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RAF booklet – Thriving at work

These are difficult times and RAF personnel and Civil Service counterparts need to consider carefully how we look after each other and ourselves. 

The RAF has produced a booklet which shares emerging hints, tips and wider guidance to help all personnel (and families) to get through these challenging times. Here are some snapshots for your use and information*.

Service specific

The Chain of Command / Line Managers Responsibilities and Leadership.  In light of the ongoing COVID measures, Line Managers remain responsible for their personnel and must put in place regular, routine work practises and communication plans to follow the Government and RAF direction in dealing with COVID-19.  For Serving Personnel as part of good leadership it is essential that the Chain of Command “know your people” and offer support as required.  Where personnel are vulnerable, Units should continue their regular Health / Welfare Committee reviews using alternative communication channels; meetings can be arranged via Skype, VTC, and BT ‘Meet Me’.  In line with RAF COVID-19 plans units must report cases, suspected cases and self-isolation of their staff through their Chain of Command.

Leadership, as always, requires leaders to set the standards and show the way.  Leading remote teammates, especially in times of crisis, is more challenging than leading in person, so the first step is to recognise that this is a new situation that requires a different leadership approach.  The basics of leadership remain, but the need to connect and communicate to your people is even more important for their wellbeing and to continue to deliver the RAF’s priority outputs. 

Support.  Make special efforts to understand your teammates’ personal and family circumstances and work with them individually to help them to continue to contribute.  Watch out for signs of stress and fatigue and use all of the RAF’s support mechanisms if required.  The best way to observe people’s state of mind is face-to-face, so schedule team meetings as often as the risk level allows.  Some people may become stressed and need more support than others, so approach each case individually.  Leaders should set up a ‘Buddy Check’ system where sub-leaders and teammates check up on others, provide help as required, and report back any concerns.  Support is everyone’s responsibility, not just the leaders’.

Communication is vital in challenging situations.  Engage all your team, especially those working remotely, on a daily basis through appropriate means of communication – consider multiple media but make a plan specific to your circumstances and communicate it.  Include regular scheduled meetings.  Keep people on task by setting mission and team priorities and communicating regular updates to keep up situational awareness.  Where individuals are more vulnerable, including anyone who is self-isolating or off sick, contact them more frequently.  A good idea is to set up social media contact groups such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Snap Chat to keep in contact but follow the MOD social media guidelines and SyOps.

Treat your teammates as equally as possible.  If they don’t all have access to the net or they are unable to work away from their place of work, devise workarounds – rotate laptops, download to home computers, rotate people in the office.  If someone has to work in the office, consider whether you, their leader, should be there with them.  Trust your people to get the work done around their other demands.  If people are looking after children or vulnerable people, trust them to work their own flexible hours.  Empower your people even more than usual.  Use this as thinking time to experiment and give your teammates the freedom to allow their expertise and imagination to flourish. 

Encourage your serving family member to regularly access either the MODNET Coronavirus Portal for updated guidance including new measures to delay the spread of coronavirus and the latest FAQs offering advice or the RAF intranet. 

RAF Stations’ SharePoint / Station COVID 19 Plans have local information.  For example, HQ Air has set up a COVID-19 News tab on the HQ Air publishing page and has asked HQ Air personnel to inform their staff of this change, requesting they set up an alert for this tab so that they receive the latest information being published by the Stn and on GOV.UK.

The MODNET Health and Wellbeing portal (accessible by Serving personnel) provides a go-to-guide for health and wellbeing. The portal provides Service specific advice, tools and resources to support individual’s mental health and resilience, including physical health and wellbeing. This includes current policies and initiatives, as well as links to other single Service, Civilian HR sites and Defence affiliated charities. 

Wider information to include families

If you would like support, there are multiple channels for you to find help:

  • Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association (SSAFA) has very experienced professionals and can be reached on your local station or through the helpline – 03000 111 723.
  • The RAF Association has an extended local network, accessible through your Hive or Community Support team, or you can reach RAF Association team members on their hotline – 0800 018 2361. 
    • A telephone outreach service is now available which will proactively support the RAF community in checking on their welfare and offer them regular contact (telephone or online).
    • A friendship helpline is available for anyone in the RAF community to call if they are feeling isolated, in need of more specific support or simply want a chat with someone friendly who understands.
    • There is a daily RAF-themed online entertainment slot that people can look forward to as part of their routine while they are isolating, from quizzes to live-streamed sing-a-longs and armchair fitness sessions.
  • A support programme including a listening and counselling service is available through the RAF Benevolent Fund0300 102 1919
  • If you’re not ready to talk, the RAF Benevolent Fund can help through the mindfulness app ‘Headspace‘ If you are a currently serving member of the RAF (regular or reserve) and you would like to request a Headspace membership please email headspace@rafbf.org.uk from your MOD email account, quoting your service number.
  • Combat Stress has a 24-hour helpline – 0800 323 4444
  • Samaritans is free to call on 116123; email  jo@samaritans.org or visit Samaritans.org
  • If in a crisis please ring NHS 111 or go straight to A&E.

Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).  In line with the Permanent Secretary, Defence civil servants are advised to make use of the EAP.  It is a confidential employee benefit for civilians and their line managers. The programme is designed to help deal with personal and professional problems that could be affecting Defence employees home life or work life and general wellbeing.  The EAP service provides a complete support network that offers expert advice and compassionate guidance 24/7, covering a wide range of issues. It offers not only reactive support when someone needs it but also proactive and preventative support to deliver the best possible outcomes. (Service personnel can access this information through the RAF’s internal portal.)

Personnel and emotional support should continue to be sought, in the first instance from within the chain of Command and where directed from other specialist staff.  There will be specific unit level measures in place to deal with COVID-19, however Personnel staffs, Station Chaplains, Station Medical Staffs and specialist welfare staffs such as SSAFA Force Help social workers are available to speak too and provide support as required.  Useful welfare and community information is available on the RAF Hive Facebook page and RAF Community Website.

Individuals who do not have access to MODNET or other MOD Comms should access the NHS COVID 19 and Public Health England websites for up-to-date information.

It’s important to remember to take care of your mind as well as your body and to get support if you need it. Stay in touch with family and friends over the phone or on social media. Where you are working from home or social distancing there are simple things you can do that may help, to stay mentally and physically active during this time.

Look for ideas of exercises you can do at home on the NHS website or other online fitness apps such as The Body Coach or the Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

There are also sources of support and information that can help, such as the NHS Every Mind Matters web platform which is a useful site of information that provides information to help you manage and maintain your mental health and gives simple and practical advice on how to get a healthier mind, how to deal with stress and anxiety how to boost your mood or sleep better. 

Mental Health charities

Such as The Big White Wall:

Screenshot of the Big White Wall's website

The Samaritans are providing specific information for the RAF and their families and additional advice on how to deal with the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) particularly if individuals are having increased feelings of stress or anxiety.

Image of the Samaritans logo

Loneliness and self-isolation

The current isolation and social distancing measures mean that more if us will be spending a lot more time at home and many of our social activities will no longer be available to use, this can cause individuals to feel more isolated and lonelier than normal. Tackling loneliness matters to everyone – to individuals, employers, communities, educators and to health professionals and this will be more prevalent during Infectious disease outbreaks like the current COVID 19 (COVID 19).

Supporting people to have meaningful social relationships is crucial to people’s physical and mental health. During this outbreak we all can all play an important role in preventing loneliness.  Be in touch regularly with your work colleagues / line management, friends and family members (outside of your home) through social media, phone or by letter and if you are undertaking any specialist care – then your welfare / health professional or counsellor.  It will mean a different rhythm of life and a chance to be in touch with others in different ways than usual.

  • Create a new daily routine that priorities looking after yourself.
  • As part of your relaxation try reading more, watching movies, have a new exercise routine or relaxation techniques.
  • Listen to free mental wellbeing audio guides.
  • Search and download relaxation and mindful apps such as the RAF Benevolent Fund’s HeadSpace or online Community apps.
  • Focus your time and energy into helping yourself feel better.
  • On social media remember you usually only see things people want to share.
  • Try not to tell yourself that you’re alone – many people feel lonely at some point in their life and support is available.
  • Try not to use alcohol, cigarettes, gambling or drugs to relieve loneliness; these can all contribute to poor mental, and physical, health.

If you are self-isolating due to health reasons continue to follow the Government and NHS guidelines.

Crowded living

With numerous businesses, schools, colleagues, nurseries closed and a large number of people working from home, there will be many families and people living cooped alongside each other for long periods of time.  Chat about what to do in moments when things are stressful, understand that it is ok if you get on each other’s nerves but decide on a signal that means you need space or need a moment in separate rooms. If you have a garden go outside or a garage / shed then use the additional space.  While you able, continue to get out and about but be mindful of social distancing measures.

Looking after yourself

Turbulent times can induce considerable stress and experiencing stress is about recognising a change in your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. For example, you may feel nervous, tearful and/or angry. You might be feeling more negative or become indecisive and be less able to concentrate.

Other behavioural indicators may be drinking more alcohol or smoking more than is usual or having difficulty sleeping.  These changes are highly personal but may be a sign that you are becoming less able to cope with the increasing pressure being placed upon you.

