Female charity workers suffered high levels of stress during the pandemic and cost of living crisis

Female charity workers, who supported vulnerable women throughout and beyond the pandemic, experienced high levels of psychological distress, a new study by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research has found.

Female charity workers, who supported vulnerable women throughout and beyond the pandemic, experienced high levels of psychological distress, a new study has found.

Researchers conducted 135 interviews with women across the UK who worked for community-based third sector organisations delivering services, support and advocacy to women and girls who were experiencing poverty, domestic abuse, homelessness or were socially isolated and disadvantaged in other ways.

The findings showed women working in these kinds of services experienced trauma, exhaustion, depression, and anxiety related to the nature of the work, but which were further exacerbated by high workloads and concerns about job security and "All of this change at a time when many other existing networks and support fell away created a considerable emotional toll on those workers who were left to fill in the gaps."

A mental healthcare worker described the emotional and physical toll her work carried: "I mean I think that sometimes it stays with me, you know, words that people use or phrases or, you know... I mean sometimes you’ll have people who just cry for, you know, 20 minutes and there’s something about having the endurance just to be with that and not try and fix it because you can’t. All you can do is be one human being with another. I do think that the human aspect of it is why I am who I am and I think that that does, at times, mean that I can be very, very, I’ll just say it, knackered emotionally."

Professor Burman said: "As the immediate risks of the pandemic receded, we saw the deepening cost of living crisis which once again disproportionately affected women, particularly those experiencing marginalisation and social isolation.

She added: "The crises also emphasised the need for longer term, more predictable "Organisations should encourage acknowledgment of the potential of psychological distress as a result of this work and have open conversations about its likelihood so that it becomes normalised. We need to see leaders do more by introducing policies and procedures that reduce stress, provide supervision with regular debriefs and strategies that can help staff build resilience."

The report provides nine recommendations in total including giving staff more training and raising awareness of burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma in the workplace. It also highlights the need for funders to consider introducing more stream-lined application processes and better alignment of their ’asks’ of those applying for funds to help reduce the additional stress of the precarious funding environment of those in the third-sector.