Top Tips for Implementation
Tips are derived from learned experiences, insights and shared wisdom of those who have previously or are currently playing a role in supporting communities during the long term recovery following a disaster. The quotations used have been selected from a multitude of similarly expressed direct messages with the varied audiences in mind. For example, interviewees were asked “With providing support for those with a role in disaster recovery in mind, what message would you give to team leaders?”
Connection provides the opportunity to express frustrations, share challenges, consider strategies for problem solving, advocate in numbers, and share information, knowledge and resources. Sources of support, encouragement and recognition of commonality of experience are created. Connection enables the diffusion of stress through off-loading, sound-boarding, normalising what is occurring and gaining perspective.
Informal opportunities for people to connect, in addition to structured, task-focused opportunities are invaluable. Encourage those with a role in recovery to form personal support structures comprising of those they connect with who understand their realities. Multiple and varied types of connections are most helpful.
With those who have been there before:
- Practical first-hand experience of a role in disaster recovery was noted as important. Guidance, knowledge, perspective, and external support from those who’ve experienced the practical realities and understand the challenges involved was valued.
- This might be done by bringing in people with previous experience as speakers, as deliverers of training, as consultants, or through one-on-one connection face-to-face or via phone or skype calls. Connection might occur regularly or on-hand and sought as challenges arise, or events with local impact occur.
- The person who has been there before needn’t be an ‘expert’. Linking a front office shire council staff member with someone who performed a similar role in a previous event might be as, if not more, useful.
- Choose wisely as the title of recovery expert is oft claimed.
For Peter Miller and the team at the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, their most useful support was the connection made with an equivalent survivors’ network from the Oklahoma City bombing who understood their challenges, offered support and suggested strategies based upon experience.
With peers – Create opportunities for connection with others in similar roles, facing similar challenges, both within and outside your organisation.
Team building - Efforts to bring teams together will pay dividends. Teams can be a source of invaluable support during times of challenge, or if stress is rife, the resulting interpersonal conflict adds to the strain. Prioritise regular team building time. Embrace the informal by conducting regular meetings in a novel, fun environment, encourage social functions, team competitions, weird hat day…
Individual one-on-one supports: Methods might include or be a combination of:
- ‘Buddies’ - Creating a buddy system so that everybody has someone, whether within or outside the team, to off-load with and someone who will check in with and look out for them.
- Mentors – from within or outside the organisation.
- Professional supervision - Whilst common in the areas of nursing, psychology or social work; those working in disaster recovery in other roles from front-desk administration to project lead, can also benefit from the professional supervision model.
Education prepares supporters for the challenges involved and provides knowledge and tools to perform their role and safeguard their wellbeing. It can take many forms including compulsory induction, workshops, regular team development sessions, sector-wide education sessions… Ideally education begins prior to commencing a role and then is ongoing, but is helpful even for those further down the track.
Education should include the likes of:
- The biology of stress (normalising stress responses) and tools to support wellbeing
- Disaster recovery concepts - typical trajectories, community processes, complexity, psychosocial recovery and useful messaging, tools and strategies to support wellbeing and manage stress which can be used in their role with communities
- Realistic expectations – preparation for possible anger and frustration reactions from residents, and knowing what is feasible in terms of expected achievements
- Role boundaries - a clear understanding of the role, including aims, limits, issue escalation referral pathways and supports, and their place in someone’s recovery, for example a rescuer/fixer versus a supporter
- Local awareness – development of a local cultural understanding, including an appreciation of the heterogeneous nature of the communities, local priorities and sensitivities
Market education sessions in relation to benefits to the disaster-affected residents, because those with a role in recovery are more likely to prioritise their valuable time with those they support in mind.
Enlist an experienced and well respected person from within or without the team – someone venerated for their skills and knowledge, who is willing to share their personal cautionary tale of negative stress impacts. It is incredibly powerful to know that these impacts can happen to someone who is amazing at what they do and is not a function of weakness or ineptitude. This allows people to feel able to professionalise looking after themselves, admitting their limitations and putting their hand up for support if needed.
And I have been doubting and blaming myself and thinking that I am weak. Now you are telling me that other people feel these things too? I realise now that I am human. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Anon - Japan
During induction have staff shadow others, attend community meetings, read reports to gain an understanding before getting let loose. Take time to develop a cultural understanding and realistic expectations of the reality including preparing themselves for the level of anger they might experience. Have them go into the community, volunteer on people’s blocks, hear from locals first-hand about their challenges. Take time to understand the culture and understanding the complexity is so important. Greg Ireton – Advisor, Victorian Government
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 plan 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.