It is important to note that experiencing stress may affect your feelings of wellbeing, is not an illness, but it can lead to illness, so recognising signs of stress (and your stressors) is important.  

Stressors – A stressor is something which cause you tension which could be external or internal. External stressors may be a life change such as job loss or relationship breakdown. An internal stressor may include fear of failure, lack of control and expectations. 

Stress Management – There are some more positive activities in which you can engage, which may not only help reduce stress in a healthy way, but also improve your general wellbeing. For example, the NHS suggest the following:

  • Be active – there is growing evidence to suggest that physical activity can help people with depression, self-esteem and self -control.
  • Connect with people – humans are social animals and having a support  system, people with whom you can share your problems with or simply relax with is a good stress reliever and can have a positive impact on your overall health.
  • Take some ‘me time’– Due to work commitments we often don’t spend enough time doing things we really enjoy. It is important to strike a work-life balance. Try to earmark 2 hours, 2 evenings a week to do something accessible such as running, writing, reading, painting etc. 
  • Challenge yourself – Setting yourself goals and challenges, whether at work or outside, such as learning a new language or a new sport, helps build confidence and self-esteem.
  • Help other people who need it – there is evidence to suggest that helping others, through activities such as assisting those who are in the vulnerable category or having to self-isolate or undertaking community work – these small acts are linked to positive personal wellbeing. Of course, be mindful around maintaining your personal health whilst doing so.
  • Try to be positive – this is easier for some than others as some people can be naturally more positive but, at the end of the day, try to focus on the things that went well, rather than the things that didn’t go so well.         
  • Accept the things you cannot change – changing a difficult situation, especially in an organisational setting is not always possible, so in such situations it is important to remain focused on the things you can change rather than the things you can’t.  
  • Sleep – the average sleep requirement for most adults is 7-8 hours and it is suggested that waking up at the same time every day is a good idea, so even though you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, getting up at the usual time helps maintain your sleep routine.
  • Talk – talking about how you are feeling might come more easily to some people than others but, talking through your feelings with a supportive other can be helpful.
Image showing front cover of work booklet entitled, 'Preventing Work-Related Stress'.

If you are concerned for a colleague, the following is a link is the Samaritans Suicide Prevention and Peer Support in the Armed Forces leaflet which provides guidance in identifying, understanding, intervening, and supporting those who are struggling to cope.

Looking after children

With nurseries, schools and colleges now closed to prevent the spread of the new COVID 19, parents will be responsible for home schooling and entertaining their children and teenagers as well as talking to them about the unprecedented disruption COVID-is causing.  This can be a stressful time.

Don’t throw out structure.  Sit down with your children and map out how the days will flow. Set up specific times for reading/homework, chores, independent free time, mealtimes, family time and bedtime. Like every teacher, write it down and post the schedule. It is likely that schools will have specific teaching programmes to follow as part of home educating.  There are a number of useful sites such as Scholastic UK who have put together a range of Free home learning packs for Early Years, KS1, Lower KS2 and Upper KS2 children which can be downloaded for free.

Make time for yourself. Make sure your children know that you will plan blocks of time for yourself and that they will need to self-entertain and if you are working from home that you aren’t to be disturbed during your work periods. This will give you time for needed chores and your own mental-health time. Have several a day and work in times for your own self-reflection, checking in with other parents and exercise time.

Free play. While being mindful that we need to distance themselves from others, getting outside is still allowed and encouraged. Outside time and fresh air has huge physical and mental health benefits. While children might complain about not knowing what to do, they will quickly find something to explore or create while outside. If there’s room in the house for one room to be set aside for unbridled free play, do it. Zoom sessions for your children and their friends are also available. This is also a great time to break out old hobbies and jigsaw puzzles.

The Body Coach Jo Wicks is running live PE workouts for children Monday – Friday at 9am via YouTube.

It’s OK to loosen screen rules … a bit but limit the time period set aside for gaming during the school week and several blocks of gaming time on the weekends. While binge-watching might be an appealing alternative also set out similar guidance for watching TV. Several one-hour blocks a day is better than binge-viewing.  Get out all those old-fashioned board games. Watch TV together or share an electronic game or two.

Stick to a sleep schedule. While it might be tempting for your older children to stay up late every night and sleep late every morning, that’s not going to be beneficial to their physical and mental health.

Stay in touch with your local community. Rather than being on the phone or social media all day long yourself, try to schedule set times to check in with your adult friends. You can also consider setting up local WhatsApp groups with friends where you can have a designated time to check-in with each other. Have grandparents do regular videocalls with your children. Teenagers will need to be in contact with their friends over social media.

