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These essential steps will help you support your team's mental health

Maintaining mental wellness in healthcare workplaces is increasingly important these days, with strained resources, overworked staff and having to manage concerned or difficult patients.

As a practice manager or business owner, looking after your team’s mental health is part of your duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (“the Act”). The Act requires that a person conducting a business or undertaking has a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of workers while they are at work, and defines ‘health’ as both physical and psychological.

We can’t underestimate the impact of the COVID pandemic on mental health overall and particularly in the workplace. The Black Dog Institute’s 2021 white paper, Modern work: how changes to the way we work are impacting Australians’ mental health cites research that indicates the mental health of Australian workers, especially those aged 18-34, is declining due to disruptions to work and social lives.

So how can you create a healthy culture in your practice that looks after staff, while looking after yourself?

Lead with empathy and open communication

As leadership expert Simon Sinek notes, leading a team is not about being in charge, but taking care of those in your charge. It requires empathy and perspective. Your leadership and communication style impacts the behaviours of the people in your practice and in turn, their feelings of wellbeing and value to the team.

Transparent, respectful communication underpins mental wellness in life and at work. We don’t always get it right, but even seemingly small actions like the ones below can make all the difference:

  • Acknowledge and reward good work, even a simple ‘thank you’ to staff at the end of each day can lift morale.
  • Organise team bonding social activities such as lunches or fun group events.
  • Highlight practice and individual achievements at staff meetings.
  • Ensure staff take the leave and breaks they’re entitled to and don’t work through lunchtime, for example.
  • Have difficult conversations respectfully and without blaming, to diffuse stress, discord and defensiveness.
  • Involve your staff in problem solving and risk management.

Identify mental health and safety risks and implement control processes

Reducing and mitigating risks to mental health safety is as important as how you deal with other practice risks. And it’s important to have a consultative process that involves all your staff. Here are some steps to guide your processes:

Step 1: Identify workplace psychological hazards

These can be broken into 3 areas:

Job factors: issues including job insecurity, isolated work, lack of role clarity, effort/reward imbalance, role overload, low job control

Operational or team factors: such as workplace conflict, bullying/harassment, violence and aggression, poor support, hazardous environment, limited resources or support

Organisational: workplace culture, poor organisational change consultation, poor approaches to fairness and transparency.

Step 2: Assess psychosocial risks

Look at the duration, frequency and severity of issues such as:

  • dealing with difficult patients without support or training
  • a new receptionist feeling overwhelmed with their role
  • administration staff lacking role clarity and feeling frustrated
  • poor interpersonal relationships – are all your staff getting along or is there some tension that needs to be addressed?

Step 3: Control the risks

Identify some effective risk control measures. Some examples include: 

  • Ensure your reception staff are trained in dealing with difficult patients.
  • Review your induction program to ensure new staff are adequately trained in practice processes relevant to their role.
  • Similarly, make sure role statements represent expected tasks, and that the person in that role understands what’s required of them.
  • Review your performance management process. How and when do you give feedback? Are performance appraisals a two-way conversation? How do you ensure staff feel supported in their role?

Step 4: Implement, review and change where needed

When you implement your risk control measures, set a time frame for regular review to assess what’s working and what needs to be changed. Again, involving staff in this process is essential – for feedback on fine-tuning your processes.

Document your processes and record staff training 

Your policies and procedures are essential to document how you manage mental health and safety in your healthcare practice. Having them in a centralised location where all staff can access them also reduces confusion, disruptions, disputes and stress.

This is where online practice management software, PracticeHub comes to the fore. In the cloud-based platform, you can store your job descriptions and tasks per role, to reduce stress around role clarity.

Staff induction and performance are easy to monitor using PracticeHub, with audit trails to track your team’s completion of tasks and any training. And with the help of PracticeHub’s 8 built-in training modules, you can ensure staff are well trained in dealing with potentially stressful issues such as dealing with difficult patients and handling bullying in the workplace.

Looking after your team’s mental wellness not only benefits each individual, but has practice-wide benefits, extending to improved patient care.

Our recent webinar, Practical steps to support your team's mental health has more tips.

Discover the full range of PracticeHub features to help you manage workplace health and safety. To find out more, visit the PracticeHub website or call 1300 96 86 36.

The information in this article does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant and PracticeHub are not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2022.