Frontline care workers need support to manage mounting fatigue and mental health challenges.
Ongoing staff shortages caused by fresh waves of Covid-19 and a lack of migrant workers mean employees in the social, community, home care and disability services sectors, particularly in regional areas, may be experiencing psychosocial stress including fatigue.
Annette Alexander, Ai Group’s Chief Safety Officer, said compassion fatigue was common within caring professions.
“A major concern with experiencing fatigue is that it can lead to job burnout," she said.
"However, much can be done to support these valuable workers who play a vital role in supporting people through various stages of life — ageing, disability and sickness."
Job burnout risk factors include:
Workload — heavy workload and long hours
There are many reasons why some employees work long hours, especially if they are working for several agencies.
Balance — struggling to balance work and home life
Are employees able to maintain a decent work-life balance? If not, that’s a major factor in job burnout.
Profession — working in a helping profession
In a caring profession, it is difficult for some people to turn off and set boundaries that prioritise their own health and wellbeing.
Control — work is guided by the needs of their client
The needs of clients significantly influence how and when employees perform their work.
The consequences of burnout can include:
“If you think about your staff and what you need from them on a daily basis, you need them to be robust,” Ms Alexander said.
“You need them to be healthy and present. If they are suffering from the effects of burnout, they are not able to work at their best.
"There are many things we can do on a personal level to improve our own fitness, health and wellbeing."
To better support themselves, employees can:
“If someone is progressing towards burnout, they should discuss with their supervisor what can be done,” Ms Alexander said.
“Are there ways they can reduce their stress? Is there work that can be shelved for now? What’s urgent? What’s important? Having those discussions about how an employee can stop moving towards burnout just by understanding what the work requirements are is important.”
This can be from within the organisation or from friends or a partner. Use your EAP
(Employee Assistance Program) if you have one.
Activities such as tai chi, meditation, yoga and reading are particularly beneficial.
“It’s important that people can choose the activity and have time to do it. They need to make it a priority.”
As well as the obvious benefits of exercise, being active reduces some of those lifestyle risk factors and helps with the ability to sleep.
“It doesn’t have to be a sweaty workout in the gym; take your dog for a walk or get on the treadmill,” Ms Alexander says.
“That can be easier said than done if you’ve got the day going around your head and if you’ve got a full-time job at work and a full-time job at home. But, if your workers know how critical a good night’s sleep is and they can prioritise it, so much of it can fall into place from a mental health point of view.
“It’s that approach of being in the moment, at the moment. Be aware of your surroundings, be aware of the impact of what you’re doing and who you are doing it for. Understand your job and praise yourself for the work you do.”
To support workers, organisations can:
“Identifying workplace wellbeing and mental health risks is best done with your workers because they are at the coalface every day. They know what their risks are and what they are being exposed to. They understand how the job impacts them.”
“Make employees part of the solution,” Ms Alexander said.
“Let them be aware that you’re doing this work and the work is for them. The more involved they are, the better your results will be.”
Develop a workplace wellbeing and psychological safety strategy to address those risks. The risks may be far and wide: manual handling or fatigue — all the things that go into being a care and support worker.
Utilise experts such as Ai Group’s Workplace Health & Safety Consulting team, your EAP if you have one and support services such as Beyond Blue.
“This work takes time and effort, but it’s 100 per cent worth it,” Ms Alexander said.
“It can seem like a lot of work in an area in which you don’t have expertise, but that’s OK because other people do.
“There are many tools and support out there to help you.”
Headsup (part of Beyond Blue)
Wendy Larter is Ai Group's Communications Manager. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.