Alison Coughlan outlines what aged care leaders can do to support staff in a system under incredible pressure.

Burnout in the health sector was a very real and significant issue before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With 2020 and 2021 pushing us to our very limits and testing us well beyond our normal daily stressors and challenges, this problem has shifted to front and centre.

Maintaining and growing the resilience and wellbeing of the aged care workforce is critical to reducing risk and sustaining our capacity to serve the needs of our community.

As leaders, the first thing we need to do is to recognise that we too are vulnerable to burnout.

The physical and psychological wellbeing of every person in the aged care workforce matters.

Dismissing our own challenges as leaders or feeling we are not eligible or shouldn’t be eligible to access help and support is simply not helpful and doesn’t role model a path to better for others.

Tip for leaders

1. Practice self-care

Give yourself permission to not be okay. Take action to find some relief and seek help if needed. This is going to improve your capacity to sustain yourself and be of service to your team, your organisation, your patients and their families.

Acknowledging our vulnerabilities as leaders is also an important step towards breaking through unhelpful and unhealthy norms of strength and stoicism and pushing through regardless that prevail in our health sector.

This has to extend beyond words through the meaningful actions of leaders as role models in the workplace and sector.

Alison Coughlan

2. Be compassionate

Model the way forward through open dialogue and with genuine warmth and compassion for yourself and others. This will create trust, increase psychological safety in the workplace and make work less damaging to the wellbeing of us all.

Every person in your organisation needs to feel safe, heard, valued and cared for. Whilst there are many challenges and stressors that you can not change, there is much that you can and often it will be simple things that tip the scales towards our decline.

3. Identify stressors

Have the conversation and keep it simple. Ask one simple question of your team: What are the three biggest stressors in your day? Hear and acknowledge these stressors and their impacts. Acknowledge what you can’t change. Change what you can.

Despite burnout first being characterised almost half a century ago, it has only been formally recognised in more recent times.

Burnout was included as an occupational phenomenon in the International Classification of Diseases in 2019 and an international standard for psychological wellbeing at work was published in June 2021. Whilst this remains an emerging field, the impacts of this problem will be felt each and every day in your workplace.

4. Build resilience

Take control and do what you can to build your own personal resilience at work and to foster and grow resilience in your workplace.

Value the resilience of your workforce as highly as you do any of the other measures of quality and excellence that you routinely track and monitor.

This could in fact be the most valuable investment you could make in transforming the quality and safety of care and the wellbeing of all.

Take care, stay safe and go gently as we navigate a path to a new, better normal for us all.

Alison Coughlan is an author and consultant who helps health and social sector professionals and organisation chart a path to resilience and impact.

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