The aged care sector needs to recognise the effect compliance measures are having on workers’ wellbeing, a psychologist has told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“There is an impact of regulation on workforce mental health,” said Sue Jauncey, founder and CEO of Appellon – a provider of research-backed workforce engagement programs.
In a position paper, Ms Jauncey argues that government regulation can generate both positive outcomes and “unforeseen negative consequences”.
“Everything is all about the compliance and the task – ‘you must do this’ and ‘you must do that’ – and that compliance has been increasing over a period of time,” Ms Jauncey said.
Highly regulated and compliant environments can affect job satisfaction, she added, which creates issues with staff retention and higher rates of staff turnover.
“Regulation can cause staff to feel they’re under continuous scrutiny, producing a sense of fear and anxiety.”
Ms Jauncey told AAA: “As you increase legislation you also increase the phenomenon called learned helplessness.”
This, explains Ms Jauncey in the paper, manifests itself when workers experience repeated stressful situations, “where, depending on predisposition, individuals feel unable to control their environment, no matter what they do.”
Learned helplessness most notably occurs in highly audited industries such as aged care, said Ms Jauncey.
Not that she’s against compliance. “Should we have some regulation? Yes. You’re always going to get people who make mistakes with medications – it’s going to happen because it’s human beings. And we are going to have some people come into the industry that don’t treat people in the way they should.”
However, Ms Jauncey told AAA there’s a danger over-regulation of the aged care sector will increase cases of learned helplessness – “And what risks are associated with that?”
As Ms Jauncey lists in her paper, the risks include:
- workers normalising stress and operating in a fight or flight mode
- workers disconnecting from their colleagues
- lower job satisfaction
- loss of self-esteem
- burnout and fatigue.
Rather than overly focus on compliance and complaints, Ms Jauncey would like to see the sector instead focus on all the good that’s being achieved.
“If I went into a site and I showed you all the positive events that are occurring and what residents were saying versus the number of complaints that have been recorded against sites for whatever reason, the positive events far outweigh the number of complaints.”
What is needed, said Ms Jauncey, is a shift in narrative. “If we just start to change some of that story there will be a natural adjustment and if we do that, will we need to keep piling on the regulation? No, we won’t … The more we show what is being achieved on a daily basis residents’ wellbeing goes up, staff wellbeing goes up, performance starts to improve.”