Additional tips for team leaders

Over and above the ’12 principles of support’ and ‘Top tips for implementation’ these are the additional points interviewees made with team leaders in mind.

Look after yourself and lead by example - one of the best ways to support your team. Managing your own stress through self-care and healthy work practices will enable you to be more available to your team.

Your work behaviours play a role in setting the expectations and culture for your team. Model healthy habits and create an expectation of realistic work hours and encourage work being left at work rather than seeping further into the home realm. Allow your team members to feel empowered to defend their ‘out of hours’ time from work encroachment.

We were never told to keep business business and don’t let it creep into your personal life. It would’ve been good to have been told not to email in the evenings and to turn your phone off. Supervisors have their phones and they send emails so we feel we should too, but we need some time to de-stress. Emily Gonzalez – FEGS, Long Island

Ensure the support that workers provide others does not come at the expense of their own recovery. Don’t keep asking more of people because they will keep responding, despite the load.

When I was clinical supervisor of the earthquake response in Santa Cruz CA ’89 earthquake I was very conscious of a person who had a damaged home and ended up ensuring she took time off – not in a punitive way but in a way which made it okay for her to focus on her own needs. It had been a long time and she hadn’t spent any time with her husband, or sorting out the fixing of her own home. Jill Hofmann – American Red Cross

I remember one guy who worked for three straight days, given task after task, then he had to drive an hour home. He was written up for his performance review at the end of the year negatively for the self-care component yet it was the same manager who had kept asking him to do more and more. Anon – New York

Supporters may experience the same psychosocial processes as the community they support - It follows then that frustration, reduced tolerance and tiredness are likely over time, with implications both for the individuals and for the team. Know also that the biology of chronic stress will translate to a negative impact on performance. Being aware of these realities better allows us to recognise challenges for what they are and provide support, rather than prematurely attributing them to an individual’s capabilities. Proactive management of team dynamics, loads and energy levels will assist to ameliorate and alleviate this process.

Prepare your team well - Where possible this occurs before a disaster with an understanding as to how roles will change should there be a disaster, in both the short and long term. Even after the disaster, screenings, inductions, briefings, training and regular effective communication can assist with preparation for the rigours of the role. Aim for having the right people with the right skills and the right motivations in the right roles, with clear understanding of their roles and the objectives. From a base of having good workers with sound expectations, clear direction, and adequate supports, the team can then be empowered with trust, flexibility and autonomy to responsively support the communities.

Know your team - Invest time; one on one, face to face. Get to know each individual, their family needs, their life goals, their ways of working and the challenges they are facing outside work, especially if they are also disaster-impacted. Your team members may not always ask for support when they need it. Stress can impact the ability for people to gauge their own tiredness levels and needs. If you know your team well then you can ‘listen’ for signs of stress which will only be evident if you know how the person usually operates and responds.  

Be approachable. This is not only about being available but also being a safe and supportive person to discuss concerns with – the feeling that you are ‘in their corner.’   Create an environment which promotes open discussion and admission of the stress encountered and which encourages accessing support when required.

Observe. Observing is very important. Know your staff member – not only their capability work wise but their private lives if that is possible. Know that person as a whole. If it is not possible, know someone who does. Dr Tomoko Osawa – Hyogo Institute for Traumatic Stress

Get to know them well. If they are not coping well you won’t see it first necessarily in their work. But the thing you see in them might be different. Know what’s going on in their life. You cannot manage solely by performance indicators. Kate Brady – Australian Red Cross

Having a hard time in this doesn’t make us weak or damaged – just human. Lisa Orloff – World Cares Center

Act as a buffer from pressures and from unnecessary minutia or bureaucracy. Work to slow the pace to that which is sustainable, despite the pressures to the contrary. 

As a team leader or manager you role is to run interference so your people can do their work. Act as a protective shield – from political pressures or trivial stuff so they can keep focused on what’s important. John Richardson – Australian Red Cross

Speed and volume – hit the brake once in a while. Louise Steen Kryger – IFRC PS Centre

Debrief’ – using this term loosely. Essentially this means creating regular opportunities for teams to reflect, raise challenges, share ideas and resources, continuously tweak practice, defuse tension, acknowledge contributions and success and retain focus.

It is about creating a safe space to do this and the hygiene of it – if it is not at the end of each day then the end of the week. Create rituals so that it happens and not waiting for negative things to happen to then do it. It could only take ten minutes or it could take an hour. Sarah Davidson – British Red Cross

We discuss each person’s low and high of the week. They can express whatever level frustration but also to point out that there is good in the work that they do. Kerry Symons - Visiting Nurse Service of New York

Create a pleasant work environment – acknowledging that this can be challenging with the degree of disruption to office facilities and so may require a creative approach. A strategy which found merit in numerous locations involved creating a physical space, set aside for staff and/or volunteers to retreat to, to share issues, to take a break and to recharge.

The team was asked what else would help them and one of the ideas was a cafeteria or outdoor eating space – a really nice inviting space. There is no place to sit away from the desk. It would be nice to have somewhere to sit, away from your desk and our email and be able to relax with others from your team and not talk about work over lunch. Emily Gonzalez – FEGS

Create a space to stop and take a breath. It says that it’s okay to have fun and helps people overcome the guilt of being a survivor needing to meet their own needs.  Mie Kashiwade – Plan Japan

Wellbeing boosters - Amassing a supply of mini-break vouchers to provide free opportunities for workers to take a break and practice self-care was found helpful. The secret was having a range to meet the varied needs and preferences of the team (such as massage vouchers, pool passes, movie tickets, passes to sporting events, meal vouchers, comedy tickets…). The vouchers can be given out at random, or made available after a particularly hard day or in acknowledgement of efforts. Approaching corporates can assist with sourcing vouchers at little or no expense.