Authentic Leadership, Community, Connection, COVID-19, culture of compassion, Health and Social Care Leadership, healthcare, Leadership, NHS Leadership, Resilience, self-care, wellbeing

Love (in the workplace) in the time of Coronavirus – Part Three

Introduction and recap

Welcome back to part 3 of my blog series which is focussed on staff wellbeing in the time of coronavirus and is intended to chronicle and share our approach and learning to inspire a conversation on staff wellbeing more broadly.

If you are new to my blog or a regular reader, I hope that you enjoy reading this blog series and that it sparks ideas for you.  This series has been inspired by my 2016 year-long blog series called ‘How to get more love in the workplace’ which focussed primarily on ways to create organisations where staff can flourish both personally and professionally. This series builds on that idea but in a very different context.

Our staff have had very challenging experiences over the past 3 months caring for patients with COVID-19 (we are a High Consequences Disease Unit so took our first patient in early February).  For many who have been redeployed back into clinical areas this has meant working in environments they are not used to, witnessing far more patient deaths than they have previously had to deal with and working under intense scrutiny and pressure.  Often doing this wearing restrictive, hot and often uncomfortable personal protective equipment for 12 to 14 hours per day.  This is not an ordinary time and so it has required us to create an extra-ordinary response to supporting our staff.

Last week’s blog focussed on gratitude and appreciation; psychological preparedness and support.  This weeks’ reflections go deeper into how we have created safe spaces for staff to get away from the clinical areas to decompress and recharge themselves so they can continue to deliver high quality patient care over a sustained period.

Rest and recharge

On the first week of lockdown, which was a critically busy period for us, we visited the COVID-pathway wards to ask the staff what would help them and what support they required.  In addition to asking for their basic needs to be met (see part one of this series) they also told us that having somewhere to go, to get away from the clinical area to allow them to have a proper rest to recharge before heading back to continue to care for patients would make a huge difference.  Some described this as being ‘like a spa within the hospital’ and we felt we could rise to this challenge and create exactly this kind of space.

Given the nature of the major incident we were in, we had significantly reduced our on-site outpatient activity and therefore, we had quite a few outpatient clinic areas that were not being used.  Over the space of a week we identified three main areas on the Guy’s, St Thomas’ and Evelina London sites and our Space Team set about transforming them from clinical areas to the ‘spa within the hospital’.  The ‘getting away from it all’ ambience was paramount and so we focussed on approaching it from the perspective of each of the five senses:

  • Smell – when you walk in, you are greeted by the scent of essential oils which are emitted via several aromatherapy diffusers. We also have our complementary therapists (who usually support our cancer patients) on hand to support staff to have their own aromatherapy inhaler stick (Aromastick), based on the blend of essential oils unique to you, that when inhaled makes you feel most grounded.
  • Sight – the zones have been kitted out to give a relaxing feel. They look inviting and welcoming.  Armchairs are available with free magazines and daily newspapers to read there or take away.  Separate rooms for staff to have, in the words of Virginia Woolfe, ‘a room to oneself’ to relax and unwind in.
  • Taste – there is free tea, coffee, water and soft drinks, fruit, healthy snacks and porridge pots and throughout Ramadan we have been providing dates and nuts for staff to break their fast.
  • Hearing – relaxing music plays in each of our zones to give that sense of spa that staff wanted. Mostly these are quiet areas as well, away from the constant beeps and hum of the critical care and ward areas.
  • Touch – we have a massage chair in each wellbeing zone, which is incredibly popular with staff. So much so we have had to create a booking system so staff can time a ‘massage’ with their breaks.  Our complementary therapists have supported staff to learn how to use ‘tapping’ to enhance their feeling of wellbeing.

