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This content is taken from the Maudsley Learning & The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust's online course, COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health. Join the course to learn more.

How might COVID-19 affect teams of key workers?

In this step, we’re going to hear from Carol again and explore some key issues from her story. We’ll hear from Professor Neil Greenberg on moral injury and more from Dr Robyn Vesey on healthcare teams adapting during COVID-19.

While we are focusing on teams of healthcare workers in this step, the content will be applicable to carers, other key workers, and teams more generally.

Carol’s story

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Carol’s Story (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab)

A major theme in Carol’s story is managing change. Keep in mind that most change during COVID-19 has not been planned and so most teams have had to be rapidly responsive.

The changes that Carol mentions relate to many factors that we know impact teams and well-being at work, particularly through work-related stress.

  • Role clarity - How clear we are on our role and responsibilities, including in relation to other colleagues. This can be deeply affected by emergency redeployment and unplanned changes.

  • Physical environment and working conditions - These have shifted rapidly as workers are moved to new environments with new equipment, and must wear uncomfortable personal protective equipment which hinders basic communication.

  • Relationships with colleagues - Existing networks and relationships have been disrupted as people work with new colleagues and managers. Relationships with managers are particularly important to well-being.

For example, Carol’s attitudes towards her colleagues, needing to focus on their jobs and not having space to talk and think about their own health and wellbeing, may make it difficult for a colleague to start a conversation with her, even though it is clear that Carol cares about her team.

  • Team workload - The increased amount of work for many people brings extra stress, while deadlines and targets might be even more pressurised. This also relates to staff sickness and shortages

  • Teamwork and processes - Once again, changing personnel and practices make it hard to establish and improve team functioning.

Carol’s story also links back to a concept we mentioned earlier in regard to individual key workers, moral injury. In the video below Professor Neil Greenberg, Professor of Defence Mental Health at King’s College London talks more about moral injury and adapting within teams.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Neil Greenberg (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab)

The factors discussed apply to a group setting as well, where moral injury and distress can be shared among teams. In Carol’s examples, she suggests that changes and new staff skills may allow people to feel like they have to make difficult decisions and not provide care as they would like to. This shared experience demonstrates once more how emotions can be felt and influenced among teams.

Anxiety and emotions in teams

To consider in a bit more detail on how feelings can be experienced within teams, we have another short video from Robyn.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Robyn Vasey on Teams (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab) Robyn covers material here on anxiety in teams, building on the factors in workplace stress outlined above.

The fight-or-flight concept that we encountered earlier can apply to teams. This is a helpful way to understand how both individual and team experiences can be affected by psychological processes in an inter-related way. This also starts building towards thinking at an organisational level about supporting teams and individuals, which we will address in later steps.

With this in mind, we can also see how psychological mechanisms can motivate team and organisational actions, such as the over-activity and rapid response example that Robyn gave.

It is important to note that Robyn gave positive examples of how teams may experience the impact of COVID-19. Solidarity and taking collective actions are positive effects of teams being tested. After all, humans have an extensive history of overcoming considerable challenges through collective action.

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This article is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health

Maudsley Learning