Vulnerable Leadership and Workplace Wellbeing
It is great to be celebrating another Care Home Day, although I am sad not to be having my usual visit to celebrate in person. Indeed, like many others, I have spent much of this year thinking about lost connections because of the pandemic, and actively working to make it safe for those connections to be re-established.
I know many of our care home staff have felt the same pressures, and most likely more as they take on board the many additional tasks asked of them. I also know that our staff are exhausted, burnt out and in need of a break. I have spoken with staff who want to quit social care and even some who have felt suicidal.
And so, on this Care Home Day, I want to talk about workplace wellbeing. But I want to do this different from how I have done so before, from my spare bedroom happily preaching to others about the importance of self-care whilst completely ignoring, or more accurately, not being open about my own situation. In applauding our workforce for their resilience, we are creating a culture where we cannot talk about the reality. I want to flip things around and open doors for others. Because, as a colleague of mine said earlier this week, the impact of the pandemic is showing.
I am calling for a campaign where instead of talking only about the nice things we can do to make us feel better, we speak truth to power and talk openly about our own experiences and in doing so, create safe spaces for others to do the same. We cannot continue to gloss over experiences of stress and trauma with toxic positivity. What makes social care different from many other sectors is its reliance on humanity. Something which applies as much to the workforce as it does to those accessing care and support.
Today my phone pulled out a ‘this day last year’ photo of me and I was shocked. It was taken during lockdown when, like many others, I was home-schooling and working at the same time. I had back-to-back meetings, phone calls and I was receiving 600+ emails a day. In a reflection of frontline experience, Scottish Care was working tirelessly to support members locally and nationally through knowledge mobilisation and influence. I am so very proud of what our team achieved in those darkest of days and continue to do now. To be able to play our part in history is a real honour, I really do have the best job in the world.
The photo was taken the day that I realised I had to ‘put on my oxygen mask before helping others’ and I had decided to go for a run. My face was bright red, and I was 30lb heavier. I had got into the habit of working odd hours around the kids, grabbing food instead of preparing it, not sleeping enough, and finishing most days with a glass of wine. My back was aching from sitting on a dining room chair in front of the computer on our camping table for most of the day. I might have been smiling on the outside, but on the inside, I was beginning to ‘go through the motions’, every day was the same, and there was a black dog at the front door pining to come in. My poor colleagues and family met my inner grump too. I knew I needed to get my energy and my lust for life back. My work deserved it, my family deserved it and I deserved it.
I first started to carve out patches of time just for me – to get away from my desk at lunchtime for 10 min and play with my kids or go for a walk, to connect with colleagues and peers, to catch up on admin, I pushed back on those back-to-back meetings or scheduled them for a shorter length so that I could squeeze in a short social chat, or to grab a cuppa. I bought a proper desk chair and made sure to move every hour. I showed up to meetings post-run in my workout clothes because getting the run in was far more important than how I looked. We introduced the weekly surgery sessions so that we could respond to more people more quickly, being more effective and efficient with our time across the organisation. As my lifestyle changed, my energy levels picked up, I found I could accomplish more too.
I joined ‘Wild Sea Women’ and became a leader, now hosting beach breathing sessions followed by wild sea dipping and swimming. On solstice, we hit our covid max of 50 with at least another 20 on a waiting list. It was a pivotal moment on my journey.
When I felt things slipping, I found a mentor that I met every week for a few months for just 20 min to keep me on track, and I have developed a virtual peer support group who do this for each other now. I also made better use of my time – walking meetings or doing my learning whilst walking by listening to audiobooks and podcasts.
It was then that I found the book Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, (if you do not think you have enough time to read a book, start with the Brene Brown podcast interview with them both – you can listen whilst doing chores or driving. Start small, as my mentor says, “progress not perfection”).
In it they write ‘The cure for burnout is not ‘self-care’; it is all of us caring for one another”. If we can create safe spaces for people to be how they feel in the moment, then they can have the space they need to heal and to grow and to prevent or process trauma. Something which I know our entire care workforce needs.
I hope that by telling my story I have helped to do this for others but also that I have inspired others to share their stories too.
Before I finish, I want to share more words from Emily and Amelia they have been my guide now for many months and I am finally fulfilling the last line:
“Trust your body,
Be kind to yourself.
You are enough just as you are right now.
Your joy matters.
Please tell everyone you know.”