Providing Support for Front-Line Staff

Working with people, particularly those undergoing problems, can be difficult, exhausting and challenging. There is so much potential to change the lives of vulnerable people. There is a pressure to make this work in case you are their last hope. When it goes well and there is a good outcome, that is often reward enough. When it doesn’t end so well… the pressure and pain is enormous.

I was recently asked by a friend how we support staff and volunteers as she is reviewing the support her organisation gives to their team. It made me realise that we have support and help running right through at every level of the organisation. I can’t take credit for it, we have a great team.

On analysing what we do I found this:

  • We are great at sharing with each other and supporting each other at every level. Volunteers are encouraged to ‘buddy’ with someone and they are also part of a team which will support them. Great way of offering reassurance when it feels too insignificant to take higher.
  • Everyone has a line manager with an open door policy so that support is available very quickly to both staff and volunteers.
  • We have an in-house counselling service for our service users, and a one-off debriefing session can be offered to staff members or volunteers who have particular concerns or who have dealt with a really impactful case.
  • Finally, we have an external Employee Assistance Programme which is completely confidential. Up to 6 weeks of talking therapy can be accessed via this for either personal or work related issues.

Richard Branson says that you should look after your staff and then they will look after your users. We cannot afford to underestimate the impact that vicarious trauma can have on our staff, or the level of stress and distress that can cause. We need to value our staff and volunteer teams and we do that best by giving them the opportunity to say they need support.