 In addition to this, we also offer elements of support for staff including:

  • Pop up coaching – a short, solution-focussed session with one of our accredited coaches. This can be about anything that the staff member would like to discuss and sometimes staff find just talking their problems through helps them immensely
  • Guided meditation – our complementary therapists run group guided meditations to support staff to feel grounded and present, which helps them to recharge before heading back to their clinical area
  • Advice/ guidance on particular themes – our wellbeing offer has moved into themed weeks based on what staff tell us is going on for them. We have additional advice and guidance available in our rest and recharge zones linked to the themes.  For example, we have just come to the end of Sleeping Well week as we have had feedback so many staff are suffering from disordered sleep and vivid dreams.  Our psychologists with an expertise in sleep were available in the rest and recharge areas and wellbeing zones to discuss sleep problems with staff.  The frequently asked questions will then be put into a webinar form and recorded and posted on our intranet page so that staff have access to information when they need it.


rest and recharge zones

From top left – St Thomas’ rest and recharge zone, welcome desk at St Thomas’, our complimentary magazines & newspapers; Guy’s rest and recharge zone; one of our housekeepers enjoying our massage chair in Guy’s; Thought for the Day in St Thomas’; behind the scenes of our Team Brief; our CEO and me enjoying our personalised Aromaticks made by our complementary therapist Juan in our Guy’s rest and recharge zone.

Each Rest and Recharge Zone is open 24/7 and manned by Wellbeing Advisors, from 9am to 8pm, who to support staff to have a conversation and then potentially signposted or referred to other areas of support.  Our Wellbeing Advisors are easy to spot as they all wear yellow Staff Wellbeing Team T-shirts have been dubbed ‘the yellow t-shirt gang’ by our Chief People Officer.   To help staff know what is on offer, we had our first outside broadcast for our monthly CEO Team Brief from our St Thomas’ rest and recharge zone, which took a tour through our offer for staff.  These zones have been really well received and feedback has been astonishing, which shows that this is a meaningful offer for our staff right now.  Quotes include:

“Recharging helps to be able to go back and carry on with a smile

“Aromatherapy and body tapping was amazing!  Very relaxing and can’t wait to use my Aromastick. Staff were great too!”

“We need this to be a regular hub.”


Staff thank you messages in the St Thomas’ rest and recharge zone

What next?

Many organisations have created ‘wobble rooms’ where staff can go when they are stressed or anxious to pause and ground themselves.  Our Rest and Recharge Zones have proven themselves to be a much needed place of safety and solace for staff as well as providing a comprehensive wellbeing offer and so are here to stay for the medium term.

The evidence published by the NHS Confederation in 2018 after the tragedies of 2017 terror attacks and Grenfell Tower, showed that staff will start to show signs of distress about 2 months after the incident itself with the peak being six to nine months later.  Already we are starting to see staff showing distress and talking to the Wellbeing Advisors in the Rest and Recharge Zones about greater degrees of support and we expect that this will only be more needed in the future.  Our next focus is to ensure we have a permanently staffed wellbeing offer (we have a volunteer model currently) so that staff can access support exactly when they need it.  Our challenge is as outpatients’ starts to recover, we need to find new areas for them to be a more permanent fixture.

We are also starting to develop an offer for our leaders and managers to ensure that they are equipped to support their staff.  Research has shown that line managers have the biggest impact on the wellbeing of staff.   To accelerate this work, we have been a test organisation for the NHS England/ Improvement Leadership Support Circles, which has identified the 10 evidence-based behaviours for leading through COVID-19.  We are launching this in our organisation this coming week as part of Mental Health Awareness Week to ensure our managers and leaders are starting to think about how they need to be – not necessarily just what they need to do – to be able to support their staff through the next phase of our experience.  More on this next week.

For Mental Health Awareness Week we are undertaking over 25 Executive Wellbeing Walks across all areas of the Trust, visiting many staff in corporate areas and in the more ‘hidden’ departments, all of whom have been an essential part of #TeamGSTT and our response to COVID-19 to say Thank You to them.  Each visit will include a Wellbeing Advisor so that we can support staff with a conversation about their wellbeing and understand what else might help them.  We are hoping to visit c1,500 staff next week and their feedback will help us to continue to adapt and improve our offer as we move through the next phase of the impact of coronavirus.

Behind the scenes in the rest and recharge zone in team brief

Behind the scenes of our CEO Team Brief outside broadcast, touring our St Thomas’ rest and recharge zone with some of our key Wellbeing Advisor team (yellow t-shirt gang)

About the author

Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.  In her ‘spare time’ is a Steering Group Member for the RSA Reinventing Work Network and the Chair of the Board of Trustees for Sunday Assembly, a Charity focussed on building community.


One thought on “Love (in the workplace) in the time of Coronavirus – Part Three

  1. Pingback: Love (in the workplace) in the time of Coronavirus – Part Four | Reflections of an NHS Manager

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