldercare, housing and tenancy concerns, bereavement or loss, relationships and marital changes, legal issues and many more.
Our employees can access this service free of charge, completely confidentially and it is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and 365 days per year. It can be accessed via telephone, by visiting their online portal or downloading the app. Over the past year we have been sure to remind Advance employees across the organisation that they can use and benefit from Health Assured.
Health Assured recently launched a new app, called “My Healthy Advantage” which can be downloaded via android or from the app store. We made sure that our employees are able to access this app and make the most of the support available to them by authorising the download of this app via our IT department.
[Pictured above, Max joining a support team call to discuss Health & Wellbeing]