Jessica Easterbrook, Lead HR Consultant at East Sussex County Council,  shares how her council adapted to the changes brought about by Covid-19 in this blog series.

Can you still recall those heady office days when you had a coffee with a colleague ‘on the hoof’ or a much-needed impromptu catch-up by the printer? Technology has been amazingly helpful in sustaining connections with our colleagues, but it cannot replace the organic conversation we happen upon when we work together in the same place.

With all the noise of infection, it can be easy to drown out the effects that working in isolation has had on our mental health, which could easily become the forgotten casualty of COVID-19.

At ESCC we have strived against this by making mental health a priority during the pandemic. We have continued our interactive weekly wellbeing campaign to raise awareness and sustain a sense of community.  We have encouraged video calls wherever possible, alongside focused workshops for managers and employees on a whole variety of topics including remote working and resilience trauma. With nearly 100 trained Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA), we have been able to mobilise this volunteer workforce to spark meaningful and challenging conversations about how we can support each other in these uncertain times.

It has been tricky to reframe the MHFA offer in a virtual setting, but this is what worked for us:

  • Refreshed our ‘Time to TALK’ campaign to promote the purpose of MHFA
  • Asked our MHFA community for volunteers to join virtual team meetings in order to:
  • Get Mental Health on the agenda
  • Explain their role and how they can assist those needing support in a virtual setting
  • Signpost to valuable resources and information
  • Set up an online MHFA directory to ensure they were easy to find and contact
  • Asked the MHFAer to update their signatures to encourage colleagues to get in touch – ‘fancy a virtual cuppa?’
  • Set up support sessions for our MHFAers, hosted by our EAP, which focused on techniques for supporting ourselves and each other during the pandemic and provided the opportunity to share experiences and learning
  • Kept the conversation going on our dedicated MHFA staff ‘Yammer’ group, which has been helpful to keep them in the loop and for them to share ideas

These ongoing conversations have helped to foster a culture of self-care at ESCC, giving permission for colleagues to take steps to look after their own mental health and using the training to help provide courage to approach those who are struggling. We are by no means perfect, but these proactive steps have helped keep stress levels down and kept mental health high on the agenda.

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Jessica Easterbrook, Lead HR Consultant at East Sussex County Council, shares how her council adapted to the changes brought about by Covid-19 in this blog series.

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