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How are teachers and frontline healthcare workers coping with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our teachers and frontline healthcare workers are under strain: how can employers help them?

Teachers and caring professionals represent a significant portion of the workforce that has had to keep on attending the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, physically and emotionally.

The need to look after pupils and patients has meant that the stress around changing job roles, altered team structures and generalised anxiety about the future has been compounded for those on the frontline.

We can easily assume that our teachers and frontline healthcare workers are burnt out, but what are the specific causes in each sector? And how can employers help to bring their teams back to a better state of wellbeing? Teaching and healthcare are amongst the most caring professions and with that responsibility comes an increased amount of stress and pressure when trying to make sure that those around them are supported.

The pressure of urgency for teachers

The immediate need for schools, colleges and universities to go online with their teaching revealed the inadequacy of IT infrastructure in institutions, along with a lack of confidence in using online technologies to deliver inspirational lessons to students.

The problem is that the demands placed on teachers hasn’t stopped there: examination upheaval, internal marking scrutiny and an overwhelming sense of feeling undervalued means that short term stressors have escalated into long term burnout.

Research by Deloitte shows that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45bn a year, a figure that’s risen 16% since 2016. You can help your employees feel valued, therefore reducing the risk of burnout, by investing in their health and, ultimately, the health of your organisation too.

Benenden Health for Business offers immediate access to our 24/7 GP and Mental Health Helplines, as well as medical diagnostics and treatment for over 250 procedures, physiotherapy, and mental health counselling after six months of membership. By partnering with Benenden Health, you could rest easy knowing your employees have an affordable healthcare package – that provides ample mental wellbeing support - to lean on in times of need.

Being on the frontline of healthcare

Healthcare has never been a 9-5 job. It’s always demanded a lot of emotional strength from its professionals, which COVID-19 has amplified like never before.

Patient consultations have been delayed, due to both the backlog the immediate coronavirus response caused and also due to patients staying away when they should be attending appointments, whether through fear of contracting the coronavirus or through a sense of not wanting to put extra pressure on the NHS during a global pandemic.

The reality of dealing with stressed out patients, unwell patients and anxious relatives is made more difficult when healthcare professionals have their own health, emotional and financial concerns to juggle. Their wellbeing has certainly been put on the line throughout the pandemic.

What do teachers and healthcare workers have in common?

Our teachers and frontline healthcare workers are shouldering more stress for far longer than they should. The root causes between the professions share many similarities – and, looking forward – many solutions.

1. Internal conflict

Internal conflict (a struggle within a person’s mind over a problem), whilst not unique to education and healthcare, is most pronounced where people have a duty of care to others in their line of work. When someone prides themselves on doing the very best, they can for a client, pupil, or patient, they struggle to make peace with the professional compromises imposed by the pandemic.

Teachers have been forced out of their comfort zone when it comes to delivering lessons that motivate students and deliver against the curriculum, particularly when it comes to early years education, key stages 1 - 4 and further education.

Despite legislative changes to the award of examination marks, this playing field is new territory for teachers, which comes with a feeling of not fulfilling their own standards. With higher education, tutors and course deliverers are very aware that students aren’t receiving the enrichment of a full university education, which brings its own worries.

Clinicians have their plans changed several times per day, including changes to ward designations, in the fight against COVID-19. Against this backdrop, the vow to do their very best has had to evolve, meaning that they can only do the best that they can with the resource available to them. The Guardian recently reported on the phenomenon of moral injury amongst healthcare workers, citing a feeling of “powerlessness” and “betrayal” as root causes.

This internal conflict could be adding extra stress to your people. To help, consider open and honest conversations as well as access to talking therapies like a Mental Health Helpline.

2. Compassion fatigue

Teaching and healthcare are caring industries. In fulfilling your professional obligations, you become invested in the health and wellbeing of your pupils, patients, clients and colleagues, hence the draw to the professions for empaths.

Compassion fatigue has been termed “the negative cost of caring,” and is used to describe the burnout experienced by those who tend to give their emotional all when it comes to looking after the people under their care. Unsurprisingly, early warning signs include an inability to feel compassion, given that the person in question is running on empty.

The obvious solution would be to ease off, but this is far easier said than done when care runs through the heart of these two sectors.

Colleagues in both the education and healthcare sectors are potentially grappling with both their own emotions, and the emotions of their pupils and patients. 

3. Resilience burnout

In teaching and healthcare, interactions can be tough and emotionally demanding. This is very much part and parcel of the job. Previously, the people at the heart of organisations could still flourish because the need for resilience wasn’t a constant for each and every working day.

The pandemic has changed the state of play, keeping teachers, clinicians and non-clinical frontline workers very much on their toes all day, every day - and often with reduced or “still switched on” holidays.

To try and combat this, consider extra training. Resilience training can help your employees feel more comfortable with change and help them think more positively about the road ahead. Although resilience training isn’t a cure-all, it can help your people cope and mitigate against stress.

How can you intervene?

There are times when your people are struggling and it takes more than the informal support of colleagues to address, particularly when they have to present the best version of themselves to students and patients.

1. Formal support

Counselling and talking therapies allow someone to express and reflect on their worries and fears in a non-pressurised and confidential environment. You can’t rely on someone who is suffering to present themselves for help, which is why we have found Mental Health First Aiders – combined with our healthcare package – so effective within our own team at Benenden Health.

By training the right people to identify and act on the signs of poor mental health and wellbeing in others, you will find that a greater openness to discuss mental health and wellbeing will cascade through your team. With a healthcare package supporting this, your internal team can signpost struggling employees to available support right away, hopefully before their condition gets any worse.

When it comes to providing help and support, a business healthcare provider, such a Benenden Health, can implement the best infrastructure, communications and analytics, meaning that you have the right things in place to help your people, along with the right means of letting them know you care and the right evaluation tools to see if your support options are working.

2. Self-help

As part of a benefits package for physical and mental health and wellbeing, counsel on self-help (all the associated lifestyle improvements that make a healthier mind and body) can help your team to stay as well as possible. This could be administered via your intranet, a newsletter, or a portal.

A business healthcare provider like Benenden Health will be well positioned to kickstart this area of support as well, with guides, interactive self-help and a system of support that places each and every member of your team back in the driving seat of their health and wellbeing.

3. Partnering with a healthcare provider

COVID-19 has made us all feel very short on time, particularly within education and healthcare. This runs from the teachers and frontline staff on the ground through to the bursars and decision makers who would be tasked with implementing this sort of support within their organisations.

Fortunately, the appointment of business healthcare doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. We’re proud to set clients up quickly and with the minimum of fuss: our no medical questionnaire policy really helps on this score.

Give us a call on 0808 301 1599 to speak to one of our experts about how we can help your business for only £11.90 per month per employee.