The term ‘burnout’ was first coined in relation to health care workers in the 1980s to describe the emotional exhaustion, fatigue and negative feelings about their work.
The effect of stress for those on whom we depend for care when we are at our most vulnerable is acute. In the Aged Care sector, where care is long term and inextricably bound up with the hopes and anxieties of extended family as well, burnout can have ripple effects among staff, patients, and patients’ families.
How can we better support those who provide the care for our older family members in retirement hostels and nursing homes – the staff who will also one day be responsible for our own care as we age?
A group of La Trobe University researchers have provided a clear answer.
Feeling Good, Working Well
La Trobe’s recent Emotional Intelligence training program worked with a Victorian aged care organisation to investigate the impact of emotional intelligence training on aged care health workers.
Dr Leila Karimi, Professors Sandra Leggat and Timothy Bartram, and Dr Jiri Rada were the investigators during the training trial. Dr Karimi spoke with us and provided some insight into their work in its impact.
What was the Feeling Good, Working Well project all about?
This project investigated the importance of emotional intelligence for effective practice, particularly in delivering person-centred care. Two groups of staff from two sites participated in a randomised controlled trial over a six-month period. One group received emotional intelligence training using an experienced emotional intelligence trainer; the other group was a comparison group who did not receive any training.
This emotional intelligence program was based on the globally validated Personal Leadership Seminars framework, consisting of six practices and two principles.
It was designed to help the participants to access higher levels of learning and insight, mutual cooperation and collaboration, and creativity in situations when cultural difference is of great importance.
Participants, working with partners in the workplace, applied specific practices to build emotional intelligence. The facilitator met with the participants once each month to facilitate progress and reinforce learning
How does improved emotional intelligence manifest itself?
Emotional intelligence affects how we manage behaviour, deal with social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results. It manifests itself in better self-awareness, motivation, empathy and good social skills.
Based on the feedback of the participants and the analysis of results, most participants learned how to cope better with different personal and workplace situations, especially in difficult moments.
How did it improve the wellbeing of the nursing staff?
The results of thematic analysis indicated that many participants reported that they become calmer, happier, and more relaxed at work. They also felt more empowered. This resulted in major improvement in teamwork, organisational communication, and job satisfaction.
Coming together as a group from different areas of the facility – catering, lifestyles, nursing, as well as people from other cultures – produced immediate benefits.
How did these improvements affect staff interaction with patients and their families?
As a result of the training, participants have become more positive and upbeat and felt they could influence everyone around them. According to many participants, connecting with both patients and other staff was one of the strongest outcomes of the EI training.
As a consequence, communication within the teams as well as with patients and their carers improved significantly. Correspondingly, the quality of care also improved.
The nurses, as well as the other participants, learned new tools and skills. Learning new work skills and strengthening those that people already have is essential for career success, self-confidence, and happiness.
The participants spoke of the fact that they learned new practical skills as well as expended their knowledge and enjoyed the process along the way.
Are the benefits of E.I training in the aged care industry transferrable to other branches of nursing care?
Absolutely, providing that the training program is tailored and sound, the emotional intelligence trainer is experienced, and there is strong support from top management.
Latest research shows clear evidence that strengthening emotional intelligence leads to financial gain for the company and increased satisfaction for the individuals.
To put the study in a nutshell, the project made it clear that emotional intelligence is important in the workplace, due to its central role in how people and relationships function.
Just as importantly, the project showed that emotional intelligence isn’t simply an innate skill – it is trainable. The training group showed significant improvements in the level of EI at the end of six workshops.
EI training in turn led not only to improved wellbeing and reduced stress among health care workers, but the flow-on from their sense of empowerment, improved teamwork, and positive personal change was an improved quality of care for patients.
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