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Posted on 02 Jun 2022
Mental health

In a highly anticipated breakout session at Giant Steps 22 on Thursday afternoon, Jo Rench, Manager of Psychology at Austin Hospital, outlined three variations of positive psychology programs carried out at Austin Health to improve worker wellbeing, along with some extremely useful information and tips for health services to support their workforces.  

In early 2021, and seemingly COVID-free and out of lockdown, Austin Health won a small grant to run a program to promote healthcare worker wellbeing. The face-to-face program was designed using psychology and creative therapy, and the feedback and results were fantastic.  

Almost immediately thwarted by another round of lockdowns, after much consideration the team decided to run the program virtually. Following an encouraging pilot session, the team successfully ran 55 sessions to almost 500 staff.  

The third iteration of the program was targeted specifically to the ICU and emergency departments, and while it started virtually, the program has now come full circle and is again being conducted face-to-face. The results continue to be inspiring.  

Programs that promote healthcare worker wellbeing have benefits beyond the obvious aim of improving staff wellbeing. Jo said there is also a strong link between healthcare worker wellbeing and safe and high-quality services. Research suggests that healthcare workers who believe their workplaces are concerned for their workforce’s emotional wellbeing and offer support, have better mental health and lower stress.  

When it comes to setting up their own healthcare worker wellbeing programs, Jo had some very good advice for health services. She said, “Start with what you are trying to achieve and what it means to have good wellbeing. Mental health is a state of wellbeing and good wellbeing is feeling good most of the time, functioning well, and having strong social connections. Being social is one of the biggest predictors of happiness.” 

Jo also has advice for managers. She said, “One of the most powerful things you can do is acknowledge the difficult situation we’re in.” It is also important to be realistic and compassionate. She suggests that managers make time for conversations with their teams. A quick, how are you going, doesn’t provide the space to allow important conversations to occur. These conversations require time, space, and consideration. 

In a warning to health services, Jo said that burnout is a system issue, not an individual issue. She said, “We have to be really cautious about talking about resilience building with staff in a time of crisis.” She went on to explain that talking about resilience building with staff suggests that the individual can fix the problem. However, while it is good to have individual coping strategies, these are not a fix for burnout.