Supporting our support workers' wellbeing during a pandemic : what works? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand

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Purpose: The purpose of this project was to explore the wellbeing of mental health support workers during Covid-19 lockdown periods in Auckland, New Zealand. The focus was on learning about stressors that hindered mental health workers’ abilities to cope with the risky elements of their work, and the protective factors that enabled them to weather such stressors and maintain their wellbeing. This study treated the workers themselves as subject matter experts in their own wellbeing. Method: Self-reported experiences of a sample of N=50 mental health workers employed across five residential mental health services in an Auckland-based non-government organization were explored using a mixed-method approach. A word association task was set, asking workers to freely identify what workplace wellbeing means to them. This was followed by a written questionnaire using Flanagan’s (1954) Critical Incident technique, where participants were asked to recall two stories about incidents that they experienced during lockdown periods: one where they felt that their wellbeing was boosted, and one where they felt that their wellbeing was not boosted. For each of the two incidents shared by participants, a 10-item Perceived Organizational Support (POS) questionnaire was subsequently completed. Results: Prototype analysis of the word frequency search revealed that the workers valued support from their teams above all else, followed by more organizational support from managers within their organization. The content analysis conducted on responses from the critical incident technique further revealed that perceived organizational support (POS) was the main wellbeing theme spontaneously self-reported by these workers, followed by teamwork, support from external agencies such as Police, supervisor support and personal credit. From the POS questionnaire, workers had significantly higher scores for POS when recalling positive incidents, and lower scores for POS when recalling negative incidents. Implications/Recommendations: A follow-up study, with a larger sample size and across a larger variety of mental health organizations, would be beneficial once the pandemic is under control to understand its full impact on the wellbeing of mental health workers, and to examine whether the findings replicate across organizational settings. Furthermore, future research would benefit from investigating the role of inter-organizational support and more informal forms of social support in perceptions of organizational support.