Season 1, Episode 1

Emotional Intelligence and Its Impact on Aged Care Quality, Standards and Workers.

Marie [00:00:00] The Aged Care sector is responsible for the care of over 1.3 million Australians. However there has been growing concern and widespread reporting on inadequate quality of care and safety. As a result, in 2018, the Australian Government established a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and its final report provided harrowing information on the dire state of the sector. With issues such as poor workplace conditions, understaffing and abuse confirmed, it has become clearer than ever that the Aged Care industry is failing its vulnerable customers and workforce. The question we tackle today is – can emotional intelligence help to improve workplace conditions and quality of care in the Aged Care sector.

Marie [00:01:00] Welcome to Emotional Intelligence at Work. Today, we’re be talking about how emotional intelligence can help to improve the quality of care in the aged care sector. I’m your host Marie El Daghl and joining us today we have our special guest Campbell McGlynn, Who’s the Executive General Manager, People and Culture at IRT Group. Welcome, Campbell.

Campbell [00:01:17] Thanks, Marie, pleased to be here.

Marie [00:01:19] Pleasure to have you. And Ben Palmer, CEO of Genos International and our EI expert on the show. Thanks, Ben.

Ben [00:01:27] Thanks, Marie. It’s great to be here and great to be here with you, too, Campbell.

Marie [00:01:30] And I’m your host, Marie El Daghl. So early this year, the findings from the Royal Commission into aged care services were released. And one of the key findings was that we need to improve workforce conditions. What are the current conditions, Campbell?

Campbell [00:01:48] The current conditions are really quite tough for aged care workers. It is through the Royal Commission itself; it has become an increasingly unattractive place to work. It’s tough to get people into the industry. We find that we’re often recruiting people who don’t have a lot of skills and experience and qualifications, and their expectations aren’t necessarily clear about what the work entails. You throw those things over the inherently high emotional content of the job. I mean, these people are caring for older people in their final years. They’re developing relationships with these people. They’re the primary carer for want of a better term whilst in our residential facilities. And then their customers are dying on them, you know, each day and through the week. And so it’s very difficult for these care workers to, I guess, maintain emotional equilibrium whilst on the job. It’s very difficult for them.

Marie [00:02:49] So how are they currently trained to manage these emotional demands?

Campbell [00:02:54] They are trained through; a lot of the clinical stuff is the primary concern because we must get that right. It is the number one thing. So, we do a very good job at ensuring all of that stuff is really squared away. From a training perspective, it is harder to train people how to deal emotionally with residents, with customers and their families. We do a pretty good job of that. A lot of that sort of training is in the classroom and then on the job through putting programs and the support that we provide, particularly through the first couple of months of them working with us. But it’s only in recent days that we’ve started to specifically train people in emotionally intelligent behaviour and how to sort of maintain self-management and resilience as they are going about their jobs.

Marie [00:03:47] Now, that’s specific to IRT Group. The question for both of you is how common is that kind of training in the industry period?

Ben [00:03:58] My understanding of it is, Campbell, that it’s not common enough that I think, as you are saying, we teach a lot of people the more clinical side of the job, how to lift people, how to turn people, how to feed people, how to engage people in activities and things. But we’re not necessarily training in the aged care industry how to enhance your own wellbeing. And yet you’re faced, as you were saying, with losing people that you’ve been primary caring for the last sometimes six months, sometimes 12 months times, sometimes 6 years. And we’re not necessarily training people for empathy. And yet you’ve got people in their most vulnerable stage of life. And you’ve got with that, I think, heightened emotions. I know with my mom in an aged care facility, whenever I ring, I always got rattling around in the back of my mind, you know, I wonder what she’s eaten today. I wonder if she’s being cared for today. Has she been made to feel valued today? And so, you know, for me, I don’t think that training is there on things like the empathy, the awareness of others and so on. And yet that is so crucial to the effectiveness in the job.

Campbell [00:05:07] I do agree. It’s compounded by the increasing compliance obligations of the job.

Marie [00:05:16] Like what, can you give us an example?

