At Helen & Douglas House, we are all about care – it is the main purpose for our existence and it comes across strongly in how we look after our staff. The scale and nature of emotional pressures put on employees in our line of work is huge, and understandably so. It’s not your usual 9-5 job.
However, employee emotional strain is not exclusive to our sector – work-related stress has been found to cost the UK economy nearly £6.5bn each year, with reports of staff arriving at work tired, disengaged and too stressed to work. This negatively affects workplace morale, productivity, engagement and overall happiness, so building an emotionally resilient workforce is crucial.
In terms of employee support, many organisations offer staff free counselling, access to an employee assistance programme (EAP), and the opportunity to give feedback and raise concerns, but there are other ways to ensure you are placing importance on staff wellbeing and considering their emotional resilience.
Identify resilience at interview stage
In my job, we specifically ask questions at interviews that seek to identify how resilient a person is. If their motivation to join us is highly emotive, we have to question whether joining the charity is the best professional move for them. This is not to say that they automatically would not be right for the role, but we ask questions to help us ensure that the person can bring more to the role other than just personal experience.
We also ask people how experienced they are in identifying for themselves when their resilience is low and what tools and techniques they employ to build on this. It is important to be very clear with people what their role will entail and if it is going to be emotionally testing at times, it is best to be honest and upfront about this at the start.
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Have a range of internal processes
Make sure there are policies in place which protect staff from blurring the line between their work and home lives. At Helen & Douglas House we don’t allow staff to be Facebook friends with patients, or meet outside of work. This is important as the general atmosphere at the hospice is very social and we want to champion that by keeping it internal. It’s very easy for employees to lose grip on their personal boundaries, especially in an emotional environment, but it is necessary for staff to understand the definition and adopt a good work-life balance. We have created a range of flexible working options for employees in order to support this.
Put in place regular debriefing sessions to consider specific events too. This gives people the chance to speak about how they’re feeling and helps speed up the processing of emotions which can challenge an individual’s resilience.
Take a tailored approach and listen to your staff
Above all, make sure you make time to listen to staff. At the hospice, as well as our performance management process, we also operate a very accessible open door policy and openly ask people how they are feeling if we suspect their resilience is low. This is important as sometimes it is difficult for people to admit “I am not feeling too great at the moment”. Very often, it is the personal touch, the one-to-one approach that yields the most responses and a feeling that the organisation genuinely wishes to support the individual. It is essential to recognise that each individual’s resilience levels are different and are triggered by different things, so make sure to take a bespoke approach to best support staff.
All in all, make sure you are placing a great deal of weight on ensuring that staff feel confident in their roles through training and development activity. Staff take on huge responsibilities in their roles, in our case, to care for patients and to raise valuable funds to represent an organisation that offers services that are “difficult to talk about”.
Try to also look at resilience holistically and not just from a workplace perspective. If somebody is having a difficult time at home – as many do – this impacts on their resilience in work, so do encourage employees to be open and honest about all aspects of their lives. If staff are poised in their abilities and feel supported, they are less likely to feel unsure and by definition will feel more resilient to tackle new things.
Sarah Westmorland is people resourcing director at children’s hospice Helen & Douglas House.
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