Reflections on the challenges staff have faced

Fiona Blair, head of service for CONTACT, our staff counselling service, reflects on the challenges staff have experienced throughout the last two years and how we can focus on the things that are within our power to control.

Viktor Frankl"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves"

This quote seems to me to sum up the current situation so well – it truly seems at times overwhelming that there is so much we are not in control of right now. There is still so much uncertainty, anxiety, fear, tiredness, weariness and despair. Yet staff continue to also hold compassion, kindness, care and faith in the work that they do and the value of that workday in and day out.

There is a unique and beautiful story behind every person and therefore every member of staff at our Trust. At CONTACT, we’re in the unique and privileged position to listen, to bear witness, and to hold the many stories that come into our rooms. It is often humbling and always an honour to be trusted to share in another’s story, even for a moment.

While the facts of the pandemic have been the same for all of us, at CONTACT, we’ve had the opportunity to hear how individuals have experienced and felt the pandemic differently. This may be because of where in the storm staff were positioned, which group we travelled in, or which resources and support were available to us throughout. As we feel and anticipate further aftershocks, our experiences will continue to be influenced by where we are and who we are with, and we must all be conscious of where we can turn for support.

Staff have shown incredible strength and integrity and yet many have also felt pain and despair at levels they have never experienced before. There are stories of innovation and creativity, stories of teams bonding, of connectedness and belonging. There are also stories of loss, of grief and sorrow. And there are many stories of resilience and growth.

The pandemic has for some changed and challenged their usual narrative, it has unearthed previous perhaps untold stories, it has and continues to challenge many of us to really think about what matters to us, what we can control, and what we might want to change or do differently. It has also challenged many to look at what really works and what doesn’t, both professionally and personally, and has highlighted the existential questions of meaning, value and purpose.

Sometimes it may have felt that the meaning, value and purpose for staff has been under threat. Many of us have noticed and felt disparities, perhaps in the wider society and closer to home within different staffing groups, cultures and teams across the Trust. Questions of fairness, questions of injustice, questions of comparison and difference.

On behalf of myself and the CONTACT team, I want to remind staff that sometimes it is important to give voice to our stories – to find the safe spaces where we can share of ourselves and sometimes to share some of the burden and heaviness and also the joy and sacredness of what we carry. The rich tapestry of life is echoed in the reality that life is always about balancing and holding all of what we are, all of our strengths and our vulnerabilities – and realising that sometimes our vulnerabilities can also be our strengths.

These remain uncertain times. In our personal and professional lives when we feel we are constantly facing adversity, most of which we cannot change or control, there are perhaps four things that we do have some control over:

  • Brianna Vieira Things I Can Control illustration
    How we respond (to our circumstance, ourselves and others)
  • How we adapt (what can we do differently?)
  • How we breathe (when and how do we pause, reflect and refuel)
  • How we take action (what are our priorities and boundaries?)

Reciting the well-known serenity prayer can help us remain focused on what is in our control:

Serenity prayer"May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

Each day, consider: what actions can you take as an individual or within your team to support yourself? What might you need from others? And how can you tap into your own courage and wisdom to put these in place, at home and at work? There is no instant fix for the challenges we face, but focusing on what we may control may help make our challenges feel more manageable.

Staff should visit the wellbeing section of the intranet to find out how to reach the team at CONTACT and find additional resources to support wellbeing.