In this series of articles I will be looking at issues around implementing the Six Core Mental Health Standards within the Care Sector.
Standard One: Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan that encourages and promotes good mental health of all staff and an open organisational culture.
The plan needs to show what support is available to employees if they are experiencing poor mental health regardless of whether it is due to problems inside or outside of work. In smaller companies it doesn’t even have to be a separate policy and procedure, it can be written into existing P&Ps e.g. absence management, recruitment, supervision.
Most steps seem to be common sense: encourage staff to work a reasonable amount of hours, always take a full lunch break, rest and recuperate after busy periods, avoid working weekends and take their full annual leave entitlement can all help avoid burnout. Each of these issues can be addressed as part of other policies and procedures.
Some of these steps are easier said than done in the Care Sector and to help you see the possibilities rather than the blocks, here are some issues I see, ideas on how they could be addressed and where you could do so:
- From my experience of owning a care company many care workers are keen to opt out of the working time regulations, wanting to work considerably more hours for various reasons; they may be the sole income in their household, they may be sending money back to their home country to support family or build a home, they may be planning to stay in the UK for a limited period and determined to amass as much money as possible in that time.
- Another issue about hours worked is that an employee may be signed up to more than one care agency and you do not know what hours they are working additionally elsewhere.
You might consider setting a ceiling within your company for the weekly amount of hours you find acceptable, getting employees to declare who else they work for and for how many planned hours, also gaining permission to share working hours details with the other employers. You will need to work in partnership with the other employers to gain a clear picture of what exactly they are working and when. It may take a careful approach to ensure that employees see these actions as being in their best interests.
P&Ps this could be included in e.g. Recruitment, Working time Management, GDPR and Quality assurance
- Taking a full lunch break can be an issue for home care staff because there may not be anywhere they know of to do so in the area that they work. They do not want to spend money in a café and many would rather just work straight through and then go home.
- Office staff can feel under great pressure, due to the need to offer support to care workers and clients, and as a result eat at their desk and not take breaks at all.
You could designate a break room at your office, give advice on where to take breaks in the community e.g. libraries and make sure a break is built into their daily rota. For office staff you can create a policy where staff are not allowed to eat at their desks, offer to give extra pay for a lunch break but only if it is taken and arrange a rota for staff to cover each other’s role over the lunch period.
P&Ps this could be included in e.g. Rostering, Annual leave and break taking, supervision and employee contracts
- Rest and recuperation can be an issue because I doubt there is any care company that has not had to contact staff who are off shift to beg them to cover for colleagues and when it is a case of a client not receiving care and support or the care worker not getting the optimum rest, the client’s needs will always be prioritised.
- We also know that where an employee is working for another company they could be coming straight off shift to work for you without your knowledge.( night shifts are a particular issue)
Using a rostering programme that gives you full information on employee availability and hours ( perhaps sending out cover requests en mass) and being aware of who has the most available time will mean you are more likely to be able to make better choices in who covers. Sharing information on working patterns and hours with other employers could help prevent staff coming from one shift to another directly
P&Ps this could be included in e.g. Rostering, GDPR, and working time management
- Avoiding working weekends is not a possibility in an industry where care is 24hrs 365 days a week, the most we can do is try to ensure any weekend working is part of the core hours of a worker and not an additional request as far as possible.
Think about when your peak staffing times will be and the levels of staff you require several weeks in advance as this helps reduce the last minute weekend working requests. Being clear about your expectations of the frequency that staff will be expected to work weekends from point of recruitment makes it easier to include it in the normal working week. Thinking about reducing the amount that people work at the weekend by having more staff do shorter shifts e.g. 3-4 hours either Saturday or Sunday.
P&Ps this could be included in e.g. Rostering, recruitment and supervision
Policies and procedures create a sound working framework that promotes best practice and health and safety compliance but working in partnership with your employees creates an environment where everyone is valued.
I hope this helps you to start thinking about how these standards can benefit your organisation. Further information, advice and tools for developing the plan go to www.mind.org.uk/media/25263166/how-to-implement-the-thriving-at-work-mental-health-standards-final-guide-online.pdf