On Tuesday 29th of March, Professor Jane Burns, Strategic Advisor to Your Call Whistleblowing Services, presented a workshop for the Emergency Services Foundation focused on emerging trends in workplace wellbeing.
With the impact of the global pandemic and stress associated with natural disasters, the workshop covered two emerging trends:
- A greater focus on prevention and the importance of reducing exposure to psychologically stressful situations.
- A shift in thinking from ‘What is wrong with you?’ to ‘What has happened to you? Specifically relevant to first responders and health care workers is trauma-informed care.
How to reduce psychological stress and abuse at work
As leaders we have choices.
We can wait for someone to become unwell, react and then diagnose and treat. Or, we can drive proactive approaches that aim to prevent, promote and drive practice in a workplace that reduces psychological stress and abuse.
While the pandemic has placed the world under significant distress, it has also taught us a lot about workplace wellbeing.
First, people are openly and proactively talking about their mental health and the stress of the pandemic. It is no longer a token question to ask ‘Are you OK?’ with an expectation that people are going to say they’re fine.
Secondly, now more than ever, people are ‘speaking up’ about toxic environments. With changes to legislation, every workplace is being scrutinised and it is evident that poor behaviours, poor environments and risks to psychological safety will not be tolerated or swept under the carpet. A suite of recent independent reviews into Ambulance Victoria, Victoria Police, the SES and CFA are all evidence that emergency services organisations are not immune from workplace cultural issues.
Fires and floods, coupled with a global pandemic see a workforce faced with a trifecta of stress that adds a layer of complexity difficult to fathom. As first responders, Emergency Services Workers are particularly affected by these events.
One area of discussion during the workshop focused on moral injury, that is a threat to one’s morality. Not to be confused with PTSD, depression or anxiety, stress or burn out, moral injury in the context of work occurs when morality is threatened. For example, observing bullying as a bystander and not being able to call out bad behaviour, having to make a decision that might challenge your ethics or in the case of the military, not having control over a decision that could cost someone their life.
For those interested in learning more about moral injury, a scoping review was conducted by Lentz and colleagues identifying research on moral injury and how it relates to moral distress in firefighters, paramedics and police officers. Published in Frontier Psychology in 2021, the conclusion from the study was discussed during the workshop as it raises some serious challenges for leaders working in emergency services. They conclude that there is hardly any research into moral injury or even awareness in emergency management, raising an important consideration for personal and organisational reasons.
Building a listen up, speak up culture
With the focus on reducing exposure to psychological risks and trauma-informed care, the call-to-action is with organisations to create an environment where employees feel safe to speak up. Beyond helping organisations comply with ASIC’s whistleblowing regulations, Your Call provides executive education and trauma-informed case management of disclosures. Talk to us about how your organisation can build a listen up, speak up culture.
Helpful resources on this topic
ESF Learning Network Knowledge Digest https://esf.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/KD_October_2021.pdf
Phoenix Australia. Disaster Mental Health Hub https://www.phoenixaustralia.org/disaster-hub/