Protecting our colleagues’ mental wellbeing during Covid-19 is our responsibility

At the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, Visionable chief operating officer Donna Holt explains why she is committed to understanding her colleagues’ pressures and ensuring the organisation does everything it can to support their mental wellbeing.

The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a significant surge in demand from the NHS for our video collaboration platform. In the space of a single month NHS trust usage increased by more than 1,600%, as organisations suddenly needed to find new ways to deliver their services and for clinicians and patients to talk to each other.

With that demand has come a remarkable response from our team, many of whom have faced questions around challenging issues, including death, for the first time in their career. And each and every one of my colleagues has been working very long hours driven by their desire to support each other and the needs of the NHS at this time of crisis.

For me personally, and for Visionable as a company, it’s important to look after our colleagues at this time, just as much as our customers. As part of this, we arranged a virtual meeting with members of the Visionable team, and Dr Zoe Williams, one of our advisors who is also a practising GP and is known nationally in the various roles she carries out for Public Health England, the Royal College of General Practitioners and numerous television programmes.

The meeting was an idea that came from one of the team, in which staff were encouraged to speak openly about how sudden changes to their working life are having an impact. And I’m really glad that people actively contributed.

We were able to gain much better visibility of some of the pressures staff have been enduring as the coronavirus has become a national issue. Whether that’s not wanting to leave their desk for fear of being seen as the ‘slacker’. Some said they were concerned about the risk of burnout in the face of long hours. Others felt they were not spending quality time with family, that they didn’t have the same boundaries to work and home life whilst working from home, or that they were having difficulty sleeping.

These are all concerns that Visionable is working to help our people address. And it’s important that we understand them.

Personally important

For me personally, mental health is a matter of great importance. At an earlier point in my own life when I was working in a stressful environment in the City, I came to fully recognise the potentially severe consequences of mental ill health, when I experienced an episode that nearly cost me my life. It was a huge awakening for me, and since coming to recognise that I am bipolar and that I had been unwell for years, allowed me to seek the treatment I needed.

It’s one of the reasons why I passionately want to support our people as they continue to work their hardest during this difficult time.

But my message to staff is that it’s also ok to have downtime. It’s ok to take an hour during the working day to spend with your family. And its ok to switch off out of hours, and not to always be at your desk.

What are we doing to help

We are expanding our team to respond to rising demand. And it’s important that new starters equally don’t find themselves in a culture where they feel the need to be available to work every minute.

We are training and appointing our very first mental health first aiders – people who will be accessible to all of our colleagues to help them with challenges they may be encountering.

We have engaged in an Employee Assistance Programme to guide staff through harder times. This includes a company-wide subscription to the LifeWorks app for all of our employees and their families – a tool to help them with wellness.

We are providing all of employees with access to Rightsteps – a service through which they can gain access to counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy.

More informal approaches are also proving to provide the team with relaxed elements to their day. For example, we are starting to hold regular quizzes and online social events. And we are planning an online training session covering emotional wellbeing.

And most importantly, these measures are only the start of our journey to support our colleagues. Like many employers we are encountering workforce challenges that we haven’t had to deal with before – and we are finding our way through them. Coronavirus is having an impact on the mental health of the nation. It’s undeniable. But we have an immediate opportunity to help keep the people we work with well.