Caring for Healthcare Professionals and Workers

Last Updated: 13 February 2022

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As an organisation, it’s easy to find your focus pulled toward the numeric side of things, but when you zone in on that too much, you might start to lose sight of the human side of your workplace. During turbulent and challenging times, it is even more important for you to stay in contact with each level of your organisation and monitor the overall welfare of your staff.

It’s not easy to create and maintain those lines of communication, so what are some different ways you can check on your employees? And what compassionate support are you able to provide?

What are some of the challenges that healthcare professionals routinely face?

The healthcare industry is an incredibly rewarding industry to work in, partially because it is a high-stakes environment and challenges the idea of what people think they can achieve both professionally and personally. That being said, the high-stakes nature of healthcare also means there are lots of regulations to understand, Standards to comply with, and general challenges to overcome every day.

Obviously, there are certain hurdles and challenges that healthcare professionals and workers face which single organisations are unable to immediately rectify, such as staff shortages, few advancement opportunities within the industry, and difficult working hours for workers new to the industry.

On the other hand, there are many hurdles that an organisation can make smaller – or even remove entirely – so its employees don’t have to work as hard to overcome them. Consider the following:

  • Staff burnout
  • Little access to professional development
  • Outdated and difficult-to-use systems
  • Toxic/unsupportive workplace culture (incl. high staff turnover)

So how do you minimise the actionable hurdles? We’ve compiled some avenues for organisations to consider when wanting to provide compassionate support – and occasionally, relief – to their employees.

What can you do to avoid – and respond to – staff burnout?

If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic taught the healthcare industry, it’s that self-care is no longer a trivial element of life: self-care is now a vital part of a sustainable and healthy professional mindset. Staff burnout can go hand-in-hand with a toxic workplace culture, so make sure you also read through the paragraph about rectifying toxic workplace cultures below.

Help your staff create self-care plans

As a minimum, staff should know what a personal self-care plan is and where they can find a template.

A self-care plan is designed to help you keep focused, stay confident in your own decision-making capabilities, and retain the highest level of mental and physical wellbeing possible. A self-care plan is made up of your own coping skills, your regular self-care needs, and how they can interact with each other.

There is no right or wrong way to structure a self-care plan. The only two elements needed are personal needs and strategies: the details can be as deep or light as is needed.

The Black Dog Institute has created a great template for healthcare workers, particularly those whose workplace was working with or alongside people suffering from COVID-19. This document includes a template for healthcare professionals and workers to identify their self-care needs, as well as another template for creating a self-care plan.

Make it easy to report concern

For staff working in high-pressure environments, peers are often used as emotional support mechanisms. This can be a result of a strong and supportive team culture, but it can also be a sign that the organisation itself is not providing enough support for individual employees.

All staff members need to be made aware that there is a system in place to report concern for fellow colleagues. If this reporting mechanism is effective, workers who have been supporting a burnt-out colleague should feel immediate relief and support from the organisation.

Provide growth opportunities

Sometimes, the greatest act of compassion and support is to provide room for growth. Many staff want to progress within their career, whether that is via upward mobility, development of transferrable skills or reporting better personal quality indicators.

As an organisation, providing opportunities to learn makes your own workforce more effective, valuable and satisfied. Such opportunities may include seminars, webinars, subsidised subscriptions to relevant journals or CPD platforms, or even internal mentorship programs. As the old saying goes: build it and they will come.

Why should you make professional development one of your organisation’s core values?

As mentioned earlier, the opportunity for learning and growth can be a great means of placing power and autonomy back into the hands of your staff. This is especially pertinent in an industry that can often be reactionary. When employees are given autonomy over their own learning, they’re more likely to actively engage in the workplace, more likely to find purpose within newly discovered specialisations, and more likely to use the learning in their practice. In the end, this creates an increase in word-of-mouth reviews of your organisation as well as increased quality indicators.

Autonomy over learning also creates a more meaningful and intentional learning experience. When a learner has a clearer vision of how and when they’re going to use the information they’re learning, it increases the chance of information retention, as explained by the 'connectivism' learning theory (Western Governor’s University, 2021).

Why does it matter whether you are keeping your systems up to date and easy to use?

Accessibility – including easy-to-use software, continuous teaching and a support team – will directly influence how compliant your staff are with CPD regulations (Skydsgaard, 2020). It will also influence how much your staff access the resources you paid to create, and how easily your staff can interact with different departments and teams (with interprofessional collaboration for the care of a single patient becoming increasingly common).

It is important that your staff can use different technology efficiently, as this is often tied to confidence within groups that may otherwise struggle, such as older workers or those who find software less intuitive.

To help keep all members of staff up to date, implement a chat function or system support hotline that staff can use discreetly when needed. There’s nothing wrong with finding technology hard, and making it as easy as possible for your staff to ask for help should be a priority.

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How can you rectify a toxic or unsupportive workplace culture?

Workplace cultures can be the difference between offering a great service and offering a subpar one. A commitment to fixing a toxic workplace will pay dividends for everyone involved. Your organisation will function to a higher standard, your employees will perform at a higher level, and your customers will be more likely to achieve their healthcare goals (Wynne, 2021).

Particularly in the healthcare sector, generational and interprofessional rivalries cause friction both within and between teams that may have to work together to care for a single patient, client or customer (The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 2014). If the patient notices tension or receives sub-par care due to a workplace’s negative culture, this will reflect badly, not just on the professionalism of the staff in question, but also your whole organisation.

Though Ausmed cannot offer you a step-by-step process for fixing toxicity at work, we have found a number of reputable resources that could help you on your journey towards fostering a supportive workplace culture.

Finally, how do you measure the support frameworks you’re using?

You can use all of these suggestions exactly as they’re written and hope for the best - but how do you actually find out whether your staff are responding well to these support frameworks?

As with everything in business, you need to define your goals and your metrics. Seeing as these metrics will largely be qualitative in nature, short surveys and perennially available forms on your organisation’s intranet are a good way to go. The former shows staff that you’re consistently focused upon improving the workplace offering of your organisation, and the latter allows for a constant flow of feedback regarding all aspects of support at the organisation.

Don’t forget about accessibility. Make sure the feedback form page is navigable from each relevant page, such as the systems support page. It is also a good idea to make sure staff know there are no negative consequences to expressing their feedback. Having an option to submit the feedback anonymously can often be a good way to approach this.

Relevant Ausmed resources

If you’re concerned about your staff, or are curious as to what healthcare workers go through in terms of workplace and personal struggles, view Ausmed’s relevant learning content below:


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