Stress and Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Exploration of Frontline Homelessness Services Staff Experiences in Scotland
1.1. Overview of the Literature
1.2. Theoretical Approach
1.3. Study Aim
- What challenges do frontline homelessness services staff in Scotland face in terms of stress, wellbeing, burnout and mental health during COVID-19?
- How are staff coping, and what are their support needs?
- What lessons can be learned for the homelessness sector in Scotland and beyond?
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Study Design and Ethics
2.2. Interviews: Recruitment, Process and Analysis
2.3. Quantitative Data Collection and Analysis
3.1. Qualitative Findings
3.1.1. Pre-Pandemic Experiences
Emotional Impact of the Role
Feeling frustration that you can’t get people access to services quick enough. That is also really difficult… Just it can be quite stressful, and quite upsetting. (Sarah)
[…] some social workers do look upon support work as a sort of cobbled together half, you know, half-way professional, an inadequate bunch of, you know, just carers almost. (Steve)
Pre-Pandemic Workplace Culture
Quite a lot of the time, staff come into their work when it’s quite obvious, whether that’s physical or mental health, that they shouldn’t be at their work, because they fear what will happen to them if they stay off. [Regarding the new absence policy] I think during COVID, you know, it could have waited. It didn’t have to be done during that period of time when staff nerves were tense and things were so uncertain. And we all had enough going on without that kind of hanging over you and knowing you were going in for that. (Rebecca)
It can be difficult to swallow it down sometimes though like sometimes I want to just scream at management, like you, like certain people shouldn’t fucking be here, if that is how they are conducting themselves, (a) how did they get the job in the first place, (b) how have they still got the job, and why is no one else freaking out? (Chris)
Relationships with Clients
It’s their own property so they feel more relaxed and you can sit there for an hour and a half and you just have this open conversation and then when they start building up the trust then they start telling you things about their life. (Lynsey)
So, the way I cope with it is I take myself out of the situation and I will spend a lot more time going out visiting my service users. (Lynsey)
3.1.2. Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Positive Aspects of the Pandemic
We’ve been able to build really, really good relationships with people because we see them every day. And, you know, if we need something for them, we can just like go and knock on their door basically which has been so beneficial… with the hotels, and kind of bringing everyone into one space, we’ve been able to take more of the lead on that and so we’ve been able to really just build those relationships with people. (Margaret)
Working with Clients during the Pandemic
They feel like society doesn’t give a shit about them for the last twenty years. And now you want them to act as if they need to take responsibility and keep everyone else safe. (Chris)
It’s that kind of all the time “wash your hands, don’t touch this”… it’s like social distancing, you know, it’s constantly having to be on alert… especially for the client group, they are not very good at social distancing. They are not particularly good at, kind of, looking after themselves. So, it’s having to step up that. (Wendy)
People are disclosing the most horrific things that have ever happened to them and, it does, it felt like a physical barrier between us, where if someone was to become upset, you know, in the right context you could tell the women was okay with that, you could go over and give them a cuddle or rub their back or, you know, appropriate touch, if you knew that the woman was okay with that. But you can’t do that because of COVID. (Rebecca)
These are people who are used to exclusion. They have been excluded maybe throughout their whole life, or in parts of their lives, and now we have this kind of culture of exclusion because of COVID. And it’s not malicious, it’s just that it has to happen for health and safety, and it’s to protect people. But often we find now that they kind of put a barrier up when faced with that exclusion because it’s what they are used to in their past, and they maybe don’t understand that what we are doing is trying to protect them and keep them safe. And keep us safe as well so that we can come into work every day and keep doing what we are doing. (Alex)
The Impact of the Pandemic on Organisational Culture
Management have sort of made themselves more open for like ad-hoc supervisions, I suppose like, you know, if you are struggling with something you can just call. (Andy)
Vulnerabilities, people acted, people act differently. It’s funny, people were, you know, you see how the team, you know, I’m going to be the one who is going to do this, I’m going to be the one who will do that, right can you, and everything has kind of, I don’t know how it all fell into place but it just did. It just, everything worked… I think when people are scared, then you see the real people. (Wendy)
The problems that we had became magnified. I am a great believer in when people go into crisis, organisations go into crisis. They don’t tend to change, they tend to do more of what they do, and so the communication became an issue, kind of hierarchical, and people were, you know, understandably, everybody was scared. There was fear, and at the same time we were trying to deal with the clients, and for periods we were kind of mirroring their fear and uncertainty, and they were mirroring our fear and uncertainty. There were lots of decisions which sometimes led to a bit of chaotic practice. (Mike)
I just felt it was like “so you all get on with it, but we will not be here. We are not going to be in the office”. So, I just think the support just disappeared. I felt as if it was like right, we are going to look after ourselves… A lot of the staff were really scared about what do we do? (Lynsey)
The people who get paid the least, they are the people that are, like, working the hardest and working, you know, night shifts, and doing sleepover shifts. And they are the ones that are also putting their health and safety on the line. (Margaret)
Reflection, Supervision and Training
So, like, if something bad happened I was just like, I’d speak to her [Manager] and debrief and stuff, and she was like really supportive of me and then she was always reassuring me that I’d done my best. (Teresa)
