In an industry grappling with understaffing, low remuneration, high staff turnover, limited opportunities for professional development, physically and emotionally demanding job requirements and restricted job control, interventions that can enhance workplace conditions and employee well-being are in high demand. Australia’s aged care sector, one of the nation’s largest service industries with approximately 366,000 paid workers, faces substantial challenges.
Research conducted by the University of South Australia sought to address these issues by exploring the potential benefits of motivational interviewing for frontline aged care workers. This approach, typically used to empower individuals in overcoming addiction, was adapted to support workers in prioritising and taking control of their mental and physical health.
In the study, accredited exercise physiologists collaborated with frontline aged care workers, offering counseling and education on personal goal setting, actions, coping mechanisms, and activity intensity measures. The results were promising, with notable improvements in various aspects of well-being.
After just three months, the participants reported an almost 9% increase in their perceived autonomy regarding exercise, a significant predictor of future behavioural change. Furthermore, their fitness levels improved, demonstrated by a slight increase in their six-minute walk distance at the nine-month follow-up.
Beyond physical improvements, participants also reported positive changes in other health-related behaviours. These changes included improved dietary choices, increased willingness to seek assistance from healthcare professionals to manage health conditions, and a more forgiving attitude toward themselves when encountering setbacks.
Dr Merilyn Lock, a UniSA researcher and exercise physiologist, highlighted the potential for motivational interviewing as a powerful tool in addressing systemic apathy among frontline aged care workers.
“There’s no doubt that Australia’s aged care sector is under pressure. We have an aging population, complex care requirements, funding issues, and a shortage of qualified and skilled aged care workers.”
“Supporting the physical and mental well-being of frontline aged care workers is imperative, as quality care is inextricably linked with quality jobs.”
Motivational interviewing, characterised by its personalised and empathetic counseling approach, empowers individuals to explore and resolve ambivalence while assuming that any change is a positive step forward. Its goal-oriented nature encourages individuals to identify, recognise and sustain positive changes in their lives.
By implementing motivational interviewing within the workplace, the study aims to motivate and engage frontline aged care workers, ultimately fostering positive changes in their health. This, in turn, is expected to provide enhanced support to the aged care workforce and, consequently, benefit those receiving care within the aged care sector.
While further research is necessary to explore the implementation of such interventions at the organisational level, this study presents a promising initiative aimed at enabling aged care workers to seize control of their health and overall well-being.