Supporting foundation staff resilience and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic

21 May 2021

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Foundations will in the main fulfil their charitable mission by working with others outside their organisation. But the wellbeing of their own staff matters - not just for their responsibilities as a good employer but also to achieving their mission, living out their values, and supporting applicants and grantees.

Social isolation, grief, erosion of physical and psychological safety, changes to ways of working, uncertainty, caregiving responsibilities and financial strain, exacerbated and amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic, can negatively impact staff resilience and wellbeing for many employees, whatever sector they work in. 

But while few foundation staff are operating professionally at the front line of the crisis, there are some impacts on foundation staff specifically that foundations should take into account. These include the surging demand from applicants seeking emergency funding, increasing frequency of rejecting applications, and interacting with grant-seekers who are under immense strain and may be desperate for financial support. Foundations are rarely set up to respond to emergencies, and yet most have operated on this basis in recent months.

This page brings resources and information to help foundations think about how best to support their staff, and what questions they should consider in addressing staff resilience and wellbeing. In putting together this resource, it is important for us to hear from foundation staff about what issues or concerns are impacting their resilience and wellbeing, and how they could best be supported through this. We would also welcome examples of how your foundation is supporting staff through the pandemic. 

This is a living document which we will continue to add to. If you would like to contribute any wellbeing resources, experiences or issues of concern to this document, please fill out this form or email [email protected]

Issues of concern:

  1. New ways of working
  2. Mental health challenges
  3. Burnout
  4. Returning to in-person working

New ways of working

Working virtually has tested foundation staff digital skills, and for those who are used to a certain way of working it may result in frustration and a longer period of adapting. 

  • Tip: Make sure staff are supported in this iterative process and be flexible with those who take longer to adapt. 
  • Tip: Take time to ensure all staff are comfortable using new digital tools, staying mindful and inclusive of different accessibility needs.

Remote working: Aside from the technical difficulties that arise in adapting to the home office, foundation staff will also be adapting to being at home constantly. Workplace wellbeing challenges can easily arise when there is no clear separation between work and home, and when staff feel isolated. Remote work means no more opportunities for casual interactions that foster connections between staff.

  • Tip: Create social activities that help overcome isolation. Examples:
    • Cross-team wellbeing groups arranging online social activities (e.g. quizzes, art sessions, film clubs, book clubs, yoga)
    • Twice a week 30 min ‘hangouts’ to chat as a team and not discuss anything work related.
    • Create a peer support network by setting up a mentoring scheme and encouraging employees to sign up as mentors/mentees

Further reading

Mental health challenges

Some employees might already struggle with pre-existing trauma, anxiety or depression, while others will feel the psychological burden of grief, trauma and general anxiety brought on by the pandemic. The charity Mind found that nearly two-thirds (60%) of people across England reported that their mental health had got worse during the pandemic. 

Leadership has an important role in being honest about their own experiences and responding to concerns - especially line managers who will often be the first point of contact to offer additional support. Management therefore needs to receive enough support to effectively support their staff, as well as coping with their own personal challenges. Increasing conversation around and awareness of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is crucial in tackling stigma and building trust. 

  • Tip: Share, signpost to, and make use of existing resources, such as:
    • Tools to help staff articulate how they are coping to line managers and reduce stigma: here is an example of this
    • Training sessions for employers delivered by Mind, with focus on equipping management to support staff
  • TIp: Organise regular meetings between staff to check in and talk. Examples:
    • 121s for all staff fortnightly to check in and ask about wellbeing, workload levels, impact of Covid ways of working - these don’t need to be by video and phone calls can be preferable
    • Encourage staff and their managers to re-look at goals and objectives and adjust them if they are no longer realistic and achievable in current circumstances
    • Increased frequency of grants team meetings and management team meetings, getting a better sense of workload pressures within the team and ways of supporting (see also section on burnout below)
    • Social drop ins (informal opportunities for employees to come together and share/talk)
    • Internal support network among leaders/managers to help maintain morale

Mental health experiences will differ and be significantly shaped by race, gender, finances, job type, disability, caregiving responsibilities, immigration status, and other factors specific to each person. Approaches to wellbeing will need to be tailored to the individual’s own context and needs. 

Extra care will be necessary for staff who may need bereavement support. Some may also feel grief on behalf of communities with which they most closely associate or are part of, even if they themselves have not directly suffered a bereavement of someone close to them. This may be especially black staff or staff from ethnic minority communities who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

  • Tip: Learning sessions are a good way to educate staff around anxiety, grief, and other obstacles to resilience and wellbeing, making it easier for staff to communicate their own mental health challenges.
  • Tip: Assist with counselling offer, whether that be signposting and helping to find a therapist or offering counselling benefit to support mental health.
  • Tip: Gather wellbeing feedback to monitor how staff are doing. This could be:
    • Live data from speaking with staff
    • In-house surveys checking in on how staff are finding work, what support is needed

Further reading


The pandemic is a hugely difficult time for the voluntary sector, and foundations have seen increased demand for funding and support. Those making grants will inevitably have to make really difficult decisions and say no to many organisations who are struggling or even on the brink of collapse. This can lead to worries that staff are not doing enough to support the sector during the crisis. But the wellbeing of foundation staff is crucial if they are to be effective in meeting the needs of grantees.

  • Tip: Encourage staff to take annual leave and spend time on themselves, away from work, to recharge and refresh. Example:
    • Many organisations have offered staff a ‘wellness’ day to recognise their hard work and give space for rest and recharge
    • Encourage staff to use use daylight hours to go outside and take longer lunch breaks
    • Wellbeing time allocated in the calendar to give a break from meetings and switch off
  • Tip: Gestures that recognise the challenging time staff are going through and show appreciation for their work. Examples:
    • An annual wellbeing allowance of claimable expenses against activities or items helping staff wellbeing
    • A care package sent to staff

Further reading

Returning to in-person working

The past year has meant large disruptions to our life and necessary behaviour changes in response. This has meant not only adapting to working from home, but also shifting care responsibilities, social isolation, financial difficulty, anxiety, and grief.

Now that many are slowly returning to old ways of working, foundations will therefore need to take time to consider the individual circumstances and needs of both the organisation and of its people – staff, trustees, volunteers, and stakeholders.

While some members of staff may be desperate to return to the office, others might feel apprehensive or dreading it, with most somewhere in the middle. This may be due to anxiety about seeing people and social interactions, or leaving seeing family members less, or perhaps it is health-related concerns. Younger staff will not be fully vaccinated until early autumn, while others might be living with people who may not have been vaccinated or are more vulnerable.

  • Tip: Consider maintaining flexible working arrangements, allowing staff to take on a hybrid model where they spend some days working at home and others in the office, or can construct their working hours to miss busy rush hours and adjust to needs.
  • Tip: Be patient with yourself and take time to return to work gradually, with small doses of exposure to familiarise yourself.
  • Tip: Communicate clearly with staff on how you are making the office safe to return and make sure to accommodate different needs.
    • Make masks optional so those who want to continue wearing theirs do not feel rushed.
    • Ease anxiety by explaining what measures you are taking to ensure hygiene and air flow.
  • Tip: Regularly monitor and review what needs are arising and how you can best support staff in transitioning back to office work.

Further reading