HTN Feature: Healthcare teams share tips for coping with stress during pandemic

Over the past 12 months the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for each and everyone of us. So, we sent out an open invitation to hear some of your tips to help survive or manage the stresses at the moment.

Like many, here at HTN, we have had our various challenges too, and last month picked up on an idea to introduce a weekly ‘walk and talk’ meeting. A simple introduction, challenged with some connection issues, but we were walking! And talking.

Here we curated some of the ideas and tips that are helping people in the NHS and health tech industry:

Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust – Claire Molloy, CEO

I’ve tried to promote a shared sense of belonging and sense of shared purpose for our organisation. It’s been vital to stay united as teams when all the measures being put in place to tackle the virus are trying to reduce connectedness.

I’ve also encouraged conversations about chronic excessive workloads and really focussed on resilience, endurance and looking after ourselves as individuals. As well as putting a wide range of wellbeing support measures in place, this includes encouraging staff to take annual leave and doing creative and enjoyable things out of work. I try to make sure I walk every day, for example, back-to-back MS Teams calls can be so draining.

Positive leadership is about optimism and humour, as well as compassion. Humour is a powerful tool, especially in a crisis, that can help us feel less worried, less alone, and more in control. So, throughout these difficult days, I’ve encouraged teams to embrace the fun and enthusiasm as well as the empathy and kindness.

And finally, I’ve also focused on celebrating achievements, successes and having a space for reflection. Reflection gives us a valuable opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, and create meaning which then becomes learning.

Cerner UK – Distie Profit, Managing Director

Two things that have been my centrepiece throughout the pandemic both personally and professionally:

Accepting my vulnerable nature: The pandemic has meant welcoming the world into my home as my new office and introducing my children to our employees and clients, either intentionally or unintentionally through life’s reality of being a working and home-schooling mum. Accepting and sharing this new reality, accepting ups and downs as they come, and accepting that we won’t always get all single aspects of our lives (personal and work) in perfect shape or balance, has been fundamental.

Open and human communications: Communication is often one of the best coping mechanisms. Having constant check-ins with our teams and always being mindful that there’s a human being on the other side of the phone/laptop/camera. As such, asking how they truly are, offering help, and just being an empathetic listener has made all the difference. Listening to candid feedback and incorporating it into our initiatives has also been a core element of maintaining a highly engaged team.

I’ve focused on staying grounded in empathy, honesty and openness as the core of every interaction and encouraging others to do the same – we’re all navigating the same storm, but we’re not all on the same boat.

Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust – Maria De Souza, Chief Nursing Informatics Officer 

Stress at work can translate into stress at home, and it’s important we don’t let this happen.

To help my team to deal with stress, I check in with my colleagues and have a morning chat – whether it be virtual or in person. I encourage my staff to take some time out during the day to get away from their screens.

There are some fantastic staff health and wellbeing offers at our trust, so I share these and remind the team that support is there.

It’s crucial to deal with stress in ways that help us not think about work.

Spirit Health Group – Chris Barker, CEO

Our team has always been a family and finding ways to connect as a family during a pandemic when you cannot meet is key to relieving stress. Online activities (quizzes, exercise classes, bingo, bar nights and magicians) have all been used to try and foster a sense of togetherness which relieves stress when we cannot meet.

We have also used our internal reward system (wow awards) to recognise kindness and achievements (big and small) increasingly at this time.

For me personally there is nothing better than a walk outside – in rain, snow, frost or shine!

Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust – Anna Dalziel, Head of OH & Wellbeing

For all of the pressures thrown at healthcare workers during the pandemic, it has also made us refocus on what we really needed to survive and maintain our own personal calm amidst the chaos.

Learning to incorporate the restorative powers of sleep, natural light, movement, hydration, proper good food and connecting with those that we love (whether at home or over a screen) in our daily lives has helped to keep stress under some degree of control – and always coupled with a sense of optimism that this too shall pass.

Julian Medical Group – Dr Julian Nesbitt, CEO

This has been an incredibly difficult year with huge pressures put on the healthcare industry and personally with maintaining my job as a frontline doctor as well as scaling the Dr Julian mental health platform.

