Our latest research published this week reveals the extensive mental and physical health impact on our public sector staff, as a result of working and living through COVID-19, and identifies organisational priorities for recovery, both as we enter the next phase of the pandemic and for the longer-term.
The report, ‘COVID-19 Insights: Impact on staff and priorities for recovery’, produced from the June 2020 COVID-19 Workforce Survey of 2,600 frontline staff, aims to deliver timely intelligence to help employers navigate new and ongoing challenges, using evidence-based learnings from the initial pandemic response. Highlighting a wide range of COVID-instigated factors affecting those working throughout the pandemic, the findings reported start to offer some early quantification of their relative impact on the workforce, including the influence on teamwork, communication, and leadership performance.
Sabina Enback, Senior Researcher, Skills for Justice, and author of the report says:
“Providing intelligence and support to the sector is just one way that Skills for Justice is helping to guide a path to recovery in terms of service delivery, and most importantly to help ensure the wellbeing of public sector staff is at the forefront of future ways of working.
“As we enter a second wave of the pandemic, it is crucial that employers take these survey findings into account to enable the workforce to tackle the ongoing challenges related to COVID-19 in the best possible way. It is also really important that employers start to think about what their workforce should look like in the post-pandemic world, considering what new skills might be needed and what type of training should be put in place to develop such skills.”
The research shows that the 68% of workers reporting a negative impact on mental health due to the pandemic, and 45% on physical health, generally resulted from two different work environments, and in many cases led to staff requiring sick leave, or even resigning. Respondents highlighted that remote working made people feel more isolated, and many commented on the unsuitability of their home offices, causing musculoskeletal issues. At the same time, for those working in settings with direct public contact, the stress stemmed not only from the increased risk of catching the virus, and the impact of colleagues, patients or residents falling seriously ill, or even dying, but also from the added workload and new ways of working all having a damaging effect on mental health.
Anne Mackintosh, Client Director, Skills for Justice says:
“The impact felt across the sector as a result of the pandemic has certainly been mixed. COVID-19 has been particularly tough on the mental health and well-being of those working in secure or custodial settings, for example, where the rate of prisoners testing positive for the virus has been much higher than in the general population. Various factors have combined to lead to prisoners being more susceptible to contracting coronavirus, including a high number of more vulnerable prisoners over 60, and many with pre-existing health conditions. The restrictions placed on prisoners’ opportunity to associate, undertake training, or receive visitors as a result, has taken its toll not only on their morale, but staff alike.”
Whilst many of the outcomes identified by the research are negative, the report also reveals areas where there have been a number of positive workforce-related benefits from the coronavirus crisis. 74% state improvements in team working, with extensive collaboration mobilised amongst staff to ensure the best outcomes, a key takeaway which employers will look set to embed in future ways of working long after the pandemic is over. Along with recognising the importance to improve virtual engagement with service users, further empowering a remote workforce, as well as developing employee engagement, and workforce planning.
Anne adds: “The increase in home working experienced by many across the public sector has been widely welcomed and employers on the whole have been supportive. The use of virtual meeting platforms has not only been time and cost effective for those staff who previously spent a large proportion of their time travelling to and from meetings, delivering training, or attending events, it has been particularly important for those who suddenly had home schooling responsibilities, and has in part had a positive impact on their work-life balance.
“Holding learning events remotely has made it easier to bring staff from different regions together and to secure speakers to deliver training in even the most remote locations. It has also developed new facilitation skills.”
As the UK moves into the next phase of COVID-19, we must emphasise the need for employers across the sector to utilise intelligence and experience like this report as a helpful tool for reflection. The pandemic has provided all of us with the opportunity to really think about how to provide services in the most effective way possible for our people and for their output. Learning the workforce-related lessons from what we have had to deal with, and what has been achieved so far will allow us to realise our ongoing organisational and leadership development ambitions, and identify what key workforce planning support is needed, both now and in the near future.
Access the full report COVID-19 Insights: Impact on staff and priorities for recovery here today.