Please note this guidance will be updated with more in the coming weeks as the pandemic progresses. Please do also send in your thoughts on how to make self-care a priority for us to share.
While it can be difficult at a time like this, it is vital that you make self-care a priority. This is not just for your own wellbeing, but to ensure that you are able to provide the best possible support to yourself, your family, service users and community. This guidance does not cover personal protective equipment (PPE) or health and safety practices. Public Health England guidance on these areas can be found here.
Guidance for Individuals
- Check in on yourself daily. Do I feel ok today? If not, identify why not, and any support/change required. This can be a helpful routine to get into, and can help you to monitor your wellbeing over the course of the pandemic.
- Do not neglect leave, sick days, breaks and days off. This will ensure that you are well-rested to be able to look after yourself and others.
- Maintain a personal routine, including home hobbies, exercise, speaking to friends/family and sleep. Maintaining a work/life balance is also important in ensuring you can continue to support others.
- Be flexible in your approach. For example, if you do not have access to the IT system, consider writing notes in word and uploading them later, and recognise that this is ok. If you try to do everything, you may not succeed, and you may be setting yourself up to fail. Remember you are a trusted and trained professional working in extraordinary circumstances, and can use your professional judgement when needed.
- Ensure that you have a clear remit for your role, and say ‘no’ if you cannot take on more work. Some services will be overwhelmed or closed during this pandemic, and you should not be required to cover all of this additional work.
- Identify a clear support system, both professionally and personally. This can then be drawn upon as needed to ensure that you are not alone when you are having a tough minute/day/week. Also use it to debrief at the end of a rough day.
- Avoid a culture of ‘just getting on with it’, and seek support if needed. Speaking openly about how working under these unusual circumstances is impacting on you is important, and can help others around you realise that everyone has to have their needs for support met. Ask your employer for support and debriefing about work dilemmas.
- Take reflection time, and consider writing or recording your reflections. If you haven’t written a reflective diary since qualifying, now is the perfect time to revisit this practice. You are working under circumstances that are very unusual, even historic. Taking the time to reflect on the implications of this for you, your practice and those you support can help with processing this experience.
- Ask questions if you are uncertain about anything. There will be uncertainty, complexity and confusion at times, but asking questions can ensure that you clarify what is known and not known.
- Limit your exposure to news updates and social media opinions. While it can be important to stay up to date, it can also be overwhelming and disempowering to see the scale of events. Remember that it is ok to tune out. You are doing enough.
- Seek out debriefing and supervision. Recognise that your supervisor may be busy and stressed themselves, and they could inadvertently forget the importance of this without being reminded.
- The appropriate use of humour in a supportive context should not be discounted, even in the current pandemic. Humour has shown time and time again to help sustain social workers and other professionals dealing with difficult circumstances, and can be an effective way of injecting some humanity into what can seem at times to be inhumane circumstances.
Guidance for Teams
- Be a supportive team. Social workers should not be required to take full responsibility for their self-care, and managers and teams need to be proactive in encouraging and facilitating self-care. Make it a mutual team effort: support others and be supported by them.
- Consider developing a buddy system, whereby staff are paired or ‘buddied’ up with someone who they can specifically go to for peer-support. This can help to alleviate pressure on managers as the single source of support, and ensure there is another place to go. While many social workers draw on peer support regularly, others are less able to or don’t have access. A ‘buddy’ or pairing system ensures everyone has someone to turn to.
- Support staff with debriefing sessions. These may need to be daily in some cases. Social workers who are dealing with extraordinary risks and circumstances need to have access to guaranteed and supportive opportunities to discuss what they are going through.
- Do not neglect the importance of supervision. Consider increasing the frequency of supervision, and developing a coordinated strategy to go along with debriefing.
- Utilise team members who are self-isolating but symptomless and not supporting someone who is vulnerable. This can include these staff members providing phone/online debriefing sessions for those who need it, or being linked up as ’buddies’ to support those practicing daily by remote means. Ensure that staff follow guidance on when to start/stop self-isolating.
- Don’t overwhelm staff with information, emails and guidance. At a time like this, staff can become overwhelmed and overburdened with guidance, emails, information and policies, that can be confusing or even contradictory. Ensure staff have access to concise, accessible and clear information and advice.
- Ensure staff know where to get additional support. This should include counselling and human resources support.
- Require staff to continue to take leave, sick days, days off and breaks. Pressure to not take time off can build the more intense a crisis becomes, and staff should be required to take this time, rather than encouraged to do so.
- Support for home working. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published health and safety responsibitlies for home workers along with lone working and display screen equipment
Remember to make self-care a priority.
*The guidance offered here may be subject to change as knowledge of the coronavirus and its impact on society increases.
Published 27 April 2020