Lighten the load
Ensuring loads carried by the supporters are feasible is a vital method of support. The complexity and difficulty of the recovery environment may render pre-disaster determinants of work- or case-loads void. Proactively manage workloads and scale back expectations or if resourcing allows, scale up resources. Other ways to lighten the load for supporters include:
- Ensure adequate staffing for project implementation, administration and core-support services (I.T., Communications etc)
- Ensure support structures, such as I.T., Communications, H.R., Finance etc., reduce load rather than inadvertently add to it. This requires acknowledgement of the need for flexibility in a non-business-as-usual environment and a responsiveness to the complexity and needs of the recovery context
- Adapt and simplify systems and processes to make them less onerous and more applicable to recovery
- Find creative means, such as seconding people or enlisting professional volunteers, to assist with tasks such as I.T., marketing, media management, funding applications, reporting, and administration, freeing the supporters up to do what they do best
- Take a holistic view when seeking opportunities to lighten the load
- The individual often felt torn between the needs of families (many related to the disaster) and the demands of their role supporting others. Include families in education sessions, provide them information and extend support beyond the individual to the family to minimise this added stress.
- Provide practical support to directly address their recovery challenges of those who are affected themselves.
We need a model where there are people in a position to work alongside you and when the phone rings with something they can handle they can say ‘I’ll do it’. It is important that they don’t take over from you but they are there to support you and pick up the slack. Someone a bit detached with some clarity can sometimes be helpful – they’d have to be the right person but those people are out there, that have empathy, are efficient and have amazing clarity. Fiona Leadbeater – Kinglake Ranges
Adapt systems. For example reports – talk through reports on the phone as they are driving and type it for them. Kate Brady – Australian Red Cross
In Christchurch, St John (Ambulance) provided such a service to address recovery challenges for their staff and volunteers. Their ambulance officers were making critical decisions as part of their role while carrying huge pressures relating to their own insurance, relocation, rebuild, zoning or repair dilemmas, along with relationship issues, children struggling to cope and living in substandard housing. Providing counselling support, though helpful for some, was not addressing the cause of the problem. Expertise was brought in to project manage individual claims; to provide insurance law advice, structural engineering and a myriad of other specialist resources required to navigate the claims pathway. The service was deemed successful by the organisation and considered great value for the investment.
Reflect, acknowledge and celebrate
Because recovery is relentless and all-consuming it is very easy to lose perspective and to become overwhelmed and exhausted. One of the best tonics is reflection time – particularly time away is particularly vital to help people keep in touch with a normal frame of reference and prevent them from becoming consumed by the recovery realities. Sponsoring or supporting breaks away – using leverage to arrange holiday homes that volunteers, community leaders or staff can use without eating into their leave or finances would be one example. Providing regular opportunities to recharge and refresh will help retain energy and motivation over the duration of the recovery journey.
People are more likely to feel able to take a needed break if they feel reassured that provisions have been made to continue their work while they are away, otherwise returning to a compounded workload will add to rather than reduce stress.
Both individual and team opportunities for reflection are vital.
Build in a retreat to discuss successes, challenges, provide three meals and a massage, have time to laugh, play nonsense games – laughter is as cathartic as crying. Every so many months have a retreat so that workers can reflect, replenish and then plan for the next so many months. But you need to build it in. Term it planning and replenishment. Replenishment is the most important, but it is harder to sell, so sell it as planning, but spend most of the time on re-energising and then use the creative energy to throw around ideas and plan on the last day. Jill Hofmann – American Red Cross
Acknowledgement and recognition that is meaningful and sincere in its delivery can take many forms. It needn’t be public awards or trumpeting of accomplishments as many are humble and do not seek the spotlight. Whether it is a thank you, a plaque, vouchers for a meal out, tickets to events… find out what might be meaningful. Recognition is not a box to tick but is sincerely motivated and continues over time.
Celebrating success is particularly vital when demands are relentless, there is little control over outcomes and feedback is often disconcerting. People in helping roles are often motivated to make a difference, but tend to fixate on the outstanding, often overwhelming, need. This is a function of their propensity to care. We all need positive feedback so that we know our efforts count for something. Celebrating successes can be instigated at all levels and be done in a myriad of different ways.
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.
Additional tips for governance/senior leadership
When supporting the supporters in disaster recovery, these are the additional points interviewees made with governance and senior leadership in mind. They serve as additional pointers, over and above the ’12 principles of support’ and ‘Top tips for implementation’.