For myself and my organisation, dealing with stress involves taking things into perspective each day. Things do and will go wrong and things won’t work perfectly all the time, but take this positively, learn from it and how to improve it next time. Try not to beat yourself up and maintain a positive attitude, resilience is key. Ask for help when you need it and find the right people with the right skill set for the right roles.

It’s also important to effectively manage time, make sure you don’t overbook yourself with too many meetings and prioritise what is essential and what is desirable, ensuring there are times for breaks and very importantly, exercise!

Bridgehead – Jim Beagle, CEO

As well as organising a weekly global all-hands call as a check in for staff, individual teams are encouraged to stay in regular contact; and many organise virtual social gatherings. In addition, the company has instituted a range of wellbeing and social initiatives under the umbrella of what we call ‘BridgeHead Together’.

This has included a six-week fitness challenge, a four-week mindfulness challenge and, more recently, a fun exercise called, “One Business – Many Hats” where staff are encouraged to take amusing photos of themselves wearing BridgeHead branded hats.

Healthera – Quintus Liu CEO

My routine is to get up at 5:30 every morning, and complete three hours of deep work absent of any distractions. This allows me to pace out the remainder of the day, leaving space to think and reflect between the endless Zoom meetings – a great way of getting more done while reducing stress.

Imprivata – Sean Kelly MD, Chief Medical Officer

As a practicing emergency physician with 20+ years of experience, I have seen first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a “perfect storm” of stress on healthcare workers.

However, the worst of times often brings out the best in people. Many leaders have used the pandemic to rapidly adopt essential new technology and clinical workflows, rolled out in weeks instead of months or years. As we say in the ER… “never waste a good crisis.”  Yes, the pressure, stress and fatigue is real, but we are also gratified to be able to focus on what really matters… caring for our patients.

Lyniate – Selina Sachar, Sales Director, UK and Ireland

Like many, I’ve been balancing work responsibilities with home-schooling two young kids. I prioritise work in order of importance and try to protect evenings for family time and personal time.

Taking breaks helps too: going outside for a walk or practicing mindfulness. Many Lyniate employees are based remotely and are located around the globe and because of this, our work together relies on flexibility, trust, communication and being supportive of each other – all of which promotes a calm and confident working environment.

Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

In January our trust began a long-term support initiative called 12 Weeks of Wellbeing, supporting the mental and physical wellbeing of staff across the hospital. We facilitate Virtual Care Circles to provide a safe and trusted space to ask questions, seek guidance and assurances, as well as help with adapting to new ways of working.

We have a Heads-Up initiative to give out information and resources to help mitigate the strain and pressure which staff face currently, with support mechanisms and useful tools to support health and wellbeing.

Click and connect is also a supportive series of virtual social clubs, where colleagues with common interests can meet (virtually) and discuss anything from their favourite book, where they like to run, or a funny joke they have heard.

There are also Flex NHS – Wellbeing Sessions where staff can share and talk about their struggles.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust – Sara Courtney, Deputy Director of Nursing and Clinical Director for Safety and Improvement

As leaders it is crucial to role model the right behaviours and remain true to our values when times are at their most difficult. There is a temptation to adopt a command and control approach but this can disempower people and limit creativity and innovation which are so important during a crisis.

We prioritise the importance of regular supervision, team meetings and huddles and access to debriefing and other interventions. We devote time to checking in and thanking colleagues. We also introduced a host of new aspects to our wellbeing offer and adapted other areas to function virtually.

NHS Arden & GEM – Mike Walker, Director of Business Services

At the start of the pandemic much of our focus was on the technological. How could we ensure that our staff and clients had the equipment needed to safely and securely work remotely?

We very quickly released that our focus needed to shift onto the psychological and emotional impact of this change.

Understanding how our staff were feeling was key – whether they were working from home, in offices or at care delivery sites – and we have undertaken surveys, interviews and focus groups throughout the year to identify both challenges and opportunities.

