‘Tough but rewarding’ describes how it feels to work in the homelessness sector. A support worker never quite knows what they will be facing from one day to the next. Monday could involve the joy of helping someone move into their own flat. Tuesday could be spent tracking down a client who has missed their probation appointment again. On Wednesday you might be supporting someone on the brink of a mental health crisis. Thursday could bring news of the untimely death of a much loved resident. You’ve not even made it to Friday. Sometimes events like these all occur in one day!
St Martins is a homelessness charity based in Norwich that employs 175 people and supports hundreds of people in Norfolk over the course of a year. People experiencing homelessness often have complex needs and it takes confident, resilient people to support them. The wellbeing of the workforce is a priority if they are to effectively look after some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Feedback from surveys and meetings highlighted the need for staff wellbeing to be addressed across the whole organisation, in particular to support people with issues they may experience while performing their role at St Martins. Roles are varied; many of the team are support workers, and there are also domestic workers, maintenance, admin and finance. Some roles require lone-working in the community, while others are office-based or working from a hostel. The approach to wellbeing at work cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ strategy, as team dynamics vary from service to service.
A Wellbeing Working Group has been established to implement relevant initiatives across the charity in order to support team members’ wellbeing in the workplace. The group is made up of representatives from each department in the organisation. Each ‘rep’ communicates with their team and feeds back to the group. The wellbeing group meets once a month and is a place to consider the views and opinions of everybody in the organisation.
An anonymous survey of all team members was conducted asking them for suggestions of what could be done to improve their wellbeing at work and changes they would like to see. Suggestions covered a range of areas, including shift patterns, communication, training, rewards and mental health.
The top priority identified was how to recognise stress in yourself and in within your team. The second priority was extra support needed after a critical incident.
Wellbeing reps have been talking with their teams about stress levels and implementing ideas, such as a traffic-light system to identify how people are feeling. There have been some productive conversations about how manage stress individually and as a team and to recognise that stress levels can fluctuate quickly.
The nature of the work at St Martins means that there is a process for when critical incidents occur. These could include medical emergencies and violence. It is important that team members have an opportunity to debrief after such events. The wellbeing group has been looking at each department’s processes to assess how effective it has been and make suggestions to improve it.
The group will progress with the list of priorities. A toolkit of resources is being developed alongside a culture of sharing between departments of initiatives that are being trialled. Head of HR Jo Gillies said, “Our team members are St Martins most important asset and we want to support them so they can do their jobs well. The passion our team has for their work is inspiring. With the wellbeing group we are enhancing what we’ve already got. This is project is bigger than the day-to-day work and it is important that our attention to wellbeing filters through everything we do.”
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