GUEST COLUMN: Supporting staff mental health

Donna Morgan

Marking Mental Health Awareness Week, Donna Morgans, Optalis Head of Supported Employment and the company’s Mindful Employer Champion, explains how the care provider keeps mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of its work.  

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to be fully realised, however, the impact upon the wellbeing of staff working in health and social care is already evident. With a the recent DHSC health and social care workforce study showing that nearly half of all staff have reported increased pressures.

Despite a very challenging year, Optalis observed an increase of 2% in our Mindful Employer Index (up to 74%). In our 2020 staff survey, 75% of staff reported they felt well supported throughout the COVID-19 changes. Employees who said that they would recommend Optalis as an employer of choice, increased by 10% to 71%.

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Thankfully, we invested in workforce wellbeing well before the pandemic. Nothing could prepare us for this, but at least we had already laid strong foundations.

Throughout the pandemic our priority was to keep the vulnerable people in our care, safe and well. It has also been important that those supporting individuals were given opportunities to look after themselves and their colleagues.

To effectively equip staff to maintain positive wellbeing, we ensure information and support is accessible. Our monthly wellbeing newsletter, dedicated wellbeing zone on the staff intranet, free online wellness courses and regular mental health awareness events, help keep wellbeing in the spotlight.

Colleagues tell me the availability of resources and support provides them with a safety net. Our staff know that it is okay to not be okay. So even if a person does not need the support right now, they have information that may support them, when or if they do in the future.

Five trained Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) are available to speak to, if a person is in crisis. While weekly wellbeing drop-in sessions offer practical support and advice to help staff manage stress and mental health in the workplace. It has been particularly important during the pandemic to talk about ways to prevent burnout. Staff also have access to free independent counselling support, should they prefer.

This year, staff teams have had the benefit of specialist bereavement training delivered by the Bereavement Centre. A professional counselling service was also deployed to offer intensive bereavement support for colleagues and teams that had experienced a sudden and unexpected loss. Ensuring that the service responded to trauma in a proactive way.

To keep mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of our work, we recently renewed our commitment to the Mindful Employer Charter (a nationally recognised charter for employers positive about mental health). By signing the charter, we are making a public declaration of our ambition to continue to support the wellbeing of staff.

Talking about mental health and wellbeing is becoming natural, in all settings. Managers play a key role detecting concerns and referring for support. All employees are encouraged to feel confident to speak up and seek support when they need it and are empowered to help others who may be struggling. Conversations continue with teams to understand the priorities of staff and what Optalis can do to continue to improve the support and working environment in both workshops and within the regular Staff Forum.

Tags : Human ResourcesMental Health

The author Lee Peart

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