Wellbeing initiatives and supports help staff manage occupational and personal challenges.
NEW research reveals that wellbeing initiatives introduced by Western Health during the first waves of COVID-19 helped staff cope with pandemic-related stress and anxiety.
It also found the health service's suite of supports was well used and appreciated by staff, and had a positive impact on their mental and physical health, and their relationships with others.
During the first two waves of the pandemic in 2020, Western Health provided inpatient care for just under half (46%) of all COVID-19 cases in Australia and almost a quarter (24%) of all ICU cases.
"We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on the professional and personal lives and psychological wellbeing of health service staff," lead author Dr Sara Holton said.
"In response, Western Health implemented a range of measures to support employee's mental and physical health, assist them to manage work and personal responsibilities and maintain their capacity to provide high-quality patient care."
The initiatives included: wellness hubs where staff could rest and unwind away from their usual workplace and access psychological support; CEO forums to ensure regular communication with staff about COVID-19 and to provide them with the opportunity to ask questions and an enhanced Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to support their mental health."
"We wanted to evaluate these initiatives from the perspectives and experiences of employees and other key stakeholders to determine if they met their needs."
Previous studies by the Western Health and Deakin University research collaboration found that Victorian health service employees experienced increased levels of psychological distress during the pandemic.
Dr Holton said this study was one of the first in Australia to examine how effective an organisation's wellbeing and support initiatives were at meeting employees' needs.
"It's important to evaluate these initiatives because we know they are unlikely to be successful or used, unless they are appropriate to the needs and expectations of the staff to whom they are offered," she said.
More than 900 staff responded to the survey, most were female (83%) nurses (41.2%) and based at Sunshine Hospital (65%).
Key findings included:
Forty two per cent of staff used the initiatives
Daily staff briefings, wellbeing and support updates, and wellness hubs were the most commonly used
Survey respondents reported the initiatives improved their mental health (86%), ability to cope with COVID-19 related stress and anxiety (79%), do their work (77%) and relationships with colleagues (67%).
Clear, timely and accurate communication was appreciated and the CEO Forums were particularly valued
On-site dedicated spaces for psychological support and respite away from busy clinical areas were also appreciated and well used
Three quarters of staff would use the supports again and recommend them to colleagues
Staff would like many of the initiatives (with some modifications) to continue after the COVID-19.
Feedback about the initiatives was mostly positive; staff said they were easy to use, provided the information and support they needed, and that a sufficient variety of initiatives were available.
Staff reported the biggest barriers to take up were high workloads, difficulty accessing the supports, because they were not on-site or worked night shift, and a perception they were only for clinical staff.
Since the data was collected for this study, WH has begun implementing some modifications suggested by staff and is developing new programs.
Western Health Executive Director (Acting) People Culture and Communications Sandy Schutte said staff had shown their deep commitment to their community during the pandemic.
"To assist staff to continue to provide high quality care to patients during the pandemic, we implemented wellbeing and support initiatives.
This research confirms that the measures we took to support staff to be their best were appreciated by the majority of our employees and helped them cope with the challenges the pandemic presented.
"It also provides us with a unique insight into how we enhance and modify our supports. We know that the needs of employees are many and varied, and may evolve over time, so will continue to work in partnership with staff to ensure our supports are tailored to their needs."
Read the peer-viewed research published in Occupational Medicine here.