Systemise support for the supporters

Ideally, if we consider the disaster cycle, we should include team support right at the beginning in planning and practicing for disasters before they occur. In the words of Diane Ryan from American Red Cross, “That way you don’t have to build the plane while you are doing recovery work, just modify it.” Regardless of whether you find yourself pre- or post-disaster a systemic approach to supporting those within or linked to your organisation is recommended.

Develop support processes and systems - from screening and induction of staff and volunteers, and fatigue management practices through to follow up after someone exits the organisation. Plan and resource support so that it will continue to be accessible over time, acknowledging that community recovery is a protracted process. Consider too, exit and career planning advice and after-role follow up support as impacts of the role may linger or become evident afterwards. Organisations such as the Antares Foundation, the Headington Institute, and the Mandala Foundation specialise in advising as to how to go about this.

Assessment of the success of a recovery programme needs to include a measure of how well the organisation supported its workers.

As part of your organisational culture and language remove any unhelpful self-sacrifice or tough ‘John Wayne’ expectations; reduce stigma or punitive reactions to discussing limitations or stress reactions. View staff support, self-care and help-seeking behaviour as indications of professionalism, not weakness. Make it uncomfortable for people to not look after themselves or their team, rather than the status quo of it being uncomfortable to consider their own needs. Be proud to be an organisation that values and supports its people. Advocate, educate and lead the way. It should not be something to keep under wraps with the public or with donors, but an example of your ethics and your belief in doing the right thing, by your people, but also ultimately by the people you serve.

Don’t be ashamed of it – trade on it. Being ethical, valuing people, is attractive. Dr James Guy – Headington Institute.

A dedicated role for staff support is required. With operational pressures and in the face of unmet need, it is too easy to lose sight of the priority of worker wellbeing, and in the words of Ted Tuthill (British Red Cross), “It is easier to start well rather than do the catch up.” The ideal is to embed the person within the team so they are known, and are therefore approachable and they understand the environment, context and challenges. Jill Hofmann from American Red Cross talked about those tasked with looking out for the workers and volunteers after 9-11. They spent most of their time chatting, eating, hanging out with the workers during breaks, being part of bonhomie. Workers and volunteers brought up issues if and as they arose, without being probed and without creating a distant formal process that the workers and volunteers were unlikely to engage with.