Authors: Tiffany Lam and Beti Baraki, NEF Consulting.
70 million days are lost from work each year due to mental ill-health. These figures from the Mental Health Foundation point to mental ill-health as the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK. Staff wellbeing in the workplace is therefore essential to ensure that organisations function effectively. In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of staff wellbeing at work.
Despite this, the importance of staff wellbeing in frontline community support services has received less attention.
There are increased pressures on people who work in community-facing organisations due to the complexity of the issues experienced by those seeking help, often as a result of reduced access to statutory services. We have seen this first-hand in the National Lottery-funded Help through Crisis (HtC) programme. We have seen how these demands can burden frontline staff, who often feel they have increased responsibility to the people they support. Staff tend to work ‘above and beyond’ their job requirements such as working out of hours, providing additional help outside the scope of the organisation’s traditional support.
This excessive workload may lead to higher levels of burnout and compassion fatigue. Burnout describes being worn out by too many demands on a professional’s personal resources, and consists of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and lower work productivity. Support workers involved in HtC projects felt that resource constraints and high workload expectations added pressure to their work. As one person put it: “There is a sense in the sector that if you’re not near-burnout then you’re not doing your job properly.”
The challenging, often traumatic and distressing contexts faced by people working in crisis intervention can lead to vicarious trauma. This involves stress, exhaustion and psychological symptoms that mimic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder like symptoms, such as re-experiencing a situation, avoidance and emotional numbing, and feeling ‘on-edge.’
There is a role for funders in promoting staff wellbeing.
Funders of crisis support organisations can signal the importance of supporting staff wellbeing to the organisations and projects they fund. They can place staff wellbeing on the agenda by:
- Incorporating a requirement in grant applications for organisations to explain how they will support staff wellbeing and the funding this will require. This will ensure that staff wellbeing is embedded and adequately resourced in projects or programmes from the start.
- Providing training and good practice to help organisations better understand and improve staff wellbeing. Funders, along with senior staff and trustees, should encourage continuous learning and development in funded projects and organisations to improve their approaches to staff wellbeing.
Poor staff wellbeing in the crisis support sector compromises the quality of care and support for people using services.
This can delay people’s recovery periods or fail to resolve their crises, which can lead to reoccurrence of crisis. To ensure people in crisis situations receive the high quality support they need, we must develop a better understanding of the unique challenges facing frontline crisis support staff, and prioritise staff wellbeing in the sector.
Help through Crisis (HtC) is a £33 million National Lottery funded programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Help through Crisis supports 69 partnerships across England which help people who are experiencing or at risk of hardship crisis to overcome the difficulties they are facing to plan for their futures.
The Help through Crisis learning, evaluation and support (LSE) team, including NEF Consulting, is a consortium of organisations commissioned by the National Lottery Community Fund to help build understanding and capture learning from the Help through Crisis programme.