Working in aged care requires a special kind of strength. Caregivers in this field often show incredible compassion and resourcefulness as they support individuals with complex needs, even when faced with limited resources and changing policies and regulations.
Caregivers in aged care often exhibit remarkable resilience, relying on their deep empathy and dedication to their work, despite needing to deal with the emotional challenges of losing those they care for. The nature of their work can lead to burnout, fatigue and stress, so it’s important for caregivers to find a way to prioritise self-care while remaining committed to serving others.
Let’s explore some practical tips that caregivers, supervisors or even loved ones of aged care workers can use to help individuals thrive in their roles while maintaining their emotional well-being and resilience.
Improving the well-being of workers
According to the National Aged Care Survey conducted by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) in 2019, aged care staff have raised several concerns about their working conditions. The report revealed that:
- 90% believe there is not enough staff to provide basic care to residents
- 61% noted a lack of experience and qualifications among staff
- 38% said there needs to be greater accountability for Commonwealth funding
- 84% said legislated minimum staffing levels would improve aged care services
- 36% mentioned concerns about the quality and amount of food provided to residents.
Working in a situation where you feel you can’t provide proper care due to limited resources or lack of proper guidance can take a toll. The COVID-19 pandemic added to these difficulties, as aged care workers had to deal with immense grief and trauma while caring for older, more vulnerable adults.
Despite these challenges, aged care workers have shown incredible resilience and determination to make a positive difference in their workplaces. They continued to show up and provide essential care and comfort to residents, demonstrating their unwavering commitment to their work and the people they serve.
Now is the time for aged care workers to check in with each other, understand the impacts, and design a way forward. This means reflecting on what has happened, working through the impacts of stress together, and integrating the lessons learned into optimism and skills for the future.
This is where Mental Health First Aid training can help. Turning to Mental Health First Aid training can help organisations foster a mentally healthier workplace by:
- Providing tools to recognise changes in their own moods, mental health or stress levels
- Encouraging regular check-ins and conversations about mental health, normalising the act of seeking support
- Helping identify warning signs of trauma or burnout in care recipients and fellow workers
- Normalising asking for help and supporting one another.
Closing the stress cycle
Everyone faced challenges during the pandemic, but aged care workers had the additional burden of dealing with tremendous losses while being in the spotlight for unfortunate and often heartbreaking reasons. They found themselves in unfamiliar and challenging situations, isolated from their support networks, carrying increased stress and workloads – all while needing to adapt at a rapid pace.
Recovering from situations like this and returning to a healthier way of working takes time. We can encourage aged care workers to take practical steps to support their own mental health and that of their colleagues, such as:
- Moving away from action-oriented and anxious modes that were helpful during times of pressure, and returning to a healthy baseline through education and understanding their reactions
- Providing opportunities to reflect on personal experiences, facility-wide experiences, and the sector as a whole
- Creating space for aged care workers to share their stories, reflect on their experiences, and reconnect with their work, colleagues and themselves
- Recognising the achievements made during challenging circumstances without blaming themselves for negative outcomes
- Acknowledging the resilience and courage it took to navigate the pandemic and changing policies and regulations
- Reflecting on the immense efforts made by aged care workers every day.
Changing public and private perceptions
Aged care workers have expressed fears of being blamed and bullied due to the final report of the Royal Commission. Many have reported being mistreated in both public and workplace settings, feeling vilified in the media, and being blamed, harassed, and bullied by managers and employers. This exclusion, shame, blame, and bullying can take a significant emotional toll.
Sometimes, workers may feel powerless to bring about change, even if they are aware of the issues. This is especially true for those in caring roles who don’t have the time, budget, influence, or ability to effect change due to policies, procedures, or management decisions.
When you want to change something but can’t, it can cause emotional stress. We can help aged care workers to alleviate some of this stress by:
- Being present in the moment and focusing on what they can change each day
- Finding opportunities to boost their confidence, challenge negative perceptions or frustrations, reflect on their daily accomplishments, practice gratitude and focus on their connections
- Advocating for change within the existing systems while building strong networks in the workplace and the industry
- Recognising that even incremental change is still progress, and that positive change is happening through dedicated efforts via improved quality and safety standards and regulations
- Remembering that the stories in the news don’t always represent their own experiences – and exchanging stories with colleagues to remind themselves of the good they do
- Applying the ALGEE Action Plan to foster positive and empowered action when needed.