How to support staff wellbeing during coronavirus

This blog was jointly written by members of NCVO’s mental health and wellbeing working group and practical support team. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, leaders and managers of voluntary organisations have had to think about how they support staff and volunteer wellbeing.  As Simon Jones, Head of Policy and Influencing at Mind Cymru said, ‘the pandemic is as much a mental health crisis as it is a physical one.’ 

To better understand how leaders and managers have risen to the challenge, we’ve spoken to charities across the sector about how they’ve approached this. Here we share some practical tips and signpost to some useful resources.    

Compassionate leadership  

Compassionate leadership in these uncertain times was seen as essential.  Compassionate leaders:  

  • actively listen to and value the views of staff and volunteers so they understand the challenges individuals face 
  • can empathise with the people they lead 
  • take practical steps to support the people they lead. 

The organisations we spoke to identified how this had been demonstrated within their organisation:  

Clear, timely and sensitive communication

Hearts and Minds, a mental health charity, highlighted the importance of clear communication with staff and volunteers, involving them in decision making wherever possible. This demonstrated their views were valued.  Hackney CVS said the first message to staff as they entered lockdown was that their wellbeing came first.  Staff reflected that this demonstrated that the organisation was aware of and empathetic towards the challenges they might face.   

Lead by example

Directors and managers need to lead by example. Leaders being honest about their own challenges enables staff and volunteers to do the same. Blink Mental Health, said during regular check-ins with volunteers, the founders spoke openly about how they were coping, thereby encouraging volunteers to do the same.  

Offer practical support

Organisations across the sector looked to offer additional support to address wellbeing.  Most organisations said they’d increased the amount of one-to-one supervision offered to staff and had also tried to provide staff with additional training and coaching opportunities. 

Practical support:

Understand how employees are affected and offer sources of support 

Coronavirus has resulted in many staff experiencing higher levels of stress due to an increased demand for support, managing  their own wellbeing and that of their loved ones.  Organisations highlighted the need to understand how the pandemic has impacted individual staff members and volunteers to offer the appropriate support.   

Understand disproportionate impacts

Understanding how employees are affected involves looking at diversity,equity and inclusion. For example, staff and volunteers from BAME communities are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. To address this, the Women and Girls Network, a BAME-led organisation, are considering this in supporting staff in their return to work.   

Create a sense of community within your organisation

A sense of community is important in boosting staff morale. During lockdown, most organisations used team meetings and all-staff meetings to give people a space to talk and create opportunities for virtual socialisation.  Hackney CVS’ internal wellbeing group sends a weekly email to staff with information about activities such as coffee mornings, wellbeing meetings and guided mindfulness. 

Practical support:

Create new ways of working and flexibility 

Coronavirus has caused the sector to re-imagine how and where employees work, forcing many voluntary organisations to allow their employees to work in new ways.  

Facilitate online communication

Organisations said that staff and volunteers had adapted to communicating through a variety of online channels, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. CharityComms reported using different platforms for different functions. For example, Teams for quick questions or chats and cutting down on unnecessary emails. Whilst online communication has been essential, Expert Citizens raised the issue of digital fatigue, encouraging staff to take regular breaks and do work offline where possible. 

Set boundaries and create structure

Organisations have found that working from home can make it more difficult for staff to structure their day and set clear boundaries between work and home life. To address this, Expert Citizens worked with staff and volunteers to help them structure their day, encouraging them to be clear about when they were going to do a task and for how long. Where possible, creating a separate physical space for work also helped to create a work-life balance.   

Understand individual needs

Organisations have worked to adapt to individual needs and circumstances.  For example, where staff and volunteers have caring responsibilities, it’s important for line managers to have an open conversation about how this can be supported.  CharityComms have allowed staff with caring responsibilities to work different hours. 

Practical support:

Review organisational policies 

Voluntary sector organisations acknowledged the need to ensure that their policies are still fit for purpose in this new context. 

Policies to be reviewed included…

  • remote working
  • sickness
  • annual leave
  • safeguarding.

Updated policies were required to better reflect the changing needs of staff and volunteers in a new context.  

Mind policies

Mind asked staff what they would find helpful during this time in order to ensure their policies reflected current needs.  Support valued in pre-existing policies included a 24-hour employee assistance programme, a buddy system, flexible working hours and ‘Mind days’ – an extra six days of holiday a year on top of the regular 25.  These support measures can now be accessed remotely.  

Practical support:

We’d like to thank all organisations involved for taking the time to share their valuable contributions of how they’re supporting staff with their wellbeing during the pandemic. 


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Rupinder is digital content producer at NCVO. She currently works on editing and creating online content for a range of charity sector needs as well as working on wider digital website re-design projects .

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