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Speaking up can reduce staff burnout, study shows


Supporting aged care workers to express their emotions can improve their health and wellbeing, according to Macquarie University research.

Aged care staff are in physically and emotionally demanding roles, which can impact their overall health and wellbeing, said Bichen Guan, a PhD candidate at Macquarie University.

“Staff in the workplace have many emotions. They may be frustrated when they encounter a difficult situation with their clients, especially when they encounter some aggressive behaviour,” Ms Guan told the Australian Association of Gerontology conference in Sydney last week.

Aged care workers must self-manage their feelings and they are often unable to express or regulate their emotions, she said.

Providers can improve staff wellbeing and reduce worker burnout by encouraging workers to speak up, said Ms Guan, who is researching emotion regulation and retention of aged care employees.

“Suppression is not healthy. Encourage your employees to voice their emotions and to talk about their feelings at work… Guide your employees to re-frame the situation in a more positive way to prevent them feeling negative,” she said.

Ms Guan investigated emotional regulation with 256 residential aged care staff including care workers, nurses, managers and people working in administration.

The study found that regulating emotions of self and others have significant indirect impacts on psychological distress.

She assessed the impact of reappraisal, where a person reframes a situation to be more positive, and suppression, where a person does not express their emotions.

“Reappraisal is a healthier emotion regulation strategy when you regulate your own emotions. It can decrease your feelings about feeling emotionally exhausted. It won’t let you treat your clients as numbers or objects instead of human beings. That will help decrease your psychological distress,” Ms Guan said.

“Suppressing emotions is not very good. It will make you feel more emotionally exhausted and therefore increase your psychological distress,” she said.

The study also found a link between relational richness, which is the extent that the care worker has a relationship with a resident, suppression and care worker burnout.

“When we are closer to the clients and we have to suppress our feelings and not express our emotions, it means we may easily burnout and be more distressed,” she said.

Getting too close to and regulating clients’ emotions can also impact employee wellbeing.

“If they regulate other’s emotions by simply stopping others from talking and expressing emotions, that will make them more burnt out and distressed in the workplace,” she said.

Ms Guan said aged care providers could also try to recruit staff who are good at managing their emotions.

“Why don’t we choose those qualified advocates at the beginning if we can to help to attract and retain these qualified people to take care of our elderly people?” she said.

The AAG conference took place at the International Convention Centre Sydney 5 – 8 November. Find out more here.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG.

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