As Head of Digital Services at Hounslow, continuing to look after our colleague’s mental health has been critical. The Digital and IT teams were amongst the first to be sent home a week before the official lockdown whilst seeing a doubling in our service demand and most members of the team have not been to our main building since that time. As the crisis continued, the working environment has been become ever tougher with the team maintaining an onsite presence throughout this time alongside the pressures we all have in our personal lives currently.
For IT teams the pressures are unique. In normal times working in IT is a stressful job , surveys have shown over 70% of staff find it stressful – in the public sector we are helping people who deliver critical services and sometimes it is hard for staff not to take criticism personally.
During this time a member of our ServiceDesk team Aman passed away suddenly at 22 from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy which had a huge impact on the team (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/johal-family). We raised money for this cause through a 19 challenge such as to Do any exercise for 19 minutes every day for a week, Do 19 minutes meditation every day for a week or finish every meal with a piece of fruit for 19 meals and had great participation across all teams.
The pressure on mental health has been immense for all staff. The support the council has provided has been fantastic with resilience webinars, continued support from the paid for Employee Assistance Programme from Validium, regular updates from senior managers using Microsoft teams.
All staff are being encouraged to take their holidays on a continued effort to achieve work/life balance. In addition, within our teams we have had quizzes, some virtual pub nights, show and tells for all teams every 2 weeks. We have encouraged people to stay in contact with each other as they would do if they were in the office and call people just to catchup as you would do over coffee or at the desk in more normal times.
We have had a couple major system issues to deal with, which has been even more ‘fun’ with the number of staff at home across the organisation having increased 5-fold. All this alongside supporting Council meetings going virtual out of hours – the work has frequently meant late night working and weekend working.
I have been engaging with our Organisational Development teams on setting up specific seminars for Digital & IT staff through MIND as Hounslow as an organisation is likely to be working remotely for the foreseeable future This will help to ensure we continue to offer support over the extend period of time alongside regular communications to ensure we all remain in touch with each other.
If you need support with your mental health, please ask – people will help. A good starting point for support is https://www.mind.org.uk/ , https://youngminds.org.uk/ or https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/