Employees look to the organisation for more than their employment - the workplace is more than a team of people with a connected organisational vision and linked roles. It serves as a community. There is clarity as to employer responsibility should workers be hurt on the job. However, when your workforce has faced collective trauma, unrelated to the job, but which affects their wellbeing and all aspects of their life including work, then it is worth considering what role the organisation might play in supporting the recovery of its own people. What recovery challenges do your people and their families face? How might your organisation be able to provide support and/or contribute to addressing these concerns?
The workplace is a community and provides many other things beyond an occupation – culture, social, and identity. Research shows the most effective form of delivery of support services after 9-11 was workplace supports – used more readily than community services. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery 
Spend time immersed and exposed to the realities on the ground - Put time aside to be present, offer to help in practical ways, listen, watch and learn. Create opportunities to keep the supporters, and the challenges they face, on your radar. For example, nominate a liaison person whose role is to keep it front and centre for you.
Practice realism – Recognise that recovery is messy, unlikely to progress as planned, and that business-as-usual practices and expectations are unrealistic. Appreciating efforts, accepting how demoralising the bumps and swerves can be for the supporters, who are often their own worst critics and learning from rather than judging missteps, will go a long way to reducing the stress of the supporters.
I like to say everything is ‘gooshy’. Like an amoeba. It never stays in a constant state. Jill Hofmann – American Red Cross
I am so grateful to my board. Our success comes from the fact that they supported me to lead, to grow and make mistakes, knowing that I would be a harder critic on myself than anyone else could be. Lisa Orloff – World Cares Center
Long term approach - Sufficient resourcing for a long term approach should be a requisite for considering and implementing recovery initiatives. This includes delivery personnel, long term funding and administrative and operational supports and personnel support components. Recovery does not end in the financial year.
If you are planning to do it for one year then have the ability to do it for three. As agencies, wherever possible, refuse 12 months’ funding; unless you (the funder) make it three years we’re not going to do it. John Richardson – Australian Red Cross
Advocate to reduce pressures on those working in recovery – be they political or public pressures regarding speed, unrealistic expectations or a premature return to business as usual. Put the brakes on. Ensuring that recovery programming occurs in a considered manner and in a format that staff and volunteers will be able to sustain over time will involve consciously slowing down the pace. This may mean proactively owning and challenging the discourse. With courage and leadership, play a role in educating and challenging others when expectations are unrealistic.
Support of managers - Ensuring managers within the organisation are not over-burdened, are not promoted beyond their comfort levels, and are given support to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to support their teams, will in turn contribute to the wellbeing of your people. If these managers are locally-based, they too may require additional support.
Acknowledge the efforts of, and provide support to, all those involved in interacting with the public in the long-term post-disaster environment – not only those with a recovery-specific role.
Play bad cop to the team’s good cop - Locally based teams often live within the communities they support and unpopular decisions or choices can have devastating and wide-reaching impacts for local staff. Protect your teams wherever possible by being the face of the unpopular decisions or unforeseen negative outcomes.
Front the tough decisions in the community so that they are not attributed to local staff. Greg Ireton – Advisor, Victorian Government
Communication within your organisation is always important. In the recovery context it is even more so, yet it is challenging to do well. Allow for the impacts of stress which makes message absorption more difficult. Use varied methods, a multitude of times. Clearly articulate reasons for decisions and progress on issues, even if news is not positive.
If you are remote you need very good communication both up and down the chain to keep people aware of what’s going on so things don’t disappear into a black hole only to emerge a few months later. If fed up the chain let them know “Yep we’ve got that” and keep people informed on progress. You hold people’s trust and goodwill if you let them know you’ve got their best interests at heart. Even if you have to come back and say “We couldn’t solve it”, you’ve demonstrated your intention and that engenders goodwill. It is difficult to do it well. John Richardson – Australian Red Cross
Communication within the agency. It is easy said and difficult done. But a conscious effort is needed or things go wrong so easily. Dr Tomoko Osawa – Hyogo Institute for Traumatic Stress
Make it okay for your people not to ‘be you’
Some organisations are led by CEOs who embody that leader who is one in a million. They don’t have to sleep. They have a nuclear generator of hope inside and can carry an organisation with their charisma. But if this is held up as the model for everyone else, then turn over is high. You cannot expect that of everyone else. Those kind of role models are organisational bricks. It’s about making it okay for everyone else not to be you. Have realistic expectations and give people permission to have the limitations they have. Then you can honour the honest efforts of everyone else. Dr James Guy – Headington Institute
Additional tips for Human Resource personnel
When supporting the supporters in disaster recovery, these are the additional points interviewees made with Human Resource personnel in mind. They serve as additional pointers, over and above the ’12 principles of support’ and ‘Top tips for implementation’.