Campbell [00:05:18] Lots of documentation, lots of checking of boxes, lots of reporting on conditions, all the important things that the various regulatory agencies expect but that require training and also require time on the job. So, one of our constant challenges is that we recruit wonderful people into the industry into IRT. We do a level of assessment and testing before they get to us. So, we are testing for baseline empathy, for things like conscientiousness, for ability to work within teams and that sort of stuff. So, we’re doing a pretty good job of getting the right people in. But then when they get here, they realise that a lot of the job is not what they signed up to do. It is a lot of form filling. It’s a lot of what an outsider might deem to be bureaucracy. I’m not suggesting it isn’t important, but they’ve actually joined us because they have empathy for people. They want to sit by the bed. They want to actually hold hands and have a conversation with an older person, and they’re not getting the opportunity to do that sufficiently. So that is, I don’t think IRT are unique in that regard. It’s a bit of an industry challenge that we have.

Ben [00:06:41] Where I think you are unique, though, is in bringing in a provider to start working on these emotional skills for people. I don’t think that is widespread in the industry, but I think it needs to be widespread in industry. And I think there’s a lot that the industry could benefit from. One of my concerns with this aged care Royal Commission is we’re going to get more compliance and more bureaucracy. Without perhaps a focus on some of the things that really brought us to the aged care Royal Commission like some of the elder abuse we saw in homes. Yes, that was very wrong but that can be at the very pointy end obviously. Some of the outcomes of people who are not managing their own emotions effectively have been perhaps so overcome by the bureaucracy. They’ve lost their moral compass around the job.

Campbell [00:07:27] Oh, absolutely.

Ben [00:07:28] And, you know, I think we can significantly reduce turnover in the industry. I think we can significantly reduce that propensity for that kind of thing to occur through the enhanced wellbeing skills, through how you cope with the emotional labour side of the job as one component of it, and how you really demonstrate empathy on the other side of things.

Campbell [00:07:54] Yes, it’s this question of who’s caring for the carers.

Ben [00:07:58] Yes.

Campbell [00:07:59] And coming from outside the industry from an HR perspective, we know that we have challenges in terms of how valued and recognised our carers are feeling. Well, they are not necessarily feeling like the company is always has their best interests at heart. And they look to sort of head office, as, you know, why aren’t you coming in and making effectively my life better, my job better? And it’s you know; we can’t necessarily do that in all cases. What we can do is teach people to help themselves more. And that’s what we’re doing through what we refer to as Leading with Care Project. It is commencing with teaching leaders how to be more emotionally, how to demonstrate more effective, emotionally intelligent leadership so that they’re developing a self-awareness around the impact that they’re having on their carers, on their teams. And they’re being taught initially how to develop their own resilience and self-management skills and things like that, which is so important. So, the intention, once we’ve put probably around 300 of our managers through this process, is to then start cascading that down through the organisation so that we’re effectively helping people help themselves. And so, you know, what’s worked for me previously in my career is if there’s an engagement issue, we often run out and get the best recognition program. You know, often it’s technology based. And that has been quite successful for me in the past as an HR leader. We’ve tried that at IRT, and it hasn’t necessarily hit the mark. And what we’ve kind of realised is that’s effectively what you might refer to as a technical solution to what is actually a really difficult adaptive challenge. And the adaptive challenge piece means there is really no known solution, and the solution has to come from the people on the ground who have the problem. So, we’re all about now instead of head office imposing these HR solutions to try and fix things, it’s actually getting those guys on the ground, those care workers around the issues themselves and helping them create a more constructive, I guess, emotionally effective work environment. And that’s what this program’s all about.

Marie [00:10:28] How long has the program been in place so far?

Campbell [00:10:31] About six months.

Marie [00:10:32] And have you seen any early results of it?

Campbell [00:10:35] Yes, we have but we’ve intentionally, we’ve mapped out, I guess, a course of action. And the Genos Emotional Intelligence Program is a key part of that. We didn’t want to get too prescriptive because, as I said, these are adaptive challenges. We want to be flexible and agile and learn as we go. So now we feel like we’ve got the right template for success. And we’ve got a couple of examples of teams within our business where we’ve found what we think are the right elements. And now it’s about getting that template sort of codified and finding a way to scale that out across the rest of the organisation.

Marie [00:11:18] When are you planning on rolling it out so what’s the timeline here?

