Based on our work with over 100 aged care organisations, we have analysed the data to identify the top five workplace issues in aged care, and offer this advice to workers, writes Marcela Slepica.

Work-related stress is the most common workplace issue in Australian workplaces and the aged care industry is no different.

Marcela Slepica
Marcela Slepica

Among the challenges facing aged care providers is a difficulty attracting and retaining workers. It is estimated that the sector’s workforce will need to increase two or three fold before 2050 in order to provide care to the growing number of residents. The aged care workers themselves are also ageing, which presents its own challenge.

The sector’s workers face daily challenges in the provision of care and providers must acknowledge the issues facing their employees and provide the support systems to ensure they remain healthy.

Based on our work with over 100 aged care organisations, covering some 2,600 employees, we have analysed the data to identify the top five workplace issues in the aged care industry. These are:

  1. Workplace stress
  2. Conflict with colleague
  3. Conflict with manager
  4. Alleged bullying
  5. Loss of confidence

Working with seniors can be very rewarding but can also take its toll on the health of nurses and care workers. Caring for some of the most vulnerable people in society and dealing with emotional issues such as deterioration in a resident’s health can be challenging, so it is little surprise that stress is commonly experienced among aged care nurses and care staff.

These emotional challenges, coupled with constantly having to make sure residents are taking their medication, exercising, sleeping and eating, mean that stress is the leading workplace issue in the aged care industry.

In some ways, there is a greater potential for conflict to occur in an aged care facility than in most other workplaces. Successful management of disputes is essential in maintaining a harmonious and successful working environment. Relationships with residents, their families, carers and other health professionals require careful management as do the relationships with employees and managers. Conflict between colleagues and managers is common in the aged care industry due to the high level of workplace stress experienced.

In aged care, complaints or allegations against care workers by family members, especially complaints of maltreatment or not caring properly for residents who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, are common. Organisations have procedures in place and have a responsibility to investigate these complaints. The process for staff is difficult and can lead to extreme distress and anxiety. The employee often feels they don’t have anyone to talk to due to the confidentiality requirements and can feel unsupported by the organisation or their managers.

Working with residents and families who are responding to loss and grief can be one of the most challenging times for an aged care worker. Handling this situation with confidence, skill and expertise is a fundamental need for staff in aged care. A lack of confidence may occur if care workers begin to question their ability to deliver high quality end-of-life care or ability to discuss or deal with death or dying.

Here are our top five ways for aged care workers to better handle stress:

1. Don’t take things personally

Stress can make you more sensitive and more prone to taking things personally. Stress in others can also make them behave atypically or unkindly. Learn to defuse situations rather than bottle things up and try to let go of grudges.

2. Don’t bottle it up

Talk to others and share how you are feeling, talk to colleagues, friends and family. Keeping your feelings inside and allowing them to build up can lead to more serious concerns such as anxiety, depression maybe physical symptoms, and can impact relationships with others.

3. Prioritise relaxation and exercise

These are not optional extras for handling stress, they are essential. Set aside time each day for recreation and exercise. The trick is to find what suits you. Hobbies that focus attention are also good stress relievers. Even a daily walk can help to cope with stress.

4. Identify your stress situations

Make a list of events that leave you emotionally drained and one or two ways to reduce the stress for each. Just knowing you have a plan helps with stress. Take action, any action, doing nothing contributes to stress.

5. Appreciate ourselves and others

Write down one positive characteristic of yourself and one positive characteristic of someone you regularly interact with. Stress can lead to a cycle of negative thinking; focusing on positive things helps to reduce the cycle of negative thinking.

Marcela Slepica is clinical services director with AccessEAP, a corporate psychology organisation.

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  1. I’m a personal carer for aged care community. I am burnt out; rosters are always messed up, there’s a lot of back tracking, not knowing that a client has cancelled, bullying, going to see a client for 10 minutes when it takes longer to drive there…

  2. I work in an aged care facility and I chose not to work with Dementia residents. However 3 years on the area I work in is being change into a dementia area and we have been told we do not have a choice of whether or not we want to work in that area. At the moment I am not coping at all and it doesn’t matter who I send a staff message to they just handball it all the time. I currently have 6 days off and I find myself having anxiety attacks about going and they are so bad they physically make me sick. I don’t want to go back to work.

  3. Hi Pam.
    It can be very exhausting both physically and mentally, working in Aged Care. Is there someone you can talk to, outside of your work? The company I work for has an outside counselling service that staff can attend, up to 3 sessions free.
    Some training to maybe learn new/different coping strategies?
    hings that you can do just for you? What about your colleagues? Are any feeling the same as you?
    Sometimes, what seems a private problem can be more of a ‘public’ issue………if there are more staff in similar situations, then maybe management can call someone in house for all staff.
    It is a specialised area, working with probably the most frail and vulnerable people in society, not enough recognition goes into the good work that most of us do……….certainly a lot reported on the negatives, as it should be, but we need affirmation as well.
    We need politicians to get in there and do some of the work we do, not pretty it up, but the reality of it……….all the best for you……

  4. I have just completed my certificate III in aged care, I did my 120 hours of work placement at a facility that didn’t have a good environment. The way the residents were treated was just horrible and the, way i was treated was also horrible. Sense then i have been afraid to apply for jobs having anxiety, that all places will be the same just feeling so lost. Because i have a huge passion to help people i love and respect, the elderly so much and am willing to do anything to help them. I would love to become a registered nurse one day but am worried i wont be mentally tough enough.

  5. Posts that resonate with me as an aged care worker in different spaces. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a direct or indirect worker. The stress is overwhelming. So I chose to train as a counsellor.

  6. chelsea-Rose, There are many good homes, however I am wondering if starting in community care might be a better option for you right now. In my experience community is a good foundation for developing confidence etc. and I found the pressure much reduced in community care. The other option might be to start as a lifestyle officer is residential care. Also good for developing confidence.

  7. I would like to know what the outcome of the Royal Commission into Aged Care is?? Has any advancement been made in resident to staff ratio. My experience in aged care revealed little correlation between staffing levels, and increased needs of failing residents. When are these ever present issues going to be resolved???

  8. I completed Cert 111. I keep reminding myself that in this dreadful time of global pandemic I HAVE A JOB!! I worked in media for 20 years. THIS is the hardest work ever!! but strangely comforting to know that it is across the board. Where I work, the place is understaffed, residents lonely and depressed. Meals mostly inedible. The AGING need a voice but are too afraid of causing trouble. Who will stand up for them. The industry is atrocious. But what a need… My heart goes out to the residents with whom I empathise and share comfort and love when I can. I was astounded at how unkind staff can be to each other and also impatient due to time constraints with residents. I do feel, however, that I am
    making a difference and that empowers me to focus on the job at hand. it is actually mindblowing. I do feel
    i have upskilled but it really is tough. ( but not as tough as slowly anguishing and crying that death is taking too long! )

  9. Hi! It came to me as a huge surprise when my aunt told me that her only neighbor has moved somewhere else recently, leaving her as the only resident at her neighborhood. Hearing that news really makes me worried about her personal well-being. Luckily, you did point out that an aged care facility would always consists of staff who put serenity and mindfulness first for the sake of everyone’s mental health. I’ll advise her to consider this option so she can live a better life after this.

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