Develop an understanding of disaster recovery and how this translates to teams. Understand the typical recovery trajectories and stages. Consider how these stages also apply to those working in a post-disaster environment, with implications for team dynamics and support. Anger, fear and frustration from team members and resulting conflict is often a function of intense or cumulative stress – a survival/defense mechanism. No one is immune to stress.
Down the track you get the fatigue element which leads people to be irritable and short tempered and therefore less tolerant. Friction needs managing carefully and sensitively. The emotional climate gets very tatty in the second and third year – people get quite reactive. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery
Work to understand the local context and to form relationships and establish trust with staff and volunteers. Second an HR person to the team with a dedicated role of team support. An embedded role within the team is preferred. If embedding is not possible, find other ways to become a member of the team – attend meetings, come to retreats and planning days.
It doesn’t help to be forced to do things we are not ready for so establish a relationship. For people to take time out needs trust and an established relationship so they will listen and not feel like it is another organisational demand. Have HR close – a representative close to the team and have them have a good sense of what is happening for the team. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery
Include staff wellbeing in all HR or occupational health and safety processes and policies. The post-disaster HR policy needs to encompass a fatigue management system. Employ multiple fatigue management methods such as healthy work hour limits, breaks, extra leave, diversity of tasks to limit time spent on the challenging aspects of the role, rotating or seconding staff out… Mandate extra leave in recognition of the stress of their role and in recognition of their own recovery-related challenges so that annual leave can be taken to refresh and maintain wellbeing as intended. Make certain leave is taken, and taken before the point of exhaustion. Ensure resourcing is in place so that people feel confident to step away from their projects or work as needed.
At the coal face you need to rest before you are exhausted. If exhausted your ability to recoup energy is less. Otherwise, the first third of leave is spent having migraines or the flu etc and is wasted. The intuitive sense is to take leave when you are exhausted. If you get to -10 in terms of energy and take leave you get back to 0, but as soon as you are working again you are already eating up your reserves. If you take leave before exhaustion, say at -5 and get to +5, then you have at least built up some reserves. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery
You need extra leave – for people working in recovery regardless if living it or not, but it is particularly pertinent for those living it. There should be a policy of extra leave for people who have been through a disaster – after all there is family violence leave, bereavement leave…. But also for people who work in it. So if you live it and work in it you get both. Kate Brady – Australian Red Cross
Additional support to leaders ‘feeling the squeeze’ - Team leaders and managers have a responsibility for supporting the wellbeing of their teams. However, during disaster recovery team leaders and managers also ‘feel the squeeze’ and will need encouragement and support to keep worker wellbeing front and centre.
Assist team leaders with drafting role profiles and screen and select staff carefully with role boundaries, challenges and stress-management in mind. Match people carefully to roles. Help team leaders to prioritise time for planning, team building, reflection and the celebration of successes.
HR could be the people who keep an eye on the fact that the teams have opportunities to stop, meet and reflect on a regular basis and that these don’t get pushed aside for operational activity, i.e. someone who could come in to run debriefs. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery
Act as a broker. Support volunteers and staff with basic, practical needs. Link to information, resources and support.
Keep asking ‘If we had to do this over again how might we have inducted, trained or supported you? What else did you need? What could we do differently?’ and continually shape the processes and plug the gaps.
Tell us what is an issue. HR can be like a broker, knowing who to go to, linking to resources - creating capacity that way. Katie Barnett – British Red Cross
Lead the way, and bring in support – build partnerships with the likes of public health or university researchers to help create monitoring instruments or a cost-benefit case for staff support.
Assess and track staff and volunteer wellbeing and measure effectiveness of supports put in place – knowing that maintaining wellbeing (let alone increasing it) is a sign of success.
If support is working it doesn’t look like anything at all. It is a pleasant conversation once a month, but if you stop it then the problems build up. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery
Bend and flex HR processes. Flexibility with regard to working hours and conditions was considered incredibly important – such as being able to work around rebuild/repair appointments, home relocations or family commitments, the option to start later after attaining little sleep, the opportunity to work days from home if helpful.
Know that if you have selected good workers, most people working in recovery will be dedicated and the focus will need to be on ensuring they do not overwork rather than underwork. Therefore, if you select staff well, you can have confidence that you can grant flexibility of working hours and conditions with trust.
