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Council / Lockdown saw increase in SIC staff accessing counselling

THERE was a “significant increase” in the number of referrals for counselling and coaching support from council staff during lockdown, elected members heard on Monday.

Corporate services director Christine Ferguson said in a report presented to Shetland Islands Council’s policy and resources committee that there were 35 referrals between April and June.

There was also an increase in requests for additional counselling sessions beyond the usual six which is normally offered.

In total there were 70 referrals for staff welfare support between April and June, which is roughly the usual number, but there was a “significant increase” in the proportion of requests for counselling and coaching.

“During this period, most staff referred were affected by Covid-19 through its impact on their family, their work life, their mental wellbeing and the complexities which arose from lockdown and the changes to what were their comfortable life routines,” Ferguson’s report said.

The council continued to offer services were possible during lockdown, with many staff working from home.

There were staff working on the frontline, however, including those working in the council-run care homes.

A Covid-19 survey with all staff was carried out in May, to assess the impact of the pandemic on employees’ wellbeing.

South mainland councillor Robbie McGregor said the human resources department played a significant role in staff wellbeing, and asked who was on hand to support those in HR.

Ferguson said she could give assurances that “everything is being done that can be done”.

Council leader Steven Coutts also paid credit to the staff in the corporate services department for their role during the pandemic.

“I think it’s fair to say this has been a quarter that we did not expect but I think we have dealt with it admirably,” he said.

The report to the committee also said the council’s ICT services were naturally kept busy as staff worked from home and more communication was undertaken online.

Calls to the ICT service desk between April and June were in excess of 120 every day.

The average waiting time for an answer was under a minute, and 95 per cent of calls were successfully dealt with on each day.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson said there had been some difficult with connectivity and also the virtual private network (VPN) used when working from home.