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Healthcare Mental Health Opinion

Workers Mental Health: Taking Care of Those Who Take Care of Us

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COVID-19 has fostered an environment to not only continue workplace bullying and fatigue in the healthcare sector, but also exacerbate it. Poor organisation from management and fast paced shifts, many of which are monotonous and hazardous, have led to rising levels of stress and fatigue. Intimidation from both patients and leaders to ‘encourage’ better efforts and productivity has drastically damaged the psychosocial health of many workers, and as a result of the increased work demand, and precious time scale, the psychosocial health of employees is not being considered high enough on the priority list – as it should be. One nurse explained the pressure as feeling more like “a sheep sent to slaughter than a front-line nurse.” (NBC News 2020) This clearly needs to change. If we can’t take care of them, they can’t take of us.

So how can we understand and recognise these stresses and aid to prevent them? Early in 2020, Dr Bartone mentioned in an article published by the ABC that “doctors in training, who work more than 55 hours each week, have double the risk of developing mental health problems and suicidal ideation.” This is of course worrying considering the pandemic’s effects have only placed more pressure on hospitals since this time. In 2010 the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions found that monotony in work and thus lacking job satisfaction were common factors of healthcare workers who felt they had been bullied. Of course, I can’t imagine how much monotony is occurring in hospitals today – though necessary for all our safety, the endless repetitive cycle of patients, COVID-19 testers and cleaners in hospitals ensuring all beds and isolation wards are kept as clean as possible is surely lowering the bar increasingly for job satisfaction. This is also going to be decreasing efforts and loyalty in workplaces meaning power positions are becoming stricter and resorting to coercive power behaviours to encourage the productivity that we rely on – only increasing the pressure and fatigue on workers. A study has found that workplace bullying and stress is positively correlated with workers intentions to leave their jobs and understandably so. Aggressive patients and over- demanding bosses are inadvertently forcing vital workers away from their jobs. NBC News in May 2020 released that “According to a survey conducted by Holliblu, 62 percent of over 1,000 respondents said they are planning to quit either their jobs or the profession altogether.”

So how can the fatigue, stress and resentment of healthcare workers be dealt with from healthcare leaders and frontline workers perspectives, to prevent the loss of our vital health workers? From the inner workings, healthcare workers can practice mindfulness to stay focused and content despite their stressful surroundings. Check out Bullyology’s resource on practicing mindfulness.

From a leader’s perspective the responsibilities to support psychosocial health should follow these steps – ensure that your teams emotional and physical health is held to as a high a level as their productivity.

  1. Educate yourself on WHS regulations ‘you must eliminate or minimise the risk to psychological health and safety arising from the work carried out by your business or undertaking as much as you reasonably can.’ (SafeWork Australia, 2020)
  2. Reflecting on your actions will allow you to consider ways you may improve employee efficiency – creating a healthy environment of respect, honesty and comfort is essential to ensuring efficiency and safety.
  3. Inform your employees on their rights, particularly in the COVID-19 climate and keep them consulted and up to date on current plans and information. A prepared team is an efficient team. An unprepared team is both inefficient and panicked.
  4. Prove that you’re interested in your employee’s health and wellness and that they’re not simply a tool for your agenda.
  5. Allow private meetings in which confidence is fostered.
  6. Spread praise and encourage other to as well
  7. Set clear goals for your team to work towards coherently.
  8. Ask your team what you can do to improve and develop a healthier and more proactive team and carry out a risk assessment to ensure everything is being covered.
  9. Refer your workers to professional mental health workers if necessary. Normalise therapy and counselling for your fatigued employees.

I myself rejected the idea of seeking professional help during my workplace bullying but found that it helped me significantly in both facing my bullying and my recovery from it – I could not recommend seeking help highly enough. Even if you are practising your own mindfulness, help from a trained professional will aid you in this journey of healing and coping with the stressful work environment that you are having to endure.

Please, if you are struggling with your emotional health contact one of the following or visit their websites. Encourage your team to do this also.

  • Welcome to Head to Health | Head to Health
  • Get Help home – Lifeline Australia Ph 13 11 14
  • Anxiety, depression and suicide prevention support – Beyond Blue Ph 1300 22 4636
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