The job you’ve taken on as a contact tracer is an incredibly important one as part of the national effort to protect public health. Unfortunately, in order to do this, you are probably going to ask people to limit their personal freedom. While some may accept being asked to self-isolate, others may become angry or upset at the prospect. Try to keep in mind that any anger being expressed is not personal but is likely the reaction that anyone delivering this particular news would receive. Anger is a natural response to threat, and from their perspective you are threatening their liberty.
Although understanding where someone’s anger comes from may enable you to view the situation as less of a personal attack, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for you to deal with at the time. It will be helpful for you to prepare yourself for difficult situations that you might encounter. Speak to your line manager, or trusted colleagues, about their experiences and how they’ve managed difficult phone calls. It’s important that you’re able to support one another, and drawing on shared experience is one way of doing this. If you’re working from home identify another team member as a buddy who you can talk to when you have had a distressing call. If you are a line manager of contact tracers, it might be worth checking in with team members towards the end of the day, particularly when they’re new in post.
Managing Difficult Calls
Show that you are giving the person your complete attention, this can be difficult over the phone since you can’t give any visual cues like nodding or smiling, so use spoken cues instead such as “I understand”, “yes”. Remain calm and rational when faced with their anger, acknowledge how the other person is feeling and that you understand why they are feeling angry or upset. If you need to take a brief pause before responding to collect your thoughts, take one. Remaining objective throughout gives you both, a place to build the conversation from, allowing you to convey the essential information that you have to give.
Try to sound sincere, for example avoid overusing the person’s name, or sounding like you’re reading from a script. Coming across as sincere will also help the other person feel a bit less like they’re being processed. It’s good to be able to answer as many questions as possible, but nobody reasonably expects you to know everything. Just be honest; if you need to check something with your manager, say so. The important part is to give a realistic timeframe for when you’ll have an answer and making sure you get back in touch.
Take care of yourself
Try to give yourself some time to decompress. This 10-minute guided relaxation session can help you retain a sense of calm. You might also benefit from watching this webinar recording on ‘Anxiety – what it is and how we can manage it’. You might find that your experiences during your working day impact upon your mood or affect your sleep. We have several apps which you can try to help with these. Silvercloud has modules to help with low mood, sleep difficulties, stress, and resilience building; Daylight can help you manage anxiety; Sleepio can help with sleep difficulties and insomnia; and Feeling Good can help with mood, anxiety, and stress issues and help you build personal resilience.
Keep in touch with your colleagues, this is particularly important when you’re working from home. Set up regular meetings with your line manager for more formal discussions, these might need to be pretty regular and often, particularly when you’re new in the role. Try to set aside a bit of time for more informal catchups with your colleagues too, you might all be facing similar issues, so it can help everyone by chatting these through. At the end of your shift, put away your computer and get some fresh air and exercise. Exercise is good for mental health.
Remember, if you find your job is affecting your mental health, there is no shame in that, but it is really important that you speak up. If you don’t feel you can speak to your manager, there is The National Wellbeing Helpline which you can call on 0800 111 4191. Alternatively, regional staff support helplines can be found by searching for your region on our support services page.
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