Looking after staff wellbeing whilst running a small organisation

Written by Liz Hibberd, Strategic and Partnership Lead at Manchester City of Sanctuary

March 15, 2023
5 min read
Photo showing a group of women doing a knitting activity

Manchester City of Sanctuary is a small charity that works with refugees and asylum seekers. We primarily deliver activities that promote wellbeing and positive mental health and that create connection to people and places.

We have 2 part time workers and around 15 volunteers.

We work in environments that are highly stressed, with multiple demands on time and limited resources. We are constantly concerned about funding as well as the precariousness of the lives of those we work with. There is a real lack of time and capacity to debrief, reflect and evaluate our offer, meaning that we often feel unclear of the impact we have and how to improve and respond effectively to changes in need.

It can feel very overwhelming and I have often felt a sense of paralysis as I can’t see what the next step is or how to get there. It’s been a relief to have another staff member join us, but there is added concern to ensure that their wellbeing and work/life balance is appropriate and supported.

Those that volunteer with us, do so out of a sense of altruism and compassion - it can be hard to ask them to be more boundaried and to step back, when they are so keen to be involved and help those more vulnerable than them. This concerns me as I want to ensure that they don’t take on too much and that they have the training and understanding to know how to engage safely for themselves and those seeking sanctuary.

It’s difficult to know what strategies to put in place as the paid staff seem to wear multiple hats all at once! Even when I’ve tried to, they don’t become embedded and don’t last long. One thing that has worked well, with our new staff member, has been flexible working and working from home. Feedback has told me that this works for them, and they appreciate how that flexibility helps to fit their life around work, meaning that they can go to the gym and have a later start sometimes. This has helped their mental health and allowed them to feel more positive about the work.

One thing that I would like to try is to block out at least a half day a week where there are no meetings or phone calls where I can focus on one task at a time!

I would also like to see the sector as a whole implementing more meeting-free days, plus wellbeing days where they can spend time together to share experiences and build support networks - vital for smaller organisations where the team is small.