[Organisation] do… reflective practice every week, where one of the local psychiatrists, psychologists… they do every week there was a chance and then there was a big one every month. (Colin)
It [reflective meeting] hasn’t happened for a wee while. It happened a couple of times and there was a lack of structure, there was a lack of information about what reflective practice could be or should be, or whatever […] We are very hierarchical, top down, and there is a lot of blame flies around in this service. Sometimes it’s deserved, you know, everybody makes mistakes, but as a culture that inhibits discussion. (Rebecca)
If the [Organisation] had maybe done one for a longer length of time, then that frustration and anger wouldn’t have been there. Because they maybe would have known this is what reflective practice is for. It’s to sit down and look at issues or aspects or something that has happened and, you know, could it be done better, and could we have worked in a different way? It became a blame game, you know? “This is your fault this happened”, and that’s not the culture you want. (Colin)
There is always that opportunity where it’s a real, it’s a check in, you know? Where things are at. And they are always asking if there is any, you know, any issues with the clients, the team, and you do talk through each of your caseloads, for that reason. So, there is that stuff that is in place. As I say, there is the impromptu kind of stuff where you can just say “look I’m really struggling with this person” or, I need to just, or you just come in and debrief them what has happened. (Wendy)
I’ve hated it. I hate being on a webcam […] I certainly miss the face-to-face contact and being able to sit in a, you know, in an office and even just have a general chat. It might not be about work but just having that contact with the team, I certainly missed that. And I know quite a lot of the team were feeling the same, you know, they have said that over Zoom, you know, that they can’t wait for the face-to-face meetings to resume. But I certainly find it helpful though. I think it’s better than not, not having any contact. (Andy)
We recently rescued a cat and like my cat is my best therapist. (Chris)
I have a policy of getting out of the building as often as I can. That’s my, I have always had that, we get two half-hour breaks in our shifts and I’m quite renowned for making sure I get out. I’ve always done that, so I’ve carried on with that. (Mike)
I’m just in a really fortunate position where I’ve got a really supportive husband, I’ve got a really supportive family and, like I said, I have got great managers and colleagues. I think if I didn’t have that then yeah, this would be very different. (Sarah)
I wouldn’t say it’s been high stress but emotional exhaustion definitely… just feeling a bit I need a holiday, but I can’t go anywhere… But yeah, I am thinking of taking some annual leave, even just to stay at home and, you know, keep the laptop and phone away. (Andy)
I felt like my level of patience was… like my fuse was a lot shorter. So, I definitely had to work harder at work to be more present […] which definitely made me exhausted. So, it was sort of just a big circle of emotions. (Christina)
The first few months it almost was yes, I don’t even know how to describe it, it was just great, like I honestly just wasn’t tired. I was like surprised at myself how energised I was. I literally like jumped out of bed every morning and was ready to go for the day. And then it just seemed to be at one point it just… came crashing down a little […] I think yes just a little bit deflated, and I think I was yes, just definitely, emotionally exhausted is definitely how I would describe it. (Margaret)
I tend to find myself in ever repeating patterns of certain behaviours… Like I will address it and it will become unmanageable, or it will become less damaging for a period of time, and then something else will happen, or I will take my eye off the ball, or I will not be doing the physiological self-care stuff. And I will let something slip and rather than go to the gym, I will do something else that is not as good for me that is easier to do, you know, the lazy option, the quick fix. (Chris)
This morning I could have put this PC though the window because it was winding me up so much […] I tear my hair out with IT stuff, then not, the actual, the challenging aspects of support work and homelessness work and addictions work doesn’t stress me out … but that’s maybe that’s just stress in general manifesting itself in me getting wound up by this computer. (Steve)
Recommendations for the Future
I’ve always struggled to understand why staff wellbeing… is an add on. It’s not like a core function. (Mike)
Maybe some extra access to like maybe counselling services would have been appropriate, because I’d say a lot of people in my team have been struggling with depression and anxiety. (Andy)
3.2. Quantitative Findings
4.1. Implications for Policy, Practice and Research
4.2. Strengths and Limitations
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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|Pre-Pandemic Experiences||Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic|
|Emotional impact of the role||Positive aspects of the pandemic|
|Pre-pandemic workplace culture||Working with clients during the pandemic|
|Relationships with clients||The impact of the pandemic on organisational culture|
|Reflection, supervision and training|
|Recommendations for the future|
|Emotional exhaustion (EE)||16.9||18||3–31|
|Personal accomplishment (PA)||34||32||26–46|
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Carver, H.; Price, T.; Falzon, D.; McCulloch, P.; Parkes, T. Stress and Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Exploration of Frontline Homelessness Services Staff Experiences in Scotland. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19, 3659. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19063659
Carver H, Price T, Falzon D, McCulloch P, Parkes T. Stress and Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Exploration of Frontline Homelessness Services Staff Experiences in Scotland. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19(6):3659. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19063659Chicago/Turabian Style
Carver, Hannah, Tracey Price, Danilo Falzon, Peter McCulloch, and Tessa Parkes. 2022. "Stress and Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Exploration of Frontline Homelessness Services Staff Experiences in Scotland" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19, no. 6: 3659. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19063659