This Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re sharing some of the ways our team look after the mental health. We’re convinced that our team do some of the hardest work there is in supporting women to find routes out of sexual exploitation. We’re passionate about maintaining a happy and healthy team by creating a culture of reflective practice to process trauma, where staff have the space to practice self-care at work.
Unlike the corporate world, at Beyond the Streets working extra hours doesn’t make you a hero, it’s a cause for concern. We have a culture of arriving and leaving on time, not late. We record extra hours worked in a time sheet and staff are encouraged to take time off in lieu within two weeks of accruing it. If we find that staff are consistently working too many hours, we revisit their workload to see what responsibilities they can be relieved of.
We try to adapt working practices around personalities. Four Seasons. Myers Briggs. Strength Finders. We’ve done all the personality tests – we want to know ourselves and each other well, to ensure that know how our teammates work best. It helps us to support each other better – supporting each of our colleagues differently, in a way that connects with them.
We encourage staff to create healthy boundaries between work and their personal life. That means not checking emails outside of work time and debriefing at the end of the working day to leave thoughts of work in the office.
Maria, Women’s Support Worker at Door of Hope pins a card to our noticeboard every day as she leaves the office. The card reads “leave the day here, pick it up tomorrow”. The act is a symbolic reminder to leave work and the women she is worried about at the office. It’s a way of debriefing from the day, in an effort not to take stress or women’s stories home into her personal life. Practiced daily, these small symbolic acts help us to establish healthy boundaries between work and home.
In supervisions with staff at Beyond the Streets, we often ask “What have you done for fun lately? What have you done to be nice to yourself?”. It’s a regular, helpful reminder to step away from the intensity of our work and let off steam through our activities outside of work. We find this balance helpful in staying emotionally healthy. It helps us to do our jobs with excellence for the long haul, making time for fun in the evening, fuels the hard work we do with women in the day.
Working with women’s wounds often sheds light on our own, sometimes it even creates them. We’ve cultivated a culture of reflective practice in our team. We’re honest about where our work triggers unhelpful emotions for us. We’re explicit in what we need from each other to feel well supported that day. Each of our frontline team have a monthly session with an external supervisor – a professional with a counselling background who helps us process the impact of our work on our lives.
We recognise that sickness is your body asking for rest and attention. As Bessel Van Der Kolk’s famous book on trauma is titled “The Body Keeps Score”. We encourage our staff to listen to their bodies and give it what it needs to stay healthy – sometimes that might be time off to rest and recover. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s not frowned upon here – instead we see sick leave as a positive decision to prioritise health. It also protects and respects the well-being of the wider team, by not passing on illness to them.
We find it helpful for those in frontline work to regularly step out of client work to remind themselves of the national response against violence against women that their work is part of. We encourage our staff to spend half an hour a week reading recent articles or reports on sexual exploitation. We find it to be a great source of inspiration – we aren’t alone in this, we are part of a national sector response – while we work on the frontline, others are advocating for women with policy makers. This time only happens if its protected, we encourage staff to put it in the diary and ring fence that time.
We take a holistic approach to our work and recognise the importance of an individual’s beliefs in sustaining them in it. We therefore look to create space where they look after themselves and meet their spiritual needs during the working day.
Our supporters not only enable the charity to run practically through finances, time and goodwill – they enable the work of Beyond the Streets through the encouragement and energy their giving brings. There can be many lows when working in a difficult issue. The generosity of all of you who support our work enables us to get up again and to fight on behalf of those women who are desperate for support.