Campbell [00:11:21] Well, the timeline is we’re already doing it. We’ve just completed our second cohort. So, it started with the top leaders going through a pretty intensive leadership development experience, really shining he spotlight on the inner game of leadership for the top leaders of the business. In parallel to that, we’ve got our operational leadership track, which is where we know the rubber will hit the road in terms of the issues that we’ve been talking about, in terms of emotional care and resilience of the people that work with those guys. We’ve completed the first two cohorts of that program. We’ve learnt a thing or two along the way in terms of the best delivery approach for IRT and the other, importantly, the other things that we need to put in place around the program for it to be a success. So too often, and I think it’s a well sort of explored challenge. We don’t look at change holistically in organisations, we will go after one bit. Often, it’s a system and we think that that’s going to cure what ails us and it doesn’t. And then everybody gets terribly frustrated. So, we’re absolutely not doing it this time. So, in terms of what we know is success looks like for us, you’ve got to have the right leader at the top. You absolutely do. Without the right leader at the top, everything else sort of turns to clag that’s super important. You’ve got to engage the team themselves around what sort of work environment they want to create for themselves as opposed to HR or head office coming in to do it for them. You’ve got to then train up the leader and a bunch of people that are in and around that leader. They might be direct reports, or they might be other influencers to, in our case, learn themselves about emotionally intelligent leadership and how they’re currently showing up in that regard and then giving them the coaching and support to make those shifts. And then and Genos have been absolutely instrumental in that regard. And then you’ve got to put in place the rituals and actions at the local level. So, we’re talking about a nursing home here. What are the things that the team themselves can do that are going to improve their day-to-day work environment? So, we get them to identify the emotions and the feelings that they want to feel at work when they show up to work, how do they want to feel? We get them to explore how they’re predominantly feeling right now and what that gap looks like. And then they come up with the rituals and actions. And these are often really basic things like, you know, a bit more fun in the workplace. Barbecues, you know, bring back the social aspect, those sorts of things. When we put those things in place, we see measurable shifts in terms of improved engagement and improve retention, which is what we’re ultimately all about and the customer outcomes, of course.

Marie [00:14:24] So this is what I was going to go to next. And I’d love to hear from both of you on this. I can see and it’s very obvious now, having listened to what you just shared, that this is going to create a more engaged, happier, more resilient workforce but ultimately, what will the outcome be? What do you expect the outcome will be from a quality of care point of view?

Campbell [00:14:47] Which is the most important, above all else.

Ben [00:14:52] For me, I think it’s, you know, a resident or a customer generally feeling more valued, feeling more cared for, feeling more informed, feeling more understood that ultimately strongly related to their well-being and their longevity. And I think it’s more than just feeling that it’s the quality of the interaction and the social relationship that they have with those who are looking after them first and foremost. I think the other thing that is perhaps not quite so strongly related to the quality of care, but certainly to the customer experience, is that the family of that person, you know, just come along, and have that better general sense that this is going well for my loved ones, for my mom or for my dad?

Campbell [00:15:36] Yes, absolutely, all those things, you can walk into a nursing home, into a care centre, and immediately when you’re five feet in, you can get a sense of what it’s like in there, what the environment is. The residents are engaged. They’re doing things. They’re into activities. They’re not sitting around sort of waiting for the next meal that kind of thing. Staff are happy. They’re engaging with each other. They’re laughing. There’s joy in the air. And that has such a big impact on the residents sort of satisfaction. And then when, as Ben pointed out, because you’ve got a parent in that environment, the family members are far happier and engaged and everybody is. And then our staff, it’s kind of like a compounding kind of cycle. When that’s not there, it can be a very different picture.

Ben [00:16:32] Then, of course, there’s the impact on the staff themselves. Having facilitated one of these programs and having worked directly with Campbell’s people, asking them that question, you know, at the end of the program, what are a few things that have really stood out for you? And, you know, they’ll say things like the things we’ve just been talking about in terms of how they’re interacting with residents. They’ll say things like, I’m just that more emotionally mindful of what’s going on around me in the workplace. And they’ll say and I feel better in the job. You know, I go home, and I feel less stressed. I go home and I connect better with my own children. I go home and I connect better with my partner. And Campbell, for people like you and I, who’ve done a lot of coaching and mentoring and a lot of facilitation of programs, when you work in an environment that involves a high level of emotional labour like that, you know, if you’ve done four days of one-on-one debriefs around and the EI assessment for four days in a row, you know, you kind of are ready for the foetal position on the couch. And I think that I’ve got a real sense of that from working with your people that because you’re expending so much emotional labour all the time, you sort of go home and in some instances, I think can collapse a bit emotionally. And so, what I’m hearing from your people is I’m kind of facilitating some of the programs and working with them is that dual benefit of going home and perhaps not being so emotionally exhausted from the job and being able to have a better home life? And that’s really kind of at the heart of our tagline, you know, game changing for business and life changing for people. And it’s fantastic to hear that coming to fruition in this industry.

