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New Project | Frontline Worker Wellbeing Project is underway

New Project | Frontline Worker Wellbeing Project is underway

New Project | Frontline Worker Wellbeing Project is underway

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

“To do what nobody else will do, in a way that nobody else can, in spite of all we go through”

- Rawsi Williams

Working in the homelessness sector can be described in a multitude of ways - exciting, rewarding, valuable, crucial, but it can also be demanding and stressful. These things can happen across a working week, a shift, or all at once - but you hope the balance of excitement and rewards, against stress and demands feels reasonable and fair.

Christmas is a complicated time for those experiencing homelessness, and also for those supporting them. Staff are putting in maximum effort and sacrifice every day, and especially during tough times. We know that currently, staff across the sector are experiencing substantial difficulties in terms of burnout and impacted wellbeing. In 2022, 58% of client-facing workers reported feeling that their role had a negative impact on their wellbeing. In addition, the negative impacts of the recent cost-of-living crisis, combined with increasing organisational challenges (e.g. staff shortages) and greater demand for homelessness services, have all led to worsening working conditions for workers. In fact, 12% of client-facing workers were worried about becoming homeless themselves.

As it stands, we don’t know enough to confidently manage all the issues that impact how we feel at work. Trying to address this, with the generous support of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, The Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI) and What Works Centre for Wellbeing (WWCW) are leading on a programme of work to better understand how to improve wellbeing for client-facing staff across the homelessness sector.  

Over the past 6 months CHI and WWCW have run workshops with 101 staff members across 21 organisations. We heard staff describe the factors impacting their wellbeing from feeling valued for their work and feeling that work makes a difference, to pay and the cost of living, and traumatic events. Encouragingly, many people described how caring their colleagues were, and how having a compassionate and supportive workplace culture was very important in protecting them from stress and burnout. 

So what next for our project? In February 2024, we will be running a trial through Frontline Networks, evaluating whether regular stories and messages about good practice and positive experiences can help staff to feel connected and encouraged about their work. This trial has been shown to be successful with other workforces prone to burnout and importantly is linked to workshop discussions where staff told us that interventions aimed at feeling connected to each other have the greatest impact. Even though online interventions weren’t as popular as face-to-face among workshop attendees, running things online is often easier and can be done more frequently.

This trial will hopefully show how important simple, light-touch messages between colleagues across services can help them, and whether it is enough to make a difference to staff feeling stressed and worn out. 

During the workshops we heard about exciting peer-led initiatives, often just between small groups or services, all put in place to help boost connection and support among colleagues. Staff spoke enthusiastically about them, and explained how small projects created on the ground can be creative, impactful and well designed because staff know exactly what they need. We want to know more! If you work in client-facing services and are involved in such an initiative or are thinking about setting something up, please let us know via paul@homelessnessimpact.org 

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