Staff welfare has long been thought to be an important part of any successful business. Although, in the past, the focus has been on the physical health of the individual rather than their mental health and wellbeing.
In 2000, when the issue of stress was raised by a Railway Mission chaplain with an HR director, the response was “we don’t have stress in our company”. Such a blinkered view is being dispelled and the importance of personal resilience is increasingly recognised.
Mental health and wellbeing is a concern for every company that understands people are their most valuable resource. Establishing psychological resilience in the workforce enables companies to be able to respond swiftly to internal and external pressures. Railway Mission chaplains understand the need to focus on the psychological needs of the workforce. Bringing psychological first aid to the rail industry chaplains can enhance and complement the chain of care provided by companies.
Major traumatic events have a terrible and far-reaching impact. However, rail staff may face overwhelming situations every day – life can be full of difficulties. It may just be a coffee and a chat or something more, but chaplains are there to support railway people.
Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Network Rail’s chairman, said: “Emotional and spiritual support in a time of crisis is one of the most valuable things you can give to a person. The Railway Mission provides this help to railway staff, the British Transport Police and the travelling public – taking care of the mental welfare of our railway family both day-to-day and following traumatic incidents.”
People are affected by problems in their personal or work life in different ways; one person may cope well while another emotionally collapses. It takes time to gain the confidence of people who are hurting.
Chaplains support people of all faiths and none, regardless of their lifestyle or position, building trusted supportive relationships. Chaplains also work with other support networks in the workplace. These networks are increasingly important as society has become more fragmented. Networks such as BME, carers, disabled staff, LGBT and interfaith groups help create a platform to offer mutual support, respect and understanding for employees. These in turn also help increase employee resilience, improve working relationships and therefore, may help to reduce sickness absence. Such groups provide a conduit for communication between senior management and staff groups who have been traditionally underrepresented or who have experienced discrimination in the workplace.
Railway Mission chaplains are proficient at developing self-worth in the individual; bringing light into the darkness and despair some people experience. This spiritual and pastoral care contributes towards an organisational culture sympathetic towards personal mental health issues. As important, but independent members of the chain of care, chaplains are able to cross organisational boundaries. It’s a mechanism for releasing stress and emotional conflict from within the individual. Helping people cope with the stresses of modern life; empowering them to recognise their lives and work have value and meaning.
Care and sensitivity
Over the last year, chaplains have been on hand to support the railway family following the appalling terrorist atrocities that inflicted so much harm. In some small way, we have reached out to those affected.
Working with British Transport Police Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Teams to support people affected by suicides, chaplains have cared for railway staff, witnesses and bereaved families. The chaplaincy team has also visited schools after students have been killed on the railway, supporting the teaching staff and pupils.
Financial difficulties, work uncertainties, assaults at work and domestic violence, divorce, addictions, illness, both physical and mental have all been dealt with by the Railway Chaplains over the last year. How does the chaplaincy face all of these issues? One at a time, with care and sensitivity.
Written by Liam Johnston, Executive Director, Railway Mission