Don’t wait for things to be put in writing – exempt people from having to do this. Speed up processes – add in flexibility… flexibility re discretionary leave, and practical recognition. For example an afternoon off and time to regroup when needed. Alexina Baldini - CIMA
Look for the good worker. This is particularly true when you're not sure what you should be doing – the good worker will figure it out. Most of the good recovery workers I’ve worked with are just good workers generally. Make it easy for them to work flexibly – in my experience, they don’t exploit it, but if you hold to rigidity in your rules, it makes it harder for them to pace themselves. Kate Brady – Australian Red Cross
Standard contractual periods may not be appropriate in the recovery context. Be prepared to match contracts with a long term sustainable programme approach. Short term contracts, which are often then extended, encourage time pressures and an unsustainable pace. They also create uncertainty and anxiety for staff unnecessarily as recovery is not a short-term phenomenon. Consider longer term contracts unless the preferred candidate would rather opt for short term.
Value and support those on short term contracts as you would permanent staff.
HR is often rigid and driven by theoretical considerations into risk management and are insistent that people do things because of the risk to the organisation rather than the asset to a person’s health. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery
The HR role can be crucial. It can be the lynchpin pivoting between the individual and the organisation as a whole. Alexina Baldini - CIMA
Additional tips for funders
Over and above the ’12 principles of support’ and ‘Top tips for implementation’ these are the key messages to funders with an interest in supporting those playing a role in recovery.
Resource and support organisations to support their personnel
Regardless of the size of an organisation, supporting personnel is vital. Resource organisations, individually or collectively, to enable them to support personnel. Most commonly requested supports involved a combination of:
- Opportunities for breaks away or retreats – for replenishment and reflection
- Roving relievers (with built in time for shadowing and learning systems)
- Linking with mentors, networks, professional supervision and those who have a lived experience of a role in recovery
- Access to knowledge, info and expertise
- Stress management skill development sessions
- Load lightening support such as administration, IT, marketing etc
- Expertise to create or tailor staff and volunteer support processes
It needs to be automatic thinking – a dual approach. For any psychosocial intervention add support for staff and community leaders who will be stressed due to the responsibility involved. Winnifred Simon – Antares Foundation
In one community in the school they had more support of the practical type. They were supported with assistant teachers alongside every teacher, they had a retreat space and a communal space for parents. The other school did not have this. There is a huge difference in the journeys of the respective school communities with the one that received the support going from strength to strength. Fiona Leadbeater – Volunteer, Kinglake Ranges
Include a requirement for a staff and volunteer wellbeing component, as good practice, in all proposal requirements (without sacrificing monies for service delivery).
Donors have a responsibility to model and enable systematic staff care practices for the sector. This is both through prioritising psychosocial support needs in key codes or guidelines as well as resourcing organisations to do this more effectively. Kate Minto – Mandala Foundation
Fund long-term, sustainable recovery initiatives, recognising community building and complexity, not just tangible quick-wins. Long term funding ensures recovery is sustainable and meaningful, but also reduces the burden of multiple re-applications, lessens the stress and anxiety of role uncertainty and encourages more sustainable pace-setting for the long term than do short-term contracts. It also recognises the long-term nature of recovery and ameliorates the phenomenon of funding saturation in the early post-disaster days followed by scarcity from year three onwards when post-disaster needs continue and exhaustion is commonplace.
We expect the situation to continue for more than ten years. … People expect projects which are begun to be continued. Fund long term as the needs continue or you will create more issues in the long run than you will solve. Tohru Shirakawa - JVC
If you are planning to do it for one year then have the ability to do it for three. As agencies, wherever possible, refuse 12 months’ funding; unless you (the funder) make it three years we’re not going to do it. John Richardson – Australian Red Cross
Fund the non-tangible for meaningful, sustainable impacts. Some of the most valuable recovery support is about the psychosocial, and is process oriented not output oriented. Preoccupation with concrete outputs neglects vital social processes at the heart of community development and disaster recovery.
The rhetoric of community resilience has been increasing used in the disaster preparedness and response field in the US, but this has not been matched by a change in policy and procedures that support methods of community engagement and capacity building… There is a tangible output focus and the systems of accountability are head counting not social processes. Dr Jack Saul - International Trauma Studies Program
Embrace flexibility – Recovery is not business-as-usual. It is unpredictable, ever-changing and complex. Therefore standard ways of operating do not suffice. Have a clear objective, but allow autonomy on the how. This acknowledges not only that recovery is fluid but also that those at the community level are best placed to flex and respond to meet the changing need with regards to the objective. If the end goal is a positive outcome for community, then the community-based organisations are the best motivated and the best positioned to be able to achieve this if they are given the freedom to do so.
Avoid strings. Constraints and conditions act as barriers to flexibly meeting communities’ recovery needs and adds the burden of finding multiple funding sources per project. Be prepared to fund all project elements - most crucial of which are people.
