The perception of working in a supportive environment, including having supportive peers, is protective against poor psychological outcomes. Where possible, organizations should provide opportunities for coworkers to provide social support to one another. Allowstaff time to build positive relationships and facilitate activities/discussions that encourage social support. Additionally, team cohesion among all employees (e.g., staff, managers, leadership, etc.) is correlated with mental health and resilience. Managers and supervisors should create and model a ‘we are all in this together’ mentality to build a supportive and cohesive team.
Positive team identity and social support are cost-effective informal mental health supports that can be leveraged by leadership and organizations to improve mental health in the workplace. HCPs identified that their colleagues and a supportive team environment made pandemic-related challenges more manageable. However, further efforts are required to sustain these supports as the stressors and challenges of the pandemic eroded team cohesion and HCPs’ ability to support each other.
|Research insights and recommendations
|Strategies for implementation
|Build team trust and support to foster a team-focused sense of identity and belonging.
HCPs felt that belonging to a team built on trust mitigated the negative impacts of workplace stressors during the pandemic. The presence of a ‘we are in this together’ mentality where colleagues had each other’s backs and worked toward a common goal strengthened team identity for many HCPs. However, as the pandemic progressed, HCPs described that their relationships with coworkers deteriorated and conflict increased. HCPs cited workplace bullying, burnout, increased workload, increased irritability, exhaustion, and inequitable pay gaps as reasons for interpersonal breakdown among teams.
|HCPs who felt they belonged to a positive team reported being able to manage the additional stressors during the pandemic.
“For the most part, it was the teamwork, the collaboration, the pulling together—‘When things get tough, the tough get going,’ kind of thing. And the team and the environment [that I was in] was very supportive so I felt that we could go to the end of the world. I really did.” (74HCP)
|Identify the team’s common values and goals to build cohesion and a strong team identity.
Create a ‘we are in this together’ mentality by encouraging supportive relationships between colleagues to improve trust.
Build a sense of community through inclusion (e.g., include allied health professionals) to ensure all members of the team feel they belong.
Create a staff wellness ‘whiteboard’ to identify goals and take measures to monitor team functioning.
Hold daily huddles to create a sense of belonging and an opportunity to connect with each other.
• Frequently use words of encouragement and affirmation to help staff feel like valued members of the team.
• Celebrate accomplishments and remind the team of past successes to reinforce the strengths of the team.
To mitigate factors causing team deterioration:
• Ensure there is sufficient staffing. This was identified by HCPs as a priority because it would decrease workloads and reduce burnout.
• Distribute pay increases equitably between professions to reduce contention between colleagues.
• Assign reasonable workloads to reduce burnout and exhaustion.
• Rotate workers from higher stress to lower stress tasks to mitigate the risk of burnout and exhaustion.
|Provide organizational support and resources to foster strong teams.
HCPs described efforts to provide social support to one another during the pandemic. However, due to increased workloads and decreased staffing, HCPs explained that they no longer had capacity to provide informal emotional support to colleagues as they usually would. Team members’ low emotional bandwidth diminished their ability to provide social support. However, HCPs described efforts to ensure they took care of each other during the pandemic.
|Some HCPs felt that their team was supportive, and colleagues looked out for one another so they could take care of themselves and their patients.
“I think people are really good at making sure their colleagues are taken care of. We all want to make sure we’re all getting to the end here. No one wants their colleagues to be burnt out. So if someone hasn’t taken their lunch and it’s 2:30 pm, and you know that person has a heavy workload and you’re busy too, you’re going to eat your lunch quickly and then go relieve that person.” (22HCP)
|Ensure structures are in place for colleagues to provide social support to each other (e.g., regular breaks, peer support groups, etc.)
Managers and supervisors can support employees by checking in frequently with staff, especially if there are any indicators of potential psychological distress (e.g., avoiding team interaction/meetings, signs/symptoms of distress, etc.).
Encourage a supportive mental health culture to reduce fear of stigmatization and increase the likelihood of employees seeking support.