A look back at our lockdown journey
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world into lockdown. It felt like we were split in two. Our essential care and support services needed to continue as normal, but most of our existing charity services were paused. This meant we had to consider new and innovative ways to deliver charity services remotely. As a result of this, some staff had to work from home and some staff were furloughed.
This was a very trying and worrying time for everyone at the Age UK North Tyneside Group. We were juggling ways to keep customers connected while also working to keep our staff safe.
Looking after our staff
Our care staff continued to provide vital services to older people in extreme conditions. This meant that daily support was crucial. We improved communication by using technology to ensure we could maintain daily contact. We also had to ensure the correct issue and effective use of PPE to keep both staff and customers safe.
Staff turnover during COVID-19 was the lowest it has ever been, meeting the care sector industry average of 30%. The staff sickness rate is also at an all-time low of 5%. This shows that, despite putting themselves at risk for the benefit of our customers, our staff have taken every precaution to keep themselves safe.
Supporting Mental Health
Through carrying out a staff engagement survey, we quickly realised that mental health was a priority during lockdown. Furloughed staff and staff working from home were having limited face to face contact with customers and colleagues. As a result, some were facing difficulties with anxiety and mental health.
People were experiencing fear around the pandemic and how they were going to cope. Many had worries about how we were going to get through lockdown and return to normality.
To tackle this, we put a focus on the mental wellbeing of all our customers and staff. Staff were able to find support through the usual channels (line managers, HR, and external counsellors).
On top of this, we also offered the following support;
- We offered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy training which included coping techniques.
- We gave access to a free Happiful Magazine app. This gave information and advice on how to look after your mental health. There were also tips for improving fitness through exercise and nutrition.
- We sent a multitude of health guides via emails. These became one of the most used and effective forms of communication. They opened up a whole new world of resources and information for individuals.
- Our Chief Executive, Dawn McNally, sent out daily emails to all staff. These kept staff up to date on the current situation. They also gave guidance on what the organisation’s strategic plans were throughout the pandemic.
- We made weekly, and sometimes daily, wellbeing calls to our staff and shielding customers. Often these customers did not see anyone from one day to the next. We used these calls to integrate them into other service areas to help them make more of life.
- We provided staff with ‘tools to do the job’. This meant purchasing laptops and mobile phones and providing chairs and desks where needed. We had these delivered directly to staff’s homes.
- We redeployed staff into other areas to support new services. This included services for vulnerable older people who could not get out to buy essential food.
- We increased our volunteers to cope with the demand for shopping and befriending the elderly.
Responding to the staff engagement survey
The staff engagement survey also highlighted that staff working from home were not coping well with the lack of interaction. Once again, we used technology to tackle this. We set up WhatsApp and Messenger groups so that teams could communicate with each other. We also introduced Zoom, WhatsApp, and Microsoft Teams calls to maintain daily communication. This helped reduce the feeling of being alone and out of touch.
Mental Health First Aiders
We’re proud to have 13 Mental Health First Aiders at Age UK North Tyneside Group. During the lockdown, we promoted their services to all staff. We put up posters in buildings and sent out information to staff working from home.
The staff engagement survey showed us that some staff had concerns about returning to work. To ease this, we introduced COVID-19 Risk Assessments. We introduced an organisation-wide Risk Assessment, as well as service-specific Risk Assessments. These were sent to all staff.
Global Handwashing Day
We took part in and promoted Global Handwashing Day. This was already part of our care staff’s daily routine, but we felt it was important to reinforce the message that this is the most effective way of minimising the risk of COVID-19.
We shared information about the importance of exercising and wellbeing. We provided mindful living tips to help relieve stress and we encouraged staff to carry out acts of kindness. Our staff shared some great pictures and texts demonstrating this kindness.
Reward Me Now
To improve wellbeing, we launched a new ‘Reward Me Now’ app which offers discounts and benefits to staff. To date, 55 employees have taken advantage of this offer. They have received discounts on many retail items including food and white goods.
We also rolled out a code for high street shops and other leading supermarkets. This gave our care staff priority for online and face to face shopping so they didn’t have to stand in long queues and stress about getting to work.
Work is now underway to bring some type of normality back. We want to get as many as possible of the charity staff safely back to work. We have prepared our head office for this return to work with several safety measures now in place. These measures include one way systems, sanitisation stations, and Perspex screens. We’ve also introduced systems to reduce the number of staff allowed in the building at any one time.
Thank you all
Throughout this difficult time, our customers’ and staff’s mental health and wellbeing have been a huge concern for us. This meant that major changes had to take place with new services being introduced for the most vulnerable in our society.
We are very proud of our staff who, despite facing their own difficulties, have still managed to put their customers first. Whether this has been through daily wellbeing calls, social distanced bingo, singalongs, or even hairdressing.
On behalf of the Age UK North Tyneside Group, the HR Team would like to say a big “thank you” to all our staff. You have been magnificent during such a challenging time. We’re grateful that we know we can rely on your continued support going forward, and in turn, we will continue to support you in any way we can.
Our thanks go to Angela Dawson, Head of Corporate Support, Suzanne Enguita, HR Manager and Harriet Ingram HR Officer for putting this article together and continuing to support our staff and customers during lockdown.