Workplaces In The Pandemic: The Value Of Kindness

Iyoni Ranasinghe is a Senior Consultant at PPL. Iyoni joined PPL after nine years in the NHS as a Mental Health Nurse. She has since worked on a range of national and place-based transformation and quality improvement programmes. During lockdown, she was part of our Mental Health First Aid Team and responsible for developing a number of wellbeing resources.

As the coronavirus pandemic rapidly swept across the world, it brought with it considerable degrees of fear, worry and concern.

This was true both among specific groups such as older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions, and the population at large. In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date was (and still is) elevated rates of stress and anxiety. New measures and the knock-on impacts on our day-to-day lives through lockdown have meant that levels of loneliness, depression and harmful behaviour have risen.

We realised it was more important than ever for each of us to consider how we could proactively look after our own emotional wellbeing.

We found it helpful to recognise that whilst the pandemic is global, everyone experiences it differently. People are facing different challenges in different circumstances and no one’s reaction will be quite the same as anyone else’s.

There is no “right way” to be in the moment and no single solution for everyone.

Understanding this allowed us as a team to support our colleagues’ mental health insofar as we could in these unprecedented circumstances. Practical steps included:

• Weekly surveys of all employees.

• Creating a staff wellbeing guide.

• Pairing colleagues for weekly “buddy” catchups.

• Twice daily online “coffee breaks”.

• Mental Health First Aid Team volunteers providing direct support to individuals.

• Providing continuity through moving regular team touchpoints online.

We also curated a selection of resources and tips to help people adjust to the “new normal”.

These practical tips ranged from encouraging people to reach out to others, setting boundaries around the working day, and dressing for the life you want, not the life you have!

As lockdown progressed, employees’ engagement with these various support mechanisms understandably varied.

Like everyone else, we have experienced highs and lows as we adapted to government advice. We also recognised that when colleagues did not feel like talking to anyone at all, that was often when they should. With the evolving situation, we felt as an organisation it was important to keep the changes in place whilst flexing them to better suit everyone’s needs, e.g. reducing daily buddy catch ups to weekly after the first few weeks. This ensured employees felt adequately supported and able to engage with the support mechanisms when they felt able to, whilst personally navigating uncertain times.

We took a stocktake part-way through lockdown in May 2020, capturing experiences and learning.

We asked what achievement people were most proud of professionally and personally, as well as what they wished they had known from the start of lockdown. Unsurprisingly, most people mentioned they would have preferred to have known how long lockdown was going to last to prepare better mentally.

Employees were proud of being able to continue to produce high quality pieces of work and adapt to the new (albeit tough) way of working.

We also recognised a range of responses from people welcoming the slower pace of life during lockdown, to others feeling proud to be able to keep their head above water!

Overall, colleagues responded that while there had been ups and downs, they were proud of keeping going and continuing to support each other and their clients.

Self-care, support networks and generally connecting with others were all seen as being vital to people’s resilience within the organisation, and these helped them through this difficult period. Taking time out away from laptops and phones, and the tiredness that can come along with them, has helped people with their mental well-being.

Whilst organisational support mechanisms have helped by providing some form of continuity in people’s work lives, what we have taken away from this difficult experience is, ultimately, that we should all be kinder to ourselves.