As a result, we have adopted a holistic approach to wellbeing which has included webinars, workshops and training sessions covering mental health, resilience and financial awareness, many of which have been made available to workers throughout the health and care system.

Patients Know Best – Sally Rennison, VP of Sales

Many employees have juggled home-schooling with full-time work, and everyone has generally been limited with ways to ‘switch-off’.

As a fully remote company, flexible working is part of PKB’s standard policy but during the pandemic, staff were able to work around their commitments and were encouraged to take time out for exercise, particularly over the winter months when there were fewer daylight hours.

A colleague also started morning mindfulness and meditation sessions (with daily recordings for those that missed it) which have been extremely well received – so much so, that we now have a dedicated Slack channel for mindfulness resources!

Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – Alex Whitfield, CEO

The wellbeing of our people has always been a priority for the trust and never more so than through the pandemic. As the COVID pressures begin to ease, recovery for staff is key. We are encouraging staff to take regular breaks and to use annual leave for a real rest. All staff have access to a wellbeing hub which offers a range of support for problems, big or small.

Tailored help is available for everyone, both on an individual basis and as a team. My focus is to be out and about and just asking – ‘how are you today?’

Ingenica Solutions – Nicola Hall, COO

I don’t think I have met anyone in this sector that has not found the COVID pandemic challenging on many levels. It certainly has tested the resilience of many leaders. Working in Healthcare we have observed the extraordinary work of the frontline teams and those in the NHS supporting them.

In regards to our team, I have noticed that different members have responded differently, I believe the extroverts have found the lockdown harder than the introverts for example. I know many can’t wait until we return to normal, or something like the freedoms we took so much for granted. 

Ascom – Paul Lawrence, Managing Director

We have found that stress can manifest in different ways in individuals. People may feel angry, lonely, or anxious. They may be afraid – of losing their job, or family and friends, or of contracting COVID-19 themselves.

We are discussing team welfare on weekly video calls, and managers ensure they keep in close contact with their staff, and we are offering COVID-19 testing and PPE where needed.

We aim to keep a spirit of hope and unity across the company through regular communications from myself and our global CEO.

Fortunately, we have managed the situation very well to date and continue to focus on protecting the interests of our employees first, whilst thankfully our business has continued to prosper.

South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust – Rob Webster CBE, CEO

Working in health and care can be stressful at the best of times and we always try and promote a positive working environment within our Trust.

During the pandemic we have provided practical support for staff as well as constant communication. We have highlighted progress, good practice, our successes and built hope.

We have made wellbeing of staff our top priority. This means access to food, hydration, counselling, supervision, days off and PPE.

My personal approach is to have a great support team. I also find running helps and trying to get outside as often as I can!

UroLogic –Dr Nawar Zebari, Director

The pandemic has no doubt been a very stressful period for most of us. We have had to adjust to the new way of living. The way I have dealt with stress is to talk with supportive people like my family and friends and do the things I love!

I have taken up more reading, cooking and learned a new skill: designing art!   

Northern Care Alliance – Nicky Clarke, Chief of People

The last 12 months have taken their toll on all of us – for me making time for family and friends has been critical even if it has had to be virtual.

As a leader being there for my team and ensuring that we provide support to all staff across our organisation has been my main priority – through our SCARF programme giving wellbeing support and access to training and tools to help people deal with the pressures they are facing.

Supporting other leaders with how to help their teams is so important – spotting the signs so we can help individuals early.

RLDatix – Dr Timothy McDonald, Chief Patient Safety & Risk Officer

As the pandemic has progressed healthcare leaders have had to address the issue of staff burnout. As a result, there has been a huge increase in the demand for CANDOR (Communication and Optimal Resolution) training programs.

We have conducted three large projects with academic and healthcare groups to help hundreds of hospitals develop proactive empathetic emotional first aid outreach programs that directly address the issues surrounding staff burnout during the pandemic.

Supporting initiatives such as World Health Organization Health Worker Safety Charter is critical if we are to stem the high levels of exhausted clinicians leaving the profession