A strict system of rules to access funding – assiduous in reporting and documenting how you use the money and a tight budget and various rules and restraints... It is nicer to have a situation where you give the overall vision of what you’d like to do and the funder gives money in a way which allows flexibility to apply the money as you best see fit so long as the end goal is met or contributed to in the end, without all the restrictions. Kyoko Watanabe – Ishinomaki 2.0
Not putting expectations on your assistance. And imposed timeframes – we were written a nasty letter from a donor, wishing they hadn’t helped us as we hadn’t completed the community project according to their timelines. We wanted to do it in a considered way. Photo opportunities detract from the gift – we have bereaved people and then they are asked to come and smile for the camera. We are beyond grateful for what we have received but the thank you letters weighed on us… But the contributions that came without any expectation – they were a breath of fresh air. We could take it and appreciate it. Maybe a learning for everybody is the lesson of the true act of giving. If the expectation is that you will need a thank you maybe don’t do it. Fiona Leadbeater – Volunteer, Kinglake Ranges
It is difficult to value and measure the impact of staff but they are a huge success factor. It just isn’t going to work without the people. There isn’t spare capacity in agencies. There isn’t someone sitting around waiting to pick up new initiatives. John Richardson – Australian Red Cross
Recognise as legitimate and valuable the role that grassroots leaders, volunteers and non-traditional recovery supporters play. Value their pride and their knowledge. Build their capacity in response to their self-identified need, but avoid changing or diluting their essence - their ways of doing things in the community.
Don’t be so damned professional. If you act like a robot and sound like a robot people will think you are a robot. You have to have a warm heart, beating blood and compassion. Meet with them and get to know them and get to support them anyway you can because the grassroots don’t hit red tape. The little fish don’t always have to follow the same protocols – support them as they can often do more freely what the big fish really want to be able to do but can’t. Do your research and then be prepared to take a gamble. Maybe start with a small piece of the pie and build an active working relationship. We know how to stretch a dollar. Mike Hoffman – Yellow Boots, Staten Island
Consult and think creatively to smooth processes and reduce demands, recognising that the scarce commodity of time is best spent supporting communities and will ultimately maximise outcomes. For example, simplifying application and reporting procedures and stretching the reporting periods (for example from quarterly to bi-annually or yearly) equates to a lightened load and more time supporting communities.
Flexibility is important. Know that in recovery you need to suspend or loosen up normal business procedures. Explore how you can do things a little more flexibly or the demands put an enormous pressure on people. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery
Operate from a place of humility
Funders, check your expectations at the door. It is not about you, it is about them. John Richardson – Australian Red Cross
See ourselves as supporting sponsors – not the main actor. We are a sub-character I say. Tohru Shirakawa - JVC
Messages for those with a role in recovery
These messages are for those playing a role in supporting communities during recovery from a disaster - shared wisdom, from your global community of those who have been before.
Look after yourself in order to look out for others. This includes pacing yourself. Community need will continue over a prolonged period, so if you are planning to support for the duration, avoid wearing yourself out in the first leg. Proactively keep your battery topped up. Replenish. Regularly participate in activities which give you energy whatever they may be; music, swimming, dancing, social activities, gardening… Get away. Regularly take time out away from the disaster-affected environment to reconnect with the world outside, regain perspective and to top up the tank.
It is a long battle. Take care of yourself. If you could – rather than be fat and short, be thin and long and pace yourself. It just goes on and on. There is a limit to how much you can do in one go. Being there continuously is a blessing. Even if you feel you cannot do anything – being there is a wonderful thing. Dr Tomoko Osawa – Hyogo Institute for Traumatic Stress, Kobe
Dedicate as much time to your own recovery as you do to others’. Anon – Kinglake Ranges
Balance reasonable expectations and optimism - Have realistic expectations and focus on the possible. Keep hope and focus on the good.
There is a story about Mother Teresa that I think illustrates it nicely. … Given the overwhelming need she faced, they asked her how she bore the sense of responsibility. She said she only felt the responsibility to do what she could with that person in that moment. I just want to help where I can. The mentality of “I realise I can only help to the extent that I can” is so different to people who think they can help until they drop. The latter is a noble strategy, but it is a losing strategy. Dr James Guy – Headington Institute
For some reason we’ve experienced that it is human nature always to go to the negative – what we weren’t able to assist with rather than what we did do. Journal - write down the positive stuff and what you’ve accomplished. Identify successes and accomplishments. Lisa Orloff – World Cares Center
For me, this means finding the seeds of resilience within the hearts and minds of the affected people, and to carry on my own work with the knowledge of their resilience to support me. I think that the first step in providing support is to believe that people will someday be able to start their lives again. In this sense, I think that having a totally unfounded sense of optimism is a big asset. Humans have used this to continue to survive since the beginning of time. Kyoko Nakatani - Psychologist, Kobe
Connect - Be courageous and let others support you. Create for yourself a network of positive and supportive people. Know that you are not alone. What you may be feeling and experiencing is a human reaction to a challenging load. Connect and you will find others are feeling the same way and others with previous lived experience who can support you. You are part of a global community of people working in recovery, often feeling isolated, but who face similar challenges and have similar reactions.
