“Either you love it or hate it!”
Those of us who work in crisis services know how true this statement is. For some, it’s simply not a good fit, but for people who find their groove working in this field, there is nothing better.
The nature of the work we do, however, causes our workforce to experience workplace stress like no other in the mental health field. And amid the COVID-19 pandemic, workforce burnout has never been worse. That is why it’s imperative for those in crisis service leadership positions to acknowledge this reality, embrace it and do something about it.
So, what can we do? Tell our staff to “call the Employee Assistance Program”? That’s a good option in some cases, but there is so much more we should be doing to offer a comprehensive approach to staff wellness in our field.
For starters, we can talk with staff to hear what issues they are experiencing, rather than assume we know. Staff also tend to appreciate when we come out into the field with them to see firsthand what their everyday work life is like.
We can also provide ongoing opportunities for decompression. Setting up routine times to talk, as a group, about life as a crisis worker can be helpful. So can setting aside time to focus on wellness, whether that’s a “Lunch ‘N Learn” on nutrition or group walks.
I know of an organization that has a local massage therapist donate time once a month to give chair massages to staff (I hear it books up very fast). Another organization I spoke with had just purchased a Golden Retriever … for the staff. It is in the office daily and employees love it!
Recently, I was talking with one of our crisis service leaders who runs Centerstone’s Crisis Call Center and 988 National Back-up operations. She likes to get to know her staff and is appreciated for paying attention to stress and burnout. I asked her, “How do you get to know your staff and what do you to make them feel well at work?” Here is what she shared:
- She distributes a unique questionnaire to new hires to get to know them. She asks things like, “If you could live in a sitcom, which one would it be?” or “What is the theme song of your life?” or “How do you prefer to receive communications from me?”
- During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, she handwrites and mails a card to each staff member, letting them know how many people they helped in the past year.
- When someone has a hard shift or goes above and beyond, she gives them a gift card to a place she knows the employees likes; she also sends birthday cards to each employee.
- In addition to weekly supervision times, she holds a staff-only meeting once a month to give employees a chance to connect and forge strong relationships.
- She also offers optional skills-building sessions twice a month.
This type of outreach and relationship building can help staff feel supported, and hopefully, keep the things they see, hear or experience from traumatizing or damaging them. And of course, if the time comes, we can also connect them to EAP assistance.
Now more than ever, we must take time to support the health and wellbeing of our staff and set them up for success. That starts with making mental wellness a top priority – for those currently working in crisis services and those following behind them.
Vice President, Centerstone Crisis and Disaster Management