Peer support – why looking out for each other matters

Peer support – why looking out for each other matters

Working in Health or Social Care can both be rewarding and challenging. The importance of peer support can’t be overstated when it comes to getting through the challenges you face at work – these are almost always navigated more smoothly when you know there is someone you can turn to. Stressful experiences may happen every day in a lot of health and social care settings, but that doesn’t make them any less distressing for staff. A supportive environment where colleagues check in with one another can play a huge role in reducing the impact that stressful experiences have. There’s a lot of power in the words “are you ok?”, creating a culture in your team where this power is harnessed can make a big difference in letting staff know that they matter. Even small gestures like making someone a cup of tea after a challenging phone call shows you care.

It may sound obvious but feeling stressed and burnt-out makes you more likely to want to leave your job. Levels of stress depend on a number of things, such as heavy workloads, working long hours, the amount of support you receive from your colleagues and managers. Unfortunately, a lot of these things are unavoidable; heavy workloads and long hours are part and parcel of a lot of roles, making the amount of support being received even more crucial in keeping staff well and keeping them in post.

As a manager you have an important role in keeping your staff well and creating a supportive culture. Stress and work pressures affect everybody differently, some people will get quieter and withdraw into themselves, some will become more irritable or angry. Take the time to get to know your staff and get an idea of how they respond to stress – it will help you to know what to look out for in the future when they’re struggling. We’ve put together some tips to help guide you through the type of conversation you might want to have if you do notice someone is having a hard time, you can find them by following this link. Our main piece of advice is to keep it informal, that will help your staff know that you’re genuine.

Providing your team with a supportive, inclusive workplace can make all the difference to how they feel – staff who feel more supported by their managers tend to get more satisfaction from their work, as well as staying emotionally well. Even in extreme situations like the Covid-19 pandemic, research demonstrated that working with a supportive team provided a strong buffer against the strains of the experience.

The manner in which you manage your staff can be crucial to both their wellbeing, and their performance – kindness and compassion go a long way. If you’re interested in leadership development opportunities based on the principles of kindness, inclusion, and collaboration, have a look at the Leading to Change website. On there you’ll find a variety of leadership events, resources, and coaching opportunities available to everyone working in health, social care or social work in Scotland. For more of a deep dive into the value of kindness in the workplace, have a listen to our “The Courage to be Kind” podcast series, recorded by the Carnegie Trust.

As well as boosting the support people get from others, try to find ways of empowering people to boost their resilience too. Resilience is the ability to bounce back following adversity, and it is incredibly important when it comes to maintaining psychological wellbeing. The good news is that resilience isn’t something that you either naturally have or don’t have – it’s a skill set you can develop and enhance. A great place to start to develop your own personal resilience, or to share with your staff to help with theirs, is the Personal Resilience page of the Turas learning platform. You’ll need an account with Turas to access these materials, but this can be set up for free by anyone. You can also watch a recording of our Developing your personal resilience in challenging times webinar, presented by Olympic medallist Catherine Bishop.

Our colleagues at Lifelines Scotland, who provide peer support training to the blue light community in Scotland, recommend developing your Psychological First Aid kit. This is about understanding the things you do which help you when you need to relax or recharge. We think their advice is equally relevant to the health and social care workforce, follow this link for some tips on how you can keep yourself well and boost your resilience.

When it comes to managing the fall-out of emergency or critical incidents, prevention really is much more effective than cure. We like to use an analogy of falling into a river to demonstrate this. Waiting for an emergency to happen before stepping in to provide support is a little like waiting until someone has fallen into a river and is about to fall over a waterfall before you try to drag them to safety. Taking a preventative approach, using things like the supportive culture spoken about earlier, or helping people develop their personal resilience, are ways you can hopefully prevent people from falling into the water in the first place.

However, there is always a place for supporting others in the aftermath of an emergency. For this we would recommend taking a Psychological First Aid (PFA) approach. PFA is recommended by the World Health Organisation for managing the psycho-social fallout of emergencies. There are a number of free-to-access resources on PFA, allowing you to implement the recommended model of support at no cost to your organisation. To get you started, have a read of our Safety First – Psychological First Aid article, or watch one of our webinars: Psychological First Aid in the Workplace, and Psychological First Aid in Practice.

Welcome to the Hub. We hope you’ll find the support you’re looking for. To help us improve the site and make it relevant to you, please take a minute to answer a few quick questions. Thank you.

Give us feedback