A pat on the shoulder and time for listening. Eldercare is about more than paperwork and bottles of pills, but the lack of employees has increased the tempo, so employees are now burning out. In Sorø Municipality, the tired or worn-out social workers are being aided by a new technology that offers tests for well-being and external psychologists.
All over the country, the sector for elderly care seems to be under the most serious pressure regarding the welfare state. According to insight into the municipal figures that the professional journal FOA looked closer at this summer, more than one in five employees had left the field, leading to more unskilled workers taking over caring for the elderly.
And looking at the well-being of social and healthcare assistants, it also ranks among the lowest in that particular group of salaried workers. According to research by the Danish Working Environment Authority, almost one in four employees have said that for the past 14 working days, they have felt stressed occasionally, if not all the time.
Now Sorø Municipality offers healthcare workers an offer of a well-being checkup via an app, as well as external counseling from psychologists over the phone when need be.
The employees are offered an anonymous way, via an app, of answering a series of questions concerning how they feel. And if these questions show that their mental well-being is on a downward spiral, an external psychologist will call them up for a conversation about what is happening and what can be done to make them feel better:
This is something that helps, says Annemette Trane Hansen, who is a staff representative and social and healthcare worker at the Egecentret in Sorø:
“Has my life been fulfilling?”
Annemette Trane Hansen has been using the well-being toolkit ever since Egecentret was among the first to trial the experiments together with Howdy, and every 14th day she receives a set of five questions, which she answers via the app on her iPad.
“It allows me to stop for a second to think about how my professional and private life is going: Did I sleep well? Has my life been fulfilling?”
And Annemette Trane Hansen, who has 30 years of seniority in the field as a social and healthcare assistant, does not doubt the effect it has on preventing stress:
When my father passed away, I could use the questions to see how I felt, and I also knew why I felt that way. I always fill out the questionnaire on the app when it is time,” she says. And that improves her ability to socialize with her colleagues and the elderly she works with:
“I had a colleague who confided in me that she was upset, so I recommended that she began using the app, which she did, and which led to her receiving a phone call from the psychologist on call. That started a series of events, and today she is feeling well,” says Annemette Trane Hansen, who encourages all her colleagues to use the service, which is anonymous in the sense that the only information that is passed on to the employees’ management, is a general overview of the general well-being of the departments.
“The glue that holds us together”
That was the head of the entire eldercare for Sorø Health and Care, Pia Nyborg Hansen, who in 2015 chose to offer the services of the private company Howdy and their healthcare technology to her roughly 650 staff. These comprised unskilled workers, social workers, nurses, administrative staff and consultants in the elderly area’s five care centers, as well as staff, nursing, and home care:
Something she has not regretted:
“We gain insight into an area we normally do not have access to,” states Pia Nyborg Hansen about the overview that Howdy offers her in terms of the anonymous service that supports the individual employee:
“We, the management, are privy to some overall statistics each month, allowing us to have an open conversation about it in case there are any problems. As a manager, it enables me to say: Howdy shows me that there is a lack of well-being at the moment: Try telling why that is?” says Pia Nyborg Hansen, who believes that if the employees thrive, so will the citizens:
Many people experience frustrations these days because we are under pressure from many sides since we wish to make our elderly patients happy, but we also experience pressure in terms of the working environment. Therefore, our working environment should motivate us even more so regarding solving the task at hand. Proper well-being is the glue that binds us and makes it possible for us to continue working in this profession.”
The point that the manager of Sorø Health and Care makes is, according to new research into stress, absolutely central when it comes to us humans working in a positive working environment, says neurobiologist and Ph.D. Karen Johanne Pallesen points out how new American research emphasizes our relations at the workplace as the most important factor when regulating our bodily stress:
“It makes a lot of sense to have a set of tools that can discover stress early on and provide tools for us to psychologically reach out to each other and have an open conversation about the things that trouble us,” says Karen Johanne Pallesen, that explains stress is both a physical and emotional imbalance:
“For instance, negative social signals and problematic relations can trigger the fight or flight condition, which shuts down the nervous system in such a way that we have a hard time being open, responsive and it can also hinder our ability to interpret each other’s intentions in a realistic way,” says Karen Johanne Pallesen. And this is where connecting positively with each other in a social way can be crucial:
“It is all about finding a positive loop, where we create a sense of safety through cooperation, and cooperation through a sense of safety. Research has shown that if you have a colleague at work you can confide in, you can keep your nervous system in a state of calm, allowing you to feel better, and in turn, increasing your engagement in your work.”
Working environment award
At Sorø Municipality, Pia Nyborg Hansen’s elder area was nominated for the Working Environment Award for psychological working environments in 2019. And the manager for Sorø Health and Care has a piece of advice for anyone who wishes to work with the new tools to reduce stress in a sector under pressure:
“Consider the purpose of the tool, and establish an agenda. The technology allows management to raise important questions about well-being in the workplace. And then our goal as managers is to focus and act on the data that we receive.”
Last year, an advisory panel and three expert groups established by the Prime Minister concluded that the management in the eldercare sector has a crucial responsibility in ensuring a proper working environment to retain and recruit employees in a sector where the number of elderly people requiring care only grows, without equal employees being trained for the job. Likewise, the panel also recommended that the new welfare technology could increase profits in the sector.