The latest research published by Skills for Justice this week reveals the extensive mental and physical health impact on police and other public sector staff across the UK, as a result of working and living through COVID-19, and identifies organisational priorities for recovery, both as the country enters the next phase of the pandemic and for the longer-term.
The report, ‘COVID-19 Insights: Impact on staff and priorities for recovery’, produced from the June 2020 COVID-19 Workforce Survey of 2,600 frontline staff, aims to deliver timely intelligence to help employers navigate new and ongoing challenges, using evidence-based learnings from the initial pandemic response. Highlighting a wide range of COVID-instigated factors affecting those working throughout the pandemic, the findings reported start to offer some early quantification of the relative impact on the workforce, including the influence on teamwork, communication, and leadership performance.
Sabina Enback, Senior Researcher, Skills for Justice, and author of the report says:
“Providing intelligence and support to the sector is just one way that Skills for Justice is helping to guide a path to recovery in terms of service delivery, and most importantly to help ensure the wellbeing of policing staff is at the forefront of future ways of working.
“As we enter a second wave of the pandemic, it is crucial that employers take these survey findings into account to enable the workforce to tackle the ongoing challenges related to COVID-19 in the best possible way. It is also really important that employers start to think about what their workforce should look like in the post-pandemic world, considering what new skills might be needed and what type of training should be put in place to develop such skills.”
The research shows that the 68% of workers reporting a negative impact on mental health due to the pandemic, and 45% on physical health, generally resulted from two different work environments, and in many cases led to staff requiring sick leave, or even resigning. Respondents highlighted that remote working made people feel more isolated, and many commented on the unsuitability of their home offices, causing musculoskeletal issues. At the same time, for those working in settings with direct public contact, the stress stemmed not only from the increased risk of catching the virus, and the impact of colleagues, patients or residents falling seriously ill, or even dying, but also from the added workload and new ways of working all having a damaging effect on mental health.
Whilst many of the outcomes identified by the research are negative, the report also reveals areas where there have been a number of positive workforce-related benefits from the coronavirus crisis. 74% state improvements in team working, with extensive collaboration mobilised amongst staff to ensure the best outcomes, a key takeaway which employers will look set to embed in future ways of working long after the pandemic is over. Along with recognising the importance to improve virtual engagement with service users, further empowering a remote workforce, as well as developing employee engagement, and workforce planning.
Sabina adds: “The pandemic has provided all of us with the opportunity to really think about how to provide services in the most effective way possible and to place the focus on outputs. This has led many employers to realise that remote working, as well as virtual services might be the way forward. However, such initiatives need careful planning to meet the needs of users and staff; and of course, the virtual world is still an unknown territory to some, and this needs to be considered.”
As the UK moves into the next phase of COVID-19, Policing Insight Publisher Bernard Rix, writing in the foreword of the report, emphasises the need for policing organisations to utilise intelligence and experience like this research as a “basis to start to learn the workforce-related lessons from the ongoing pandemic. Not just to be better prepared for whenever the ‘next time’ might be, but also to help identify key improvements, needed now and in the near future, to the way things are currently being done.”