Limit the news. For your own mental health, and the mental health of your children, limit the intake of news. Constantly following the latest COVID 19 news will only increase the entire family’s anxiety.  Minimise the negative impact the current situation has on your children and explain the facts to them. Discuss the news with them but try and avoid over-exposure to coverage of the virus. Be as truthful as possible.

Make sure information is age appropriate. Emphasize safety for younger children, Explain they are safe and being taken care of. For older children, stick to the facts and make sure you are not sharing too much of your own anxieties with them. Process your feelings mostly with older adults.

Give kids an outlet to discuss emotions. Journaling is a good way for adolescents to process their feelings in this uncertain time. You can also set aside a time to talk as a family about how everyone is feeling and coping with the outbreak. It’s important to acknowledge their anxiety but also their loss and grief about upcoming trips and school programs on which they will be missing out. Then turn to your family game time and your usual routines.

Involving your family and children in your plans for good health is essential; get them to join in the drawing up of the ‘rules’. You may wish to base your plan on, or even post it up so the children know what’s going on day to day and help them keep track on the timings of the day to reduce surprises and keep things on track. Encourage increasing independence when time and activity is appropriate and remember you are the most important resource that they have!

Constructive working at home

Get dressedThis does not necessarily mean uniform/work clothing but washing and getting dressed will not only improve your state of mind, it will psychologically prepare you to start work. Some people find that dressing formally is helpful, and useful if they need to dial into a video call. Likewise, changing out of work clothes when you clock off for the day helps your brain to understand that the working day is over.

Establish boundaries.  Most personnel will probably have set hours of work, and it’s important to stick to these when you’re working from home. Be ready to start your day at the same time as you would normally arrive in your office or workplace and finish your day at the same time. At the end of a working day, it’s best to switch off your computer and tidy away papers and other items. Space allowing, set aside a specific, separate area in your home where you can set yourself up – ideally with a properly adjusted desk and chair, similar to your workplace. The NHS advice is that you should adjust your chair so you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor. 

If there are other people in the house, finding a space where you’re not likely to be disturbed is essential. It’s also important to not ‘overcompensate’ because you’re anxious about working from home, don’t over communicate just to ensure visibility. You know if you’re on task and being productive so keep yourself in check.

Get out and about (if you’re not self-isolating).  Working from home shouldn’t mean you stay cooped up indoors all day. While you might not miss your daily commute, it does guarantee that you leave the house at least once during the day. So, in line with government guidelines get outside and enjoy that fresh air once a day. A different perspective will also help undo mental blocks and give you a fresh pair of eyes for any tasks you’re struggling with.

Pick up the phone.  If you’re working from home, depending on your situation, you may be working alone, so you won’t get distracted by colleagues’ conversations and other office noise.  When you’re at work, you’re more likely to engage with colleagues but when you’re working from home, you could spend the whole day without speaking to anyone which can be isolating. Make some time to pick up the phone and have a real conversation, rather than relying on email and instant messaging.

Take regular breaks.  It’s good to have a routine when you’re working from home, but work shouldn’t become monotonous.  And you shouldn’t stay glued to your screen all day. It’s important to take regular screen breaks and get up from your desk and move around just as you would in an office. Research has also found that short breaks throughout the day are more beneficial than less frequent, longer breaks. Breaks in the office environment are both planned and occur naturally, in the spur-of-the-moment conversation, but when working from home, it’s normal and acceptable to undertake the odd domestic task – but do not feel guilty about it.  Consider it one of those unplanned, spur-of-the-moment breaks.

Many home workers recommend the Pomodoro Technique, a method of time management which breaks your working day into 25-minute chunks. Each chunk is followed by a five-minute break.  It’s important to stand up, stretch, move around and even go for a short walk to take a break from your work and your screen.  Being cooped up without stopping for a break can mean your productivity levels drop, you become more tired and less motivated to complete what you’re working on.

Conclusion.  For personnel commencing homeworking for the first time, the next few days may be difficult for several reasons.  There will likely be a period of ‘test and adjust’ as personnel find a battle rhythm which works for them and the RAF.  Keep your LM informed of your key outputs and agree a means to updating them.  Likewise, if you are a manager yourself, ensure your personnel know and understand what is expected of them and support them as best you are able.  It is important to realise that you are still contributing to the output of the organisation and that these measures are not a soft option but necessary measures to allow us to continue to deliver in these difficult and trying times.

Useful links

* The full booklet, ‘Thriving at Work – Support to Our Personnel in Challenging Times’ is available through the RAF’s internal SharePoint platform.

Source: RAF Wellbeing and Resilience, HQ Air