In 2016 I wrote a year-long blog series called How to Get More Love in the Workplace, which was nominated for a UK Blog Award that year. Through this eight part blog series I examined different ways that organisations can create cultures that allow staff to bring their whole selves to work. I focussed on healthcare – as this is my industry – but also as research has shown that staff happiness has a direct correlation to patient outcomes. The key principle of the series was that staff wellbeing should be a focus of leaders and organisations.
At that time, I could not have imagined how important staff wellbeing would become. Fast forward to 2020 and the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. Ensuring all our staff are kept safe and well, both mentally and physically, at this critical time is of paramount importance and one I have been dedicating myself to.
I thought it would be helpful to document this experience and so this blog series will complement the original ‘Love in the Workplace’ series and have a renewed focus as ‘Love in the Workplace in the time of Coronavirus’. I will attempt to set out my thinking and our approach as it shifts and adapts in line with the needs of the staff.
Where it all began
As a leader in the NHS, my role has had to adapt so I can support our organisation to meet the needs of our 17,500 staff. Our organisation is a High Consequences Diseases Unit and looked after the first patient from early February, so we have been in this crisis since the very start. When this first began to emerge as a world-wide issue I was just back from a 3 week trip to Australia. I came back from holiday and within a week we had declared a major incident and life became very different overnight.
I had to ask myself what role I needed to play in this new environment. My role as the Director of Organisational Development has needed to flex to be what the organisation and staff need right now. I realised that purpose, identity and legitimacy were really important to me, so whatever I did needed to add value to others. It took me a few go’s to work out where I could be most useful and where the gap was where I could add the most value. Staff wellbeing was where I found my home.
Finding out what’s important
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, we had received a lot of generous, but relatively out of the blue donations from kind well-wishers. This was fantastic however the reality was that there was the huge logistical challenge of moving the gifts around to have fair distribution across our 2 main hospital sites, 27 community sites and 4 office buildings at a time when our estates and facilities teams were focussing on keeping the hospitals and clinical sites running. We decided that distributing the donations would be a key plank of our wellbeing offer.
I worked with a couple of nursing colleagues and we decided to use the donations as an opportunity to undertake the first of our Wellbeing Walks to find out what staff needed. We visited all the COVID-pathway wards to give out the donations and talk to staff about how they were feeling; what life was like and what was getting in the way. Staff told us stories of crying in the supermarket as they could not get the basic supplies they needed for their families. They also spoke about fear of ‘taking the virus home’ on their uniforms and being worried about travelling on public transport.
At this point we realised that our wellbeing offer would need to support the basic physical needs of our staff. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943; Fig 1) gave a framework to work from to ensure that we were attending to the right needs of our staff at the right time. There was no point trying to offer psychological support if people were anxious about being able to feed their family.
Figure 1: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) cited in Simply Psychology https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html accessed 28 March 2020
Using this as a framework it was far easier to start to articulate what the different levels of the offering would be and then how this could support staff to have the niggly stresses removed so that they could focus their energy on their patients rather than working around the system. Figure 2 sets out the framework of the wellbeing offer.
Figure 2: Staff wellbeing offer against Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, as at 3 May 2020
Starting with the physiological needs
For our staff who were onsite delivering services, clinically and non-clinically, we realised that the basic needs of food, laundry, showers and changing rooms was of significant importance to them. Within a week of going to visit the wards we had set up a laundry service for staff uniforms and, with thanks to our Charity and supported by our Catering & Hospitality Teams and our Dietetics Team, against all the odds, we opened an emergency supplies store. This provides staff with fresh fruit and vegetables; pasta, rice, bread, tea, coffee, tinned tomatoes, tuna, baked beans, toilet rolls, washing up liquid and access to gluten free alternatives and vegan milks. To date over 14,000 contacts have been through the emergency supply stores on the two hospital sites, in the community and the satellite sites with over 100,000 items given out to staff.
One size does not fit all
What we have learned very quickly is that even in the health service, the world of work has rapidly shifted. Even though many of our staff are working clinically every day, we have many staff who are doing their bit to protect their colleagues by working from home. This is equally as challenging, trying to juggle home-working with home-schooling and coping with a working life that has become a series of online meetings. Ensuring that each staff member is looked after in this difficult and challenging time is a key leadership challenge. There are now so many more categories of the type of ‘worker’ people have become and it is potentially easy to forget those staff that are not right in front of you.
Thinking about what each staff member will need in each of the categories they may fit into is a daunting prospect. Knowing that one size does not fit all and ensuring staff have their personal needs are met is not easy, but will be essential for leaders and managers to get right.
Staff are on a spectrum ranging across a variety of descriptions some of which include:
- Shielding – those staff who have been identified by the government as vulnerable and asked to stay indoors for 12 weeks. May experience anxiety about coming back
- Working from home – staff who are still working their normal contract but from home and completely online. May experience some anxiety about coming back to work.
- Redeployed staff – Staff who have been trained to work in the critical care units or on the COVID-19 wards who may have not worked in those environments for a long time and have experienced distress as part of this work.
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff – data is emerging that has identified that people from a BAME ethnicity appear to potentially have worse outcomes from COVID-19. Many staff are anxious and need support to help them feel safe.
- Staff working in ICU and COVID-19 positive areas – the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is uncomfortable and hot and if worn for long periods can cause skin irritation and damage. The relentless nature of the work can also take its toll physically and mentally on staff.
This list is non-exhaustive and we know that every staff member is an individual and therefore our offer is wide ranging but targeted so it is meaningful for staff at the point they need to access it. Our poster is set out in Fig 3 which aims to support staff to have the information they need, especially the contact details of helplines etc, exactly when they need it. We will also be distributing credit card sized versions for staff to have the numbers wherever they are.
Figure 3 Guy’s and St Thomas’ Staff Wellbeing Offer as at 3 May 2020
Our offer has developed as we understand more each week. We started with the ‘physical’ and ‘safety’ offer at the beginning of April and have now started to move more into the wellbeing area supporting staff to recharge and decompress.
This blog series will attempt to journey through our wellbeing offer as it progresses into the medium and longer term. I will share our learning as it emerges and any evaluation for what worked and what didn’t.
We would also love to learn from you so we can develop these approaches as a community so please share your thoughts with me as we go through this together.
Figure 4: Our first week of wellbeing leading to opening our emergency supplies store on 1 April 2020
About the author
Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust and passionate about creating organisations where everyone can flourish. In her ‘spare time’ she is a steering group member for the Royal Society of Arts, Reinventing Work Network and the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Sunday Assembly, a charity focussed on developing community