Kindness, to yourself as well as others

It is clear that we will not be returning to ‘normal’ any time soon and, even when restrictions are lifted, the world and our communities will have changed irreversibly.  Over recent weeks I have had countless conversations with those across the sector, from university vice-chancellors to youth workers.  A shared theme seems to be one of weariness – we miss our families, friends and colleagues; we are frustrated that we can’t do our jobs the way we wish and the ongoing uncertainty is exhausting.

As the majority of us continue to work from home, it can be hard to differentiate the days of the week, to draw boundaries around ‘work time’ and ‘home time’; not to mention other issues such as home-schooling children, illness, bereavement and worrying about loved ones we can’t visit in person.  Despite these myriad challenges, I’ve been really struck by the passion being shown across the sector to step up and support those who are isolated, marginalised and struggling to find a voice. But while that strong sense of purpose has benefits, it can also come at a cost, risking burnout and exhaustion. So, I also wonder to what extent those of us in positions of responsibility are looking after ourselves too – to use an airline analogy (the closest we’ll get to flying currently!) we need to ‘fit our own oxygen mask first, before helping others’.

Caring for our team has, as for any other leader, been an important priority for me over the past weeks – the positive wellbeing of the team here at the Foundation is vital to our ability to help charities and for the team to work with their usual energy, passion and kindness.  We closed our offices a week before the lockdown and one of the first things I did was commission an independent wellbeing and mental health specialist to provide support for everyone.  This includes optional twice-weekly video sessions in groups, signposting to resources and private one-to-one support as needed.  This is a confidential service so I can’t ‘measure’ benefits in any concrete sense, but the feedback is that it is very much valued and, as the cost is offset against travel and other expenses we are not currently incurring, it is an important investment to make.

On a lighter note, we’ve also participated in some fun events in the evenings; some created by us as a team – like bingo nights – and others run by charities using quizzes as an innovative way to keep in touch with partners, generate public awareness and to fundraise more generally. We also have regular team meetings to maintain our working rhythm and ensure that we can support each other. I’m also keen that everyone takes at least a minimum amount of holiday during this time as, whilst it’s clearly not the vacation we’d dreamed of, having time away from our screens and out in the fresh air is invaluable to restore our mental and physical energies.

It’s also been interesting how our video calls and teleconferences have changed the quality of our conversations in surprising ways – both for us as a team and with our charity partners. I might have expected these to be somewhat impersonal, more transactional and, frankly, rather less satisfying. Yet in contrast what we are finding is that our shared experience of Covid-19 and little glimpses into each other’s lives – the cameo pet appearances and family life flitting past in the background – seem to allow us to share more of ourselves.  So, while I won’t miss sitting at my kitchen table for days on end, I also hope we can keep some of the things we’ve learned during this time too.

With this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, with a particular theme of ‘kindness’, it seems appropriate to have a reminder that we should be kind to ourselves too, as that way we will have more of ourselves to offer others. Kindness has never been more important.