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Maintaining connections
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Furloughing is presenting new challenges for wellbeing within the veterinary team. Claire Read speaks to Brian Faulkner about how best to maintain team spirit during these strange times.

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In reviewing the way in which the world is dealing with Covid-19, Brian Faulkner does not like to speak of social distancing. Not because he thinks it’s unnecessary, but because he feels physical distancing would be a more appropriate term.

A core part of wellbeing is relatedness to other people

‘A core part of wellbeing is relatedness to other people,’ says Brian, a practising vet who also holds a master’s in psychology and hosts The Vet Whisperer, a webinar programme on wellbeing. ‘Human beings are a social species. We feel vulnerable when isolated and distanced.’

This section is produced with support from Boehringer Ingelheim and is aimed at improving the efficiency and wellbeing of vets.

For many, work offers an important means of fostering social connections. But at practices where it has been necessary to furlough staff, those connections may be at risk of being weakened. ‘The fact furloughed staff are not there and not involved can make them feel out of the loop,’ explains Brian. ‘That creates a sense of uncertainty and isolation.’

Finding ways to manage that is a challenge. That’s in part because of the rules about furloughing – most notably that those on furlough are not allowed to take part in any activity which could be regarded as work for their employer. And while the terms of the scheme do allow participation in voluntary work, this is only ‘if it does not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of your organisation or a linked or associated organisation’.

This will affect the means by which it’s appropriate for practices to connect with employees who have been furloughed. Guidance from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), for instance, says that communications with people who are on furlough should not cover anything work-related.

That definitely does not mean all contact with furloughed colleagues should be severed, however. Brian speaks of practices that have valuably set up weekly Zoom sessions which allow all employees to see one another and have a social chat. WhatsApp groups are proving another helpful way to maintain informal contact and continue to feel like one team.

Depending on the interests of your practice team, you might even consider setting up a virtual ‘pub’ quiz, or having one member lead others through a few yoga poses, talk through bread baking successes, or host virtual sports contests using cycling turbo trainers or treadmills.

Aside from these sorts of social activities, Brian argues it’s vital to give colleagues regular updates on how coronavirus-related advice is evolving at a national level, pass on the updates being given by the BVA, and explain what that means for the practice. Again, though, updates must avoid veering into any discussion of specific work, clients or tasks.

It’s worth noting the CIPR suggests any such communication avoids using work-issued phone numbers or e-mail addresses. Instead it advises that personal contact details for furloughed employees are used – if the colleague has given permission. This reinforces the point that participation in these sorts of groups or meetings needs to be voluntary. The minute someone feels compelled to join, there is a danger it becomes a work-related commitment and so not appropriate under the terms of furloughing.

‘The leadership of the practice needs to be proactive and make colleagues who are temporarily out of sight not feel out of mind,’ concludes Brian.

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