Mental Health Blog
In our latest blog, Katie Drakeford from Valorum Care Group, looks at the organisation’s approach to the mental health of their managers.
The mental health of those who work in the care sector, in particular, managers, is becoming an increasing focus.
Working in care isn’t easy at the best of times. It is often a thankless job, undervalued by wider society (although that is changing) with comparatively low pay levels, unsociable hours and the need to deal with some difficult and stressful situations at times.
As a manager in the care sector, you have all this and the added pressures of leading a team and being legally responsible for delivering a safe service. At Valorum Care Group, we recognised this and had begun to put things in place to support the mental health of our frontline managers and staff, even before the pandemic hit.
Supporting our staff through COVID-19
The pandemic places additional pressure on the mental health of social care’s managers. This includes ensuring there is adequate infection control, PPE and staffing levels, with increased sickness absence and self-isolation. With staffing agencies facing similar issues, this can lead to some managers covering extra shifts and stepping in for frontline care staff.
At Valorum, we support more than 1,000 people across 90 services and have a staff management team of 115 in a total staff of 2,100. As I said earlier, we were already taking steps to support managers and their teams with their mental health pre-pandemic, but the current crisis has brought this even further into focus.
Our first step was to try to help ease the additional burden on our managers. We’ve put a huge effort into sourcing PPE and the senior management team (SMT) have supported frontline services by delivering it across the country, as bulk deliveries were often only available to one address.
We’ve focused on working with trusted agency partners to ensure that we have a good supply of qualified temporary staff available, and we’ve also created a specific COVID-19 email address that managers can use to report any concerns related to the virus. This email goes direct to SMT and the Head of Human Resources.
Feedback on these practical steps has been positive and no doubt has gone some way to ease pressure on managers. However, we also need to address wellbeing.
Focusing on wellbeing
Our focus on wellbeing has been to ensure that managers feel supported and in turn feel able to support their teams.
We are a national company with a lot of teams working remotely or in small teams within homes. To try to connect everyone up, we have our ‘myValorum’ app which is provided to all our people. This has regular news stories, video blogs from the Chief Executive and a social area where staff can upload photos to our photobooth, check out our Twitter feed, join in weekly quizzes and post the results of fun competitions such as a recent bake-off.
There is a chat function so teams can contact each other directly through the app, and a wellbeing section that has details of the Care Workers Charity, the Employee Assistance Programme that we run and an Inspiration Lab for ideas on keeping busy during lockdown.
As well as this, the app has an Employee Happiness Tool which allows people to log if they are happy, neutral or unhappy at any point in the day and leave a comment. All responses are reviewed by SMT on a weekly basis and we respond to any issues and trends from this. This is a really significant part of the app for us, especially during the current crisis.
We’ve also invested in the Big White Wall service. This is the only CQC-regulated digital mental health service available. The Big White Wall is free for all our staff to use and is available 24/7, 365 days a year.
Big White Wall provides an anonymous community where members can support each other through forums. The forums are monitored by mental health professionals to ensure members are safe and there are escalation processes in place if needed. The service also offers self-assessments with recommended resources and self-guided courses, including cognitive behavioural therapy courses.
We launched the Big White Wall across the business with a webinar for all managers and we have posters in all our services and regular push notifications promoting the service through our myValorum app. There are also links from the app homepage and the wellbeing section in the app.
Feedback has been positive, especially when we lost one of our team recently to COVID-19. It gave staff a real outlet for their grief and a source of practical support.
Why wellbeing is so important to us
Despite the increased profile of mental health over recent years there is still a stigma attached to it and there is a danger that managers in particular can feel that poor mental health is a sign of not coping and failing to lead.
We hope that by making support for poor mental health part of our day-to-day approach to wellbeing across the business, we are addressing this. It is high profile across our services and teams and a regular discussion for our SMT.
I’ve been asked why we have made support for mental health issues such a priority. For me, the answer is simple – how can we expect our managers to care for their teams and their teams to care for our clients if we don’t care for them?
Our approach seems to be working, with the happiness tool on our app showing an average happiness level of 8.4 out of 10, even in this time of crisis. However, we don’t take this for granted and it will remain a key focus for us.