From buddy programs to increasing staff autonomy, a new guide has captured best-practice strategies to reduce home care worker stress.

The industry guide developed by researchers Dr Sarah Oxenbridge and Justine Evesson draws on the findings of new research, which included interviews with 49 home care workers and 22 leading-practice employers in the aged and disability sector.

The resource published last month outlined a range of initiatives from low-cost strategies to improve staff recognition and communication to new ideas about organising care workers into self-managing teams.

Dr Oxenbridge said home care workers were reluctant to report job stress, which meant supervisors needed to be trained to spot the signs of stress and intervene early.

“The practice guide gives home care workers and employers some ideas for what works best to prevent or reduce stress and how organisations can improve what they are doing now,” she told Community Care Review.

Common sources of home care worker stress identified in the study related to the intensity and insecurity of the work, poor relationships with supervisors, a lack of respect and recognition for their work, and high standards of care not being delivered.

Dr Oxenbridge said access to supportive managers and peers was critical to reducing and managing stress.

The guide highlights the value of mentoring and peer support initiatives to reduce the isolation of staff and to create opportunities for home care workers to share knowledge and debrief with colleagues.

For example, leading-practice employers in the study ran paid team meetings and held drop-in sessions at local cafes to bring home care workers together.

Care worker-only group sessions also provided opportunities for home care workers to support each other and raise issues, the researchers said.

To prevent burnout, some organisations offered staff a mix of shifts across home care, residential care and respite and varied their roles to include both domestic assistance and complex care.

Dr Oxenbridge said work rosters were a significant source of stress for home care workers and a primary way for employers to improve the quality of care jobs.

Providing sufficient hours, limiting travel time by matching care workers to clients in local areas and reducing broken shifts were key strategies of best-practice employers in the research.

Some workplaces were also trialling the use of home care worker self-rostering where teams could set the roster together, allocate new clients and swap shifts between staff.

Technology was also allowing workers to display and update their work availability in real time and for employers to more effectively advertise shift vacancies, she said.

Self-organising teams

A promising innovation to reduce worker stress identified in the research is the development of self-managed or autonomous teams, such as the Dutch Buurtzorg model.

In these flatter organisational structures, teams of care workers can work together to make decisions about the recruitment and development of staff and how care is delivered. They can also support each other by sharing ideas, expertise and offering support. However, Dr Oxenbridge said team members would require training on how to work effectively as a team for the model to be successful.

Models of self-directed teams are currently being piloted within disability services in Victoria.

Policy responses

In addition to provider-led initiatives, the researchers said industry quality standards and funding conditions could place a greater emphasis on employee wellbeing and reducing care worker stress.

Government grants could also be made available to home care providers to expand the trialling of self-managing team models in Australia.

The researchers also called for further investigation into how job stress is experienced by home care workers in rural and remote areas, by those employed by brokerage agencies and using online platforms.

The research project was funded by the NSW Government’s Better Regulation Division Applied Research Program and involved industry partners United Voice and the Attendant Care Industry Association.

Download the research report here and practice guide here.

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