Employee resilience in aged care

Published on
21 June 2022
Genevieve Cavanagh
Genevieve Cavanagh

Escient Consultant, Genevieve Cavagnah discusses why aged care workers should have our respect as highly resilient employees. 

The recent Federal election confirmed that aged care remains solidly in focus for many Australians. There is much needed discussion on areas such as funding, systems, and quality of care. In amongst these discussions however there is a side to aged care that isn’t always given the recognition deserved – the resilience of aged care workers.  

Individual resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after times of stress or pressure, recovering in strength and positive attitude. We can all theoretically comprehend the taxing nature of working in aged care however there are so many small moments that can only be understood through being within the walls of residential care. These are the ‘human’ moments.  

As part of Escient’s work with the aged care sector, many of us have reflected on our personal experiences – whether it be through direct work or as part of supporting our own loved ones. The following shares personal reflections of the resilience of our aged care workers. Why share these reflections? Well, we relate best through stories and personal experiences. I am not an expert in aged care and have only had brief experiences, but I hope they help to shed a little more light from ‘inside the walls’.   

My first experience was through my undergrad research to test the reliability of depression measures for individuals with dementia (they have overlapping symptoms). This required the implementation of three depression tools with dementia residents and cross reference their results with nurses and personal care workers.  

I spent many weeks interviewing residents with low to medium dementia. I still remember my first day and residents. Ruth* had not been long in care and despite wanting me there and to answer the questions, she cried uncontrollably. Her focus would move from our conversation to confusion of her circumstances. It took an hour to implement three 10-minute measures. Then it was Mary* who was joyous and couldn’t see how she could possibly be feeling low because she had just gotten back from her honeymoon. Her husband had long passed. 

After screening residents, I had to then cross reference with staff. That was the trickiest task out of all the research activities. Finding 15 minutes in their schedule to sit and answer the measures was a feat – not because they didn’t want to help but because a 15-minute delay meant impacts to resident routines (lunch breaks were the normal opportunities). Despite their busyness, every personal care worker and nurse could tell you everything about the resident – their normal attitudes, behaviours, and the odd quirks they would look for to know if something was wrong.   

What I also remember from this experience was leaving at the end of the day mentally and emotionally exhausted after going through the highs and lows with residents. To hear someone say they just wish they were out of their misery and then move on to the next resident with a smile is hard to mentally balance. Yet this was something the nurses and personal care workers did every day.  

Many (many) years later, I had a brief stint working with an aged care provider. There are a number reflections from this time but the most sticking memory was attending a residential care staff meeting. It was a standard meeting with a range of general updates, followed by resident updates. Then there was an update that the family of a long-term resident was coming to collect their belongings. The instant shock that came of the personal care workers faces was almost overwhelming as an observer – this was the first time they heard the resident had passed. Tears were there but held back. Within a minute, it was time to start and everyone went on with their shift. No further discussion, no moment to console or reflect. Just getting on with it. 

The individual resilience of personal care workers and nurses is what keeps aged care going. The ability to pick themselves back up despite being emotionally exhausted or grieving a resident they have built a relationship with is ‘just part of the job’.  

Resilience will only go so far, however. The structure, systems, and practices that support personal care workers and nurses are vital. These are needed to be improved through thinking of the humans in care as well as those providing the care.   

If you have continued to read to this point, please take the time to thank an aged care worker. It might just be the little boost they need to pick themselves up and keep going.  

Let’s keep the conversation going. Get in touch with our
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.