If I were doing it again I would gather all my friends for a potluck meal and say this is what I’m embarking on and what I need from you in the next two years… I would get my ducks in the water. If I had relied on them more I would have done better and not experience such depletion at the end of a two or three year journey through disaster. Jill Hofmann – American Red Cross
Don’t stay alone. Stay connected. There can be the tendency to mentally isolate yourself and burden yourself with ‘I have to do this.’ Collect your friends and understand your obstacles. Tineke van Pietersom – Antares Foundation
The elders in my community – they are the old heads with maturity and experience – calm experience. They look after me and support me but aren’t afraid to have a word to me if I step out of line. I listen and respect them. And I encourage others to do this as well. Brad Quilliam – Kinglake Ranges Business Network
Build a bridge - The gulf in understanding between those working locally in recovery and distantly located management, funders or recovery authorities is a stressor, for those working towards recovery from within the community and often also for those assisting from the outside.
It helps to acknowledge that this is more likely to occur than not and proactively consider strategies to address this likelihood.
Those who have come after the fact are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. We think ‘Don’t pretend you know and understand’ and at the same time ‘Show some compassion!’ But we need them. They will help with volunteer fatigue, but we have to work out how to let others help. … We all grapple with accepting help from outside. We’ll close rank. We’ll know best. We want to protect our communities from further damage. Fiona Leadbeater – Volunteer, Kinglake Ranges
…how much of an outsider you feel. And it is never used in a positive way. It is only ever used against you as a weapon. I cannot speak for everyone who is an outsider - but you are so aware that you don’t get it, that you don’t understand. You are so aware that you are not part of the game, you are so aware of it all the time. And for me that has resulted in me not doing things I probably should have done -being gun shy a lot of the time… You are so aware that your opinion will never have the same level of importance, and you are so aware that you have to be constantly apologetic and constantly cautious and… Not everyone feels like that though I think. Kate Brady – Australian Red Cross
Sometimes egos, agendas or lack of willingness to gain an appreciation of local realities may make the gulf too difficult to span, and scarce and precious energy might be better placed elsewhere. However, for every person on the other side of the divide who is not willing, there is likely to be one who is genuine and whose contributions or efforts are too readily discounted.
Using common values or a shared noble purpose as a guide, consider selectively building bridges. If the approach and effort is sincerely motivated and relates to a genuine need, rather than blocking it at the first attempt, consider finding a way to work together to build understanding and shape the approach to something useful. In our frustration with outsiders who do not understand and show no interest in doing so, we may underestimate our own role in erecting roadblocks to useful alliances and support.
Early on we realised that to support and engage our people a ‘grass roots’ communication strategy would be the most successful as opposed to our traditional method of Wellington-based and led communications. This created some upset. Understanding the intrinsic need was fundamental to all parties buying into the change. But it was the right thing to do. A couple of years down the track though there is the realisation that any approach comes with pros and cons. At times there are complaints about the lack of understanding of those outside of Christchurch – they just don't get it. But we have to consider the part we have played in this too. Kaye Taiaroa, IRD, Christchurch
Where a bridge might be built, be open in discussion, guide gently, use the power of stories and concrete examples, capitalise on sensory impact, encourage time spent on the ground amongst the reality. As a radical example, shifting high level meetings from head offices to the damaged or temporary home of one of the team changes the lens through which issues and accomplishments are viewed.
When we are high on stress and low on tolerance, as is usually the case in long term recovery, building these bridges takes deliberate effort, patience and kindness. But never underestimate the power of the collective. It can do wonders to have people alongside you, supporting you, rather than hollering at each other across the chasm!
And these people came from outside and what they wanted to do, I thought it was ridiculous! But they did it, and later I realised it was great. Sometimes the perspective of someone who is a little bit removed, when you are stuck in it, can be helpful. … I would say, allow for the fact that people can see things you cannot and allow space for things to emerge. Anne Leadbeater – Kinglake Ranges
Collaborate. Avoid re-inventing the wheel, find others with similar interests and consider novel partnerships.
