Why staff wellbeing is critical for your organisation

Last updated on 13 October 2022

Workplace psychological hazards such as time pressures, conflict and traumatic events can lead to decreased staff wellbeing. [Source: iStock]

Work, rest, play. It’s a common phrase that attempts to divide our lives into three even parts, but more often than not, work is the top priority. A work to live attitude is often the driving force behind our lives.

However, work on its own is not the most important aspect of running a business – workplace wellbeing is. Without it, productivity falls and staff retention rates drop. In a highly stressful sector like the aged care industry, staff wellbeing has never been more important.

One in five Australians experience mental health problems. Roughly 25% of workers take time off for stress-related reasons and that costs Australian businesses more than $6.5 billion each year

The aged care sector alone is experiencing a mass exodus of workers, causing workforce shortages nationally.

Workplace psychological hazards such as time pressures, interpersonal conflict and client or resident deaths are just some of the factors leading to increased stress, anxiety or depression among staff. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. Early interventions and appropriate mental health support for employees benefits not only their own mental wellbeing, but also the quality of resident care and staff retention.

To gain a greater insight into how managers can look after their staff, Hello Leaders spoke to Abby Hunt, Director of Veraison and Co-Founder of Data Drives Insight.

Ms Hunt is a Counselling Psychologist, Performance Coach and Author with over 20 years’ experience supporting a range of organisations and industries, including health and care.

“When I think of wellbeing I think of it as a state of being healthy, safe, comfortable, [and] happy. You’re content with how things are going,” Ms Hunt said.

“It doesn’t mean you’re free of challenges, but it’s about resilience and how you cope with them.”

Ms Hunt said she likes to use the formula ‘performance equals potential minus interference’ as a way to measure if someone is reaching their full potential. 

Negative thoughts towards job security or workplace relationships is something that can impact potential as someone is distracted and their performance decreases.

“When we’re free of that noise then we perform a lot better,” she explained. 

“In the care industry that’s one of the biggest issues. It’s self-care and people are so focused on providing care to others they don’t have time for themselves.”

This is where providers need to look at how they can better support their workforce and incorporate staff wellbeing into day-to-day practice.

Signs that your staff needs help

There could be a number of contributing factors affecting a staff member’s wellbeing, including existing mental health concerns or an adverse reaction to a traumatic work incident.

In a supportive workplace, there should be structures in place to support an individual, such as an employee assistance program (EAP). 

An EAP is a professional work based intervention program offering counselling, coaching and mentoring services that can help a staff member address any concerns with their mental health or psychological wellbeing.  

Ms Hunt said it’s also important for managers to look out for the signs that someone is struggling emotionally. If aged care leaders aren’t proactive, this support can come too late.

“For a lot of managers and leaders, we try to help them understand what their belief system is as to why they don’t speak up,” Ms Hunt said. 

“There are instances of people who, after the fact, may say ‘I knew so-and-so wasn’t the same but it didn’t feel like my place to speak up’ or ‘if they wanted to tell me something they would have’. 

“Managers and leaders need to take responsibility to ensure they are providing a psychologically safe environment. 

“Part of that includes checking in, asking questions and a need to be curious about what’s happening with the people in their team.”

One of the main things to look out for is a change in behaviour. And it could be something subtle like a colleague not eating lunch with other staff anymore, a drop in their performance, or taking less care with their own appearance. 

“When you know someone well, and this is the importance of building relationships, speak up when you notice a change in behaviour,” Ms Hunt said.

“And it’s not just a ‘hey are you okay’, it’s ‘I noticed you normally have such a positive attitude but you don’t seem to be yourself. I just wanted to check in to see how you are’.”

Preparing and support staff for workplace challenges 

A 2020 study into staff retention and turnover entitled 2020 Employee Care Report: The Hidden Causes of Employee turnover revealed that one in three employees left a job because they did not feel their employer cared about them as a person.

One in five employees quit their jobs due to a lack of wellbeing support, while 52% of “burned out” employees also encouraged their colleagues to quit at the same time.

In a highly personal profession, where teamwork is often essential in delivering care, supportive team relationships are critical. And if there are issues where teams are not getting along and do not feel supported, there will be departures, said Ms Hunt.

“Wellbeing is important because when people are happy they don’t look for other jobs, they don’t leave,” Ms Hunt explained.

“It’s actually one of the biggest reasons why people leave the industry, because of conflicts.

“It might not be overt conflict like people arguing or fighting, but it might be not feeling psychologically safe.”

Ms Hunt highlighted the benefits of teamwork and camaraderie, which were team support methods she used during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One such example was creating a culture of support and care for “surge teams”, ensuring that these groups of nurses or carers who would go in and support aged care residents when the previous staff had to isolate suddenly due to an outbreak, were adequately assisted when entering new facilities.

“We would talk about how to debrief and how to ask the right questions during a shift if someone was getting upset,” Ms Hunt said.

“If there was a death that day, it was working on how to actually have meaningful conversations. 

“The feedback was always ‘why don’t we make this a standard practice?’ to acknowledge it was a tough shift and ask how each other is going.”

She added that it is not uncommon to see short-staffed teams and organisations “perform really well together because they have a good connection and relationship” while “disconnected and burnt out” teams struggle to achieve the same outcomes.

Implementing wellbeing supports

Acknowledging mental health issues is no easy feat. Stigma still remains attached to mental health, and, according to the 2020 Employee Care Report, close to 50% of people who shared concerns about their mental health experienced a negative outcome. 

But improvements are taking place and many organisations are better at supporting wellbeing. Solutions implemented include:

  • Employee assistance programs and access to counselling
  • Mental health/wellbeing leave
  • Self-care and wellbeing training sessions for new and existing staff
  • Easy access to mental health information and support resources
  • Regular social events and staff bonding opportunities
  • Dedicated mental health buddies or wellbeing leaders that staff can speak to in confidence
  • Regular breaks with genuine time to eat lunch or rest

Ms Hunt said it’s crucial to also address the cause of any drop in mental wellbeing. 

“The benefits of shining a light on mental health, wellbeing and being able to look after ourselves has huge benefits for the individual, residents and organisations,” Ms Hunt said.

“I think what organisations can do more of is place a greater focus on identifying psychological and psychosocial hazards in the workplace around relationships and knowing how people are actually feeling and how to measure that. 

“I don’t mean measuring for quotas or compliance, I mean are we really asking people in a safe way ‘how are you going’ or ‘are you feeling listened to or valued’. 

“We need to have regular touchpoints to measure psychological safety and keep a finger on the pulse of how people are feeling so we can wrap support around them.”

Preparation from day one delivers a greater sense of understanding and comfort, and Ms Hunt says a safe workplace culture is essential so staff can speak up when they feel down or have a bad day.

Normalising mental health provides staff with a way to focus on wellbeing in a workplace environment where structured support and resources are available.

aged care
aged care sector
mental health
nursing sector
workplace wellbeing
psychological hazards