A new model of work to improve staff wellbeing

A research project aims to evaluate how work can be redesigned to improve the mental health of aged care workers.

A research project aims to evaluate how work can be redesigned to improve the mental health and wellbeing of workers in aged care and other healthcare and social assistance industries.

A partnership between University of Sydney and Curtin University, the research project – called Design for Care – aims to better understand the psychosocial risks experienced in the sector and aspects of work design that can protect against those risks.

Associate Professor Anya Johnson

“We know there are certain elements of the way that work is designed that is impacting poor mental health,” University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Anya Johnson told Australian Ageing Agenda.

The researchers surveyed 1,300 healthcare and social assistance sector workers over an 18-month period – the bulk of whom (73.8 per cent) worked in aged care.

Of those surveyed:

  • 40 per cent said their jobs were highly emotionally demanding
  • 37 per cent reported not having enough time to do their work
  • 24 per cent said they don’t spend enough time with their family
  • 22 per cent of workers reported burnout.

“There’s obviously a common message there,” said Associate Professor Johnson. “There is a lot of work pressure and there are also high emotional demands and we do see that is contributing to poor mental health.”

She added: “The bulk of that pressure is being felt by people in permanent positions.”

The survey also found healthcare and social assistance workers experienced less autonomy in their jobs and poorer relationships at work.

Younger workers – aged 16 to 24 – were more likely to experience higher rates of poor mental health compared to all other age groups.

Funded by Insurance and Care NSW, the researchers have partnered with multiple organisations in aged care, disability care, and out-of-home care to understand and address the demands that are driving the high rates of burnout and mental ill-health among the workforce.

“We’re looking at particular roles, particular sites, particular teams to see how we might be able to change the way they work and then we’re looking to measure whether it actually changes wellbeing and mental health,” said Associate Professor Johnson.

The researchers have so far partnered with five organisations – including NSW and Queensland provider Whiddon and Bankstown City Aged Care in Sydney’s south-west – to “focus on building better work experiences for the people working in their organisation,” said Associate Professor Johnson.

To help them address and mitigate the psychosocial risks, the researchers have developed a model of work design called SMART – Stimulating, Mastery, Agency, Relational, Tolerable.

Source: Design for Care

Associate Professor Johnson told AAA that all of the model’s elements are interconnected “so we need to be thinking about the whole way in which we think about work.”

It’s not just about identifying one specific risk element added Associate Professor Johnson. “You can improve relationships but if people still feel they don’t have control over what they do then that won’t necessarily improve mental health overall.

“Having said that, what we have also been finding is that when you improve one element of the model – improve relationships or improve a person’s sense of control – that often has a good flow-on effect on other elements.”

Through their research – which should be completed some time next year – the Design for Care team intends to produce a series of evidenced-based resources for the health and social assistance sectors, said Associate Professor Johnson, “so that organisations throughout the industry can take this model and use it in a facilitated way.”

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Tags: anya johnson, burnout, curtin-university, design for care, featured, university-of-sydney,

1 thought on “A new model of work to improve staff wellbeing

  1. It’s always good when we focus on the welling and mental health of workers in the care sector, specifically aged care. It’s not only direct workers – described here as healthcare and social assistance workers – who experience poor wellbeing but almost anyone who has no control over their roles e.g. position tied to funding. I know that some, not all offer EAP to staff but it’s also likely that staff don’t understand the value of seeking support outside their workplace. Whenever I provide counselling to a worker in the care sector, I get quite excited because I can understand their challenges given my background. Perhaps we need more sector-specific supports like counsellors in aged care (and other care sectors). I’m happy to talk with anyone in the aged care sector who might be interested in looking at options to support their staff or clients.

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