Let the leaders lead and the workers work. Combine skills, intelligence and resources. It makes more sense to work together. It is stupid to be stubborn – leave your ego at the door. Humble yourself to hear a person out if they have knowledge. There might be ten things you may disagree with but two or three useful things that you can adapt. With ants – if you have two different colonies and you put them together they will bind together for the greater good. There are no egos. They can lift a hundred times their body weight and work in perfect unison. If ants had the brains we have they’d be ruling the world. Mike Hoffman – Yellow Boots, Staten Island
Perform an appraisal of your own ‘fitness’ and have strategies in place for stress. Know your signs of stress and your stress triggers – in advance. Have strategies – your personal stress-busters. These may be different for everyone but some form of physical exercise within your strategies was a common suggestion. Humour, laughter – for many, was a very important strategy. Find ways to express tension, frustration and emotion.
Have a good understanding as to what organisational supports are available to you. Ask questions, advocate, and know the limitations so that you can plan and compensate for any shortfalls.
It’s very clear that none of us are very good at self-care. I haven’t found anyone good at self-care – ever! There are all the reasons why – we are care takers, we are busy, we are doing this, we are doing that… But coming up with a list of short things you can do. Okay so you can’t go to a yoga session but can you pause on your way from your office to the car and notice the colour of the sky? Can you let other people take care of you? (Something a lot of care-takers have trouble with. And a lot of our friends and family want to take care of us but we create this reputation that we do it all). So there have to be simple things that people can build into their days that are not this complicated - I have to go to the gym every night, I have to learn how to meditate. One of the co-facilitators decided she had to learn how to meditate and so had to read every book on the subject and made it this major project and she never did - rather than trying just to be still for a minute! Create a short list of things that you can commit to. Diane Ryan – American Red Cross
Clarify the organisational support systems that are in place, such as briefing, debriefing, leave, time in lieu, R&R… Ask questions of your organisation to support your understanding of what is there and any limitations. Consider also what your own responsibilities for self-care are in this context. Kate Minto – Mandala Foundation
Operate with kindness – both towards yourself and your team. Your team is one of your most powerful resources of support. However, as tiredness increases and tolerance decreases, chronic stress encourages a narrowed focus on our challenges, as a survival mechanism, at the expense of the needs of others. This puts teams under strain and creates an environment in which misunderstandings and conflict can thrive. Rather than being a source of support, the team can then become a source of stress. As team members, a powerful strategy is to make a deliberate effort to operate from a position of kindness. Considering the other’s perspective, defaulting to understanding and kindness when not in agreement, small gestures, tokens of support, words of encouragement... These are not natural responses when overwhelmed yourself, but if team members can use kindness as a guiding philosophy and strategy, stress diminishes and collegial support grows.
Find the fun in your role
The best thing to be able to keep going is to enjoy it yourself – not just I am helping you but also something you can enjoy. Get something out of it. Japanese society views playing around and enjoying yourself as a bad thing – they emphasise diligence and being a good citizen. But if I were doing this again I would be less worried about what people think for bringing the fun factor in. Plug the enjoyment factor. Kyoko Watanabe – Ishinomaki 2.0
Remember the other roles and goals in your life - Know that opting out is a valid option.
At the end of the day, it mightn’t feel like it, but someone else can do your job. But no one else can be your kids’ Mum. No one else can be you in your real life. If the two are conflicting, you can say no. Halfway through you have to know you can back out. Kate Brady – Australian Red Cross
I lost a good chunk of happiness. It is not the price we should pay for caring for others. Don’t sacrifice yourself. Lisa Orloff – World Cares Center
 North CS1, Pfefferbaum B, Hong BA, Gordon MR, Kim YS, Lind L, Pollio DE. (2013) Workplace response of companies exposed to the 9/11 World Trade Center attack: a focus-group study. Disasters. Jan;37(1):101-18
Some helpful tips can be found in: Australian Red Cross. (2010) Communicating in Recovery. Carlton, Vic: Australian Red Cross
A useful reference for HR personnel supporting teams post-disaster is: Nilakant, K., Walker, B., Rochford, K., van Heugten, K. (2014). Leading in a Post-disaster setting: Guidance for human resource practitioners. New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations, 38, 1-13
The quote from Kaye Taiaroa (right) originated from a meeting held on 3 April, 2014, prior to this research.
The evidence-based ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ are a helpful guide – more details can be found in Appendix E
A New Zealand Red Cross self-care template is included in Appendix K and has been a useful tool for the team in Christchurch