The importance of supporting psychosocial health
and mental wellbeing in your workforce

This article originally appeared on Aged Care Today Summer 2023

Aged care is an industry that comes with a heavy emotional load. Individuals who are drawn to working in this sector are typically dedicated, empathic, patient, adaptable and compassionate.  

These are incredibly important characteristics for those looking after a vulnerable population who require care and support. However, it may be argued that these qualities put aged care employees at high risk of being impacted by psychological and social hazards. 

Compared to physical injuries, psychological injuries take longer to heal, require more time off work and have a higher financial cost. Physical injuries themselves, especially chronic pain, can lead to secondary psychological injuries. 

As such, it is especially important that the mental health of aged care workers is considered when assessing the safety of a workplace. 

In the aged care sector, the focus is on the safety and well-being of older Australians. However, this care cannot be provided if the health of those giving the care is not maintained. 

While aged care workers are generally resilient, often facing hardships without complaining, putting other’s needs before their own, and being resigned to working in an industry where resources are limited, their role comes with the heavy burden of responsibility. 

According to Worksafe Victoria and the National Ageing Research Institute, aged care employees may be at risk of stress, occupational violence, emotional exhaustion, burnout, insomnia, compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety and compromised physical health. 

In line with this, in July 2023 Safe Work Australia made changes to work health and safety regulations, and employers are now responsible for managing psychosocial hazards in the workplace. 

This means organisations are required to identify psychosocial hazards, then eliminate or minimise them, and reduce the risk to workers that these hazards may bring about. The changes bring the management of psychosocial health in line with physical health, and highlight the importance of protecting workers’ mental wellbeing. 

Some hazards that may result in harm to employees in the aged care sector include: 

  • intense responsibility 
  • long work hours 
  • reduced job control
  • poor change management 
  • caring for individuals with high needs who may be cognitively impaired or have behavioural issues
  • a heavy administrative burden, including documentation and clinical handover 
  • a sustained emotional effort

Aged care providers should work collaboratively with their staff to identify psychosocial hazards, and put strategies and control measures in place to reduce risk to employees. They are required to document incidents, and regularly review the workplace to ensure they are compliant with legislation, and their workers are protected. 

People at Work ( is an Australian government website that provides valuable information on creating a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. The People at Work process is a five-step procedure to manage psychosocial hazards, which includes a free and validated psychosocial risk assessment survey that can be used to help guide the process of ensuring a workplace is mentally healthy. 

Strategies organisations can implement to minimise the risks caused by psychosocial hazards include:

  • support from supervisors and senior staff 
  • the availability of debriefing and counselling for employees 
  • a stress management policy
  • the reduced need for overtime and heavy workloads
  • clear communication and processes for change
  • ongoing training and education for staff
  • a process for managing aggressive or violent patients
  • an effective crisis management process
  • adequate security, such as a process for ensuring the building is locked at night, a visitor’s logbook, and mandatory duress alarms for staff
  • ensuring employees work in pairs
  • the provision of support following the death of a patient or exposure to a traumatic event
  • the promotion of self-care and sleep hygiene within the organisation

Extending the focus of care to staff within the aged care sector will ensure a healthy and solid foundation from which care can be provided. It is one way of recognising the value of aged care workers and acknowledging that the qualities they possess are as important to protect as they are to have.

Deborah Shand, Clinical Psychologist and National Psychology Services Manager, Rehab Management (part of Arriba Group)