The pandemic has brought frontline staff into the limelight. They have been critical in caring for everyone’s health and wellbeing as they work and shop. No one would deny that their work has been both challenging and vital. And yet, there have been stories shared of organisations failing to protect and look after their frontline staff.
As the pandemic progressed, it became clear that security officers were particularly at risk. The research we carried out last spring revealed that security officers are one of the most at-risk occupations thanks to a combination of their age, sex, ethnicity, geography and the nature of their work. This was backed up by the ongoing data collection from the Office for National Statistics.
Another study, released in early 2020, found that even prior to the pandemic, security officers were suffering regular episodes of verbal and physical abuse at work. As a result, many suffered from poor mental health and PTSD, for which they often received little help from their employers.
As a Living Wage employer, we have worked hard throughout the pandemic to support our security officers on the front line. Our work has always centred on the ‘circle of care’. We look after our colleagues who look after our clients, who, in turn, look after our company by retaining our services long-term. As a result, we are proud to be an employer of choice, with industry-leading retention rates. The link between mental health, wellbeing, and workplace productivity has long been recognised. Stress and mental health issues are cited as some of the biggest reasons for both long- and short-term work leave.
New approaches to wellbeing.
Emerging from the pandemic, we will see greater pressure on employers to take accountability for their employees’ health and wellbeing. One report finds that 86 percent of UK employers have changed their approach to staff health and wellbeing. Many managers have adjusted to caring for their staff remotely, regularly checking in, providing online resources, and hosting virtual events. While these are valuable means of support, it is important to be conscious that some people have been working on the frontline throughout the pandemic. Wellbeing measures need to be tailored to each unique situation. Anything else is only tokenistic.
During the pandemic, we held one-to-one check-ins with our officers to talk about mental and physical wellbeing, as many organisations did. But we also looked at what could be done to make their vital work easier and less stressful. We provided our teams with step-by-step advice on how to support our customers while also protecting themselves. In areas where public transport was reduced or officers did not feel comfortable using potentially busy transport, we offered support in planning their commutes to and from their place of work along with offering cycle-to-work schemes.
We have a long-standing relationship with the organisation Combat Stress. Their work supports the mental wellbeing of veterans and highlights the reality that poor mental wellbeing can stay with people long after the period of stress. The long-term mental health issues of the pandemic cannot be ignored. Those working in particularly stressful and risky situations will need appropriate support.
The role of officers post-pandemic.
Caring for security staff is vital for their mental and physical wellbeing. That is reason enough to focus on the subject. But beyond this, these are staff who will be working directly with the wider workforce as people return to the workplace.
Officers will be responsible for enforcing various safety measures as directed by the customer until they are deemed no longer necessary. They will also be the first point of contact for many anxious employees. Many organisations have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to refit spaces or streamline corporate real estate. We are seeing a shift towards more agile and hybrid working patterns. These are big changes that staff will take time to get used to. Security officers will therefore play a key part in supporting this.
A year of precautions has also made many people hyper-aware of hygiene and personal space. It can make a huge difference having a friendly face to welcome employees to the building, provide help when needed, and say goodnight as employees leave. But if officers are suffering their own stress and long-term mental ill-health, they will not be able to effectively provide the help and reassurance needed.
Protecting our teams.
Having worked incredibly hard to keep people safe over the past year, often at risk to themselves, it is frustrating that our front-line workers are not alongside others, near the front of the queue to receive a vaccine. Not only would this keep them safer physically, but it would also be hugely reassuring. Officers may be worrying about their own health and those of families and loved ones they are in contact with. This is a huge burden of stress to bear.
Health and social care workers are prioritised as they should be. However, the current programme from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) reports that those working alongside them – cleaning operatives and security officers in hospitals and the wider community – are not being prioritised. We firmly believe that security officers, having served UK Plc throughout the last 14 months should be prioritised in receiving the vaccine.
A promising start.
The rapid roll-out of the vaccine and the focus on mental and physical health are fantastic signs of a brighter future. However, as things return to some form of normal, we cannot forget the work and risk that our frontline staff have been through. We hope to see conscious and proactive work from all businesses and from government to support all of the frontline staff who have got us through this past year.
Paul is one of the UK’s most well respected physical security industry leaders, having had senior rolls at Reliance, Securitas, Mitie and Interserve before moving to Corps Security in 2018. Rapidly recognising Paul’s knowledge and experience he was appointed Managing Director in March 2019. His “lead by example” attitude has gained him huge respect amongst the men and women on the front line at Corps, and he is embracing the rapid evolution of the sector to drive one of the oldest security companies in existence, to the very forefront of industry advancement