Managers and employers have the same duty of care to staff during this pandemic as at any other time. However, mental health challenges have never been as acute as they are currently and it is more important than ever that staff and healthcare managers take steps to protect their mental wellbeing through open and honest dialogue regarding situations staff are likely to have to face.

Supporting staff

During this pandemic period, staff will be faced with difficult ethical decisions and may be asked to undertake tasks or witness distressing scenarios whilst dealing with additional challenges. It is vital to acknowledge that feelings of stress, confusion, anger or despair are all normal in day-to-day life.

Staff can be supported to better cope with some of the increased stress and mental health burdens by reinforcing team working, providing regular contact to discuss difficult decisions and checking in on staff wellbeing. Some managers undertake wellbeing check-ins or mental health updates on a regular basis, which in larger organisations may link with HR departments. Consider using the following.

  • Contact staff in their preferred way, eg through texts, phone calls, emails, conference calls, vlogs, daily bulletins, newsletters, Skype, Zoom or similar platforms.

  • Use virtual support groups using WhatsApp, NHS professionals or volunteers and wider national networks can also be useful.

  • Set up regular virtual coffee mornings to check in on mental health and current stressors and don’t forget to include those who are having to self-isolate.

The World Health Organisation has published Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, which provides a range of advice to protect staff from chronic stress and poor mental health during this response. Advice includes the following.

  • Ensuring effective communication and accurate information updates are provided to all staff.

  • Rotation of staff from higher-stress to lower-stress areas and functions.

  • Partnering of more inexperienced workers with their more experienced colleagues to enable a buddy system to provide support, monitor stress and reinforce safety procedures.

  • Initiate, encourage and monitor work breaks.

  • Implement flexible schedules for workers who are directly impacted or have a family member affected by a stressful event.

  • Incorporate time for colleagues to provide social support to each other.

  • Ensure that staff are aware of where and how they can access mental health and psychological support services and facilitate access to such services.

  • Be a good role model for self-care strategies.

A “Going Home Checklist” has also been developed with a simple poster encouraging staff to reflect on their day, consider something that was difficult and let it go, think of three things that went well and check in on other colleagues. It also reminds them that support is available and focuses on going home and how they plan to rest and re-charge.

Health and Wellbeing of the Adult Social Care Workforce, published by the Government, includes tips, advice and toolkits for employers and managers to help build resilience of staff and address some of the ensuing issues.

If a member of staff feels they need support from outside of their organisation, One Front Door National Helpline (0300 131 7000), supported by Samaritans, provides a national helpline for staff support and is open 7am–11pm.

Support is also available by texting Crisis Support — NHSEI and Shout. By texting NHSPH to 85258, staff will be put in touch with a trained Crisis volunteer who will communicate through text using recognised techniques.

There are a range of other resources available for additional guidance and support in the following areas.

  • The World Health Organisation’s poster on coping with stress can be printed and put up in break/coffee rooms to provide useful guidance around coping with stress during the Covid-19 outbreak. This can be downloaded here.

  • NHS in Mind is a free platform containing eight easy-to-access, short interventions to help NHS staff and those in health and social care alleviate and combat high anxiety, panic and fatigue at this time.

Once this pandemic begins to diminish, the death of many service users and potentially colleagues will take its toll and staff will need to be actively monitored, supported and, where necessary, provided with evidence-based treatments to ensure they are able to move forward with the support they need.

A bereavement support line providing confidential bereavement support is operated by Hospice UK and is free to access from 8am–8pm, seven days a week. It is manned by qualified and trained bereavement specialists to support staff with bereavement and wellbeing issues relating to loss experienced through work. They can be accessed by calling 0300 303 4434.

Secondary trauma recognition for key workers has been flagged as being essential, particularly with healthcare workers having to manage critical issues daily, such as lack of hospital facilities, personal protection measures and exhausting working hours. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has called for closer safeguarding of key workers’ psychological health linked to Covid-19-related secondary trauma.

Supporting “extremely vulnerable” staff

Acas has produced information for employers who have staff members in the extremely vulnerable group.

  • Encourage employees in the clinically “extremely vulnerable” group to stay at home. Many will be concerned about the home struggling without them working. Reassuring individuals that the best option is for them to stay at home can be challenging.

  • Keep in touch regularly as isolation can result in individuals feeling very lonely. Check in with employees every now and then to discuss their wellbeing.

  • Finances may be of increasing concern for employers if a number of workers are having to stay at home.

Financial issues can add to stress and employers can seek further information about what they should be providing for staff from a financial basis what government initiatives care providers are eligible for.

Support for registered managers

Peer support is of particular importance during the pandemic and Skills for Care has opened up a members’ Facebook group for registered managers and frontline managers in similar roles to network and share advice, experience and good practice.

Skills for Care has also opened a new advice telephone line (0113 241 1260) and email inbox (RMAdvice@skillsforcare.org.uk) to provide registered managers with additional support.

Advice on maintaining team resilience on the Skills for Care website with access to guides which may be accessed on the Skills for Care website.

Last reviewed 15 June 2020