Campbell [00:18:12] Yes, I mean, that’s part of what I love about the work that we do. It’s not just about work. You can’t, you know, selectively develop your emotional intelligence in one aspect of your life and then completely neglected in other areas. It spills over. It absolutely does. And, you know, take emotional resilience, just teaching people about what they need to do to keep an even keel, to maintain a sense of balance and to kind of be in it for the long game. So, when they do go home, they’ve got something in the reserves in the tank for the family that’s so important. And so, yes, beyond all the very good reasons to be rolling this out from a customer, from a client perspective, which is obviously number one, it’s just fantastic that it’s spilling over into the personal life as well.

Ben [00:19:08] When we say the same in the health care industry more broadly, I think the same thing would ring true for emergency workers. Would they be police, firemen or ambo’s, we see the same thing in education. Education’s another one of those occupations that has high levels of emotional labour. But at the opposite end of life, you know, you have young children. You have teachers with their children’s potential in their hands. And with that comes high levels of emotion. And so, yes, it again, aged care, like some of those other occupations that involve high levels of emotional labour, I think we can make a real difference to the lives of people that work in these industries and that mean a lot to us, particularly when you’ve got a mom or dad in an aged care facility.

Marie [00:19:54] Why this might sound like a naive question, but why wouldn’t you start with the workers on the front line who are directly in contact and working with the customer or the patient?

Campbell [00:20:10] Well, because their managers are just as stressed out. And you know, if the managers aren’t brought in on the journey, they’ll go, what’s all this stuff about? And it just, you know, it doesn’t stick. It’s the old age thing in leadership development circles that Ben knows better than anybody around. Where do you start? And unfortunately, I haven’t seen a better model than getting the top leaders engaged first in the journey notwithstanding, we are running a pretty much a parallel process. And that’s where we are doing that work I mentioned earlier around having teams of people whilst their managers are off learning about themselves and developing their emotional, intelligent leadership skills, we’re actually working with their teams to determine the sort of emotional culture they want to create for themselves so that when their managers come back, there’s a meeting of the two and the managers have a really genuine on-the-job tasks to do with their teams and that is to ship in that emotional culture that their team members working with us are determined they want.

Ben [00:21:23] That’s a really important part of their program, I think, there are a lot of programs tend to develop content and develop through tools and techniques, through expertise, if you like. What I really love about Campbell’s work that he’s doing at IRT is that he’s generating a lot of participant-led learning. Learning that’s really coming from the groups themselves. And I think that is stickier. It’s often more real because it’s heavily contextualised. And ultimately you get a lot of better buy in, I think, into those sorts of things, getting the group together to say, you know, what’s the emotional culture that we want to have in our facility or in our workplace? What are the sorts of things we can do with each other to help facilitate that culture for ourselves? I think that’s very empowering. I think it provides a lot of autonomy to people. And then coupling that, of course, with some tools and techniques for self-awareness and empathy and so on is just a really sticky way of doing learning.

Campbell [00:22:19] And we’ve got one of our teams, one of the rituals coming out of their emotional culture workshop. So, one of the things that they want to do, just a simple thing, having a Crazy Sock Day in a week’s time. And our CEO and one of our directors have been invited to attend. And so, they’re participating in the Crazy Sock Day with the care workers, you know, that sort of stuff. It’s just great. And so, you get this leadership group of directors, board directors and execs getting involved at the local level because they’re being invited in that sort of thing. So, it’s lovely to watch.

Ben [00:22:55] Funny you should mention that we’re doing a lot of webinars on wellbeing at the moment, and rituals and routines are a big part of wellbeing, whether it’s your little coffee in the morning and then this and then that. It’s about how you set up your day. So, it’s interesting to hear those words. I think rituals and routines and boundaries, well-regulated boundaries are a really great way of developing wellbeing.

Marie [00:23:16] Campbell, was your program developed specifically for aged care work?

Campbell [00:23:24] Yes, it’s absolutely been tailored around our business.

Marie [00:23:27] And so my question then is, is EI as a skill, transferable? Now there’s research into the impact of EI on aged care workers that used a similar to what you’ve done, a purpose built program. Now, is there a different kind of EI training that you need depending on your job or sector? Or is this a skill that is, you know that your workers can take, or leaders can take to a job in any industry?

Campbell [00:23:53] Look, I think the skills are the skills and they apply everywhere. How you train people, the context in which the training occurs, the way the learner kind of interprets what’s going on that has to be industry organisation specific. But the skills I mean, these are, gosh, they are beyond the workplace. They’re life effectiveness skills generally and the more people that learn them, the better the world would be without sounding too kind of woolly.

Ben [00:24:29] I think they’re very transferable. We call them foundational skills. Having said that, I think what we hear in Campbell, too, though, is the contextualisation of those skills for the aged care industry, for the type and nature of work that they do. And I think that’s important to have that foundation, but at work, at least be also thinking about how do we make that specifically relevant to what we do? The thing I would say about the content and about the program is that it’s not technical emotional training. Now, what do I mean by that? Like a police officer, for example, gets technically trained on how to de-escalate an emotional situation that’s more what I call a technical aspect of emotional training. We’re teaching more how do you be more emotionally self aware of your own triggers. How do you be more emotionally aware of the impact you’re having on others? How do you be more behaviourally agile and pick up on an approach with different people that works better at an emotional level. So that’s the more transferable component, if you like, of the program.

Marie [00:25:41] So what an amazing investment then. I mean, for an organisation to provide its employees with training that is not just required on the job, but will significantly impact their lives is quite an amazing investment and a gift to receive really as an employee.

Ben [00:26:01] It is, absolutely, it is.

Marie [00:26:02] I think about my mom actually works in aged care, but there’s residential aged care obviously, but there’s also a home care and home care presents a completely different environment because often you’re going into a home to care for somebody. You don’t have the support of your manager or the security of a manager or team. And you’re walking into an environment where there could be the person you’re caring for. And there are five different family members and every one of those environments are the same. And I recall when she started, the emotional toll on her was so bad that we told her to leave her job. And she’s brilliant now, 22 years into the job, she’s amazing and she loves it. But there are scars there. It takes an enormous emotional toll. And she has never had any kind of training such as this. I mean, at best, it’s you know, you ring your manager and have a conversation with them, and they say, don’t worry about it. We will talk to the family. Don’t worry about it. 

Ben [00:27:02] This is another good example of starting with the management, you know, so in IRT’s case, with the program that manager should be able to lean more into that situation, acknowledge it for what it is. And yes, really just listen deeply and mindfully. And if it’s appropriate, you know, help the person think about some strategies they might be able to put in place for themselves to help manage themselves emotionally following that situation or that event by way of example.

Marie [00:27:31] Now, IRT Group does have an academy, a learning academy now that’s open from what I could gather to anybody within the industry. Is that right?

Campbell [00:27:38] Correct, yes.

Marie [00:27:39] And there is a leadership program, you have two leadership programs but one in particular includes a module on emotional intelligence. How much demand or interest do you see for that course compared to, say, a course for managing somebody who has diabetes?

Campbell [00:27:53] Not as much, because managing you know, dealing with someone with diabetes, that’s a must-have skill. Our diploma, I think the current program in the past few probably has two-thirds IRT employees, one third of participants are external. The academy is primarily there for our people, more so over the past few years but is still focused on training people who are entering the industry. So, but you know so we see more so from a career progression perspective, people wanting to do the diplomas to get a qualification to move ahead. But the content that we’re, you know, teaching people on the emotional intelligence leadership program internally were actually updating the diploma with their content right now. It’s by far and away more sophisticated and impactful than the, you know, current sort of off-the-shelf diploma type training. So, yes but it’s important probably more from a career progression perspective than anything else.

Ben [00