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Amidst the turmoil and upheaval that is taking place in our professional and personal lives, what do each of us need to do to look after ourselves, and one another?

As many of us across the Q community are currently confronting the challenge of staff wellbeing, I wanted to share some of my experiences in my role as a Senior Clinical Development Nurse for NHS 24.

Mental health and wellbeing: the foundation of healthcare

Understandably, and as shown in the NHS staff survey, health and care staff are feeling stressed and exhausted. If our healthcare workforce is expected to introduce a range of smaller-scale, iterative change, and larger, more radical system-wide adjustments to restore our health care service, then their wellbeing needs to be our priority.

But what does ‘staff wellbeing’ mean in practice? And how do we make it the foundation of our improvement approach as we turn our attention to service recovery?

These are difficult questions with no perfect answers. But as Q Initiative Director Penny Pereira’s recent blog points out, the wellbeing of each and every one of us is where service recovery begins.

Ingredients for staff wellness: empathy, listening and high-quality data

In my role as a Senior Clinical Development Nurse, I manage the clinical development team, part of the ICT Directorate, helping NHS 24 to deliver safe, high quality, innovative person-centred care 24/7 to the people of Scotland.

Over the past year, following the shift to home-based working, I made it a priority within my team to put staff wellbeing at the centre of service delivery.

Using widely available evidence-based tools – with low or no barriers to entry – I developed an approach that combined human empathy and active listening with quantitative and qualitative data gathered directly from my team.

A five-point plan for staff wellbeing

Along with most of the rest of the country, from last March, myself and my eight members of staff moved to home-based working as part of the response to the pandemic. Since then, my team and I have collaborated on a model of working grounded in a six-word mantra: it’s ok to not be ok.

From my research on home working, I learned that staff were likely to work longer hours. Without being able to physically ‘leave’ work, home-based workers often end up working longer days.

Burnout from overworking and isolation from restrictions on social contact were two of my biggest concerns.

We developed an approach to our workday that promoted a healthy balance of work and social contact, along with a regular supply of good quality data about the team’s wellbeing.

To keep things simple, we focused on five key action points:

  • daily wellbeing huddles and virtual breaks to provide everyone with regular social contact
  • regular one-to-one meetings where each person would be able to raise any concerns confidentially
  • regular team-wide meetings that put our mantra of ‘it’s ok to not be ok’ into practice, and where everyone was encouraged to be honest about how they were doing and ask for support if they needed it
  • we also had a few optional ‘keeping in touch’ socially distanced visits at our physical office, so people could see each other if they wanted to
  • a weekly staff survey on mental wellbeing

Measurement tools

My measurement tools included data from a weekly staff questionnaire and regular feedback directly from my team.

1. Wellness Questionnaire

I used the short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing questionnaire (Warwick Medical School) which consists of seven questions on a five-point scale and takes an average of about two minutes to complete. To encourage openness and honesty, all responses were kept anonymous.

2. Daily huddles and weekly team meetings

I asked a predetermined set of questions about how people were feeling, and whether they felt connected to others in the team and tracked responses over time.

Unexpected outcomes

The survey and the feedback provided me with high quality quantitative and qualitative data directly from my team for measurement and evaluation. In my experience, using a combination of data can improve evaluation by ensuring that the limitations of one type of data are balanced by the strengths of another.

Beyond the measurement and evaluation tools, there has been another, unexpected outcome. Meeting online from one another’s homes has allowed all of us to bond in a more holistic and closer way.

The weekly survey has meant that I am better informed as a manager about the state of my team’s wellbeing.

They feel more deeply connected to one another and to their work, and this has led to higher levels of engagement and productivity.

Have you been implementing process to support your team’s wellbeing, Q community? Share your experience in the comments below.

Comments

  1. There also needs to be safe spaces for staff to ‘really talk’ and connect. I don’t believe Teams or Zoom are the panacea, although they do go some way in breaking down barriers across geographical and clinical locations. I also see, from experience, that emotional labour should be of equal importance in determining workload, engagement and performance. I would like to see this factored-in to the formulation of numbers within caseloads, especially within community nursing. There are also more practical steps which managers should take to ensure that staff do not miss lunch breaks or sit eating their food at computers. They also need to ensure their staff are able to take regular computer breaks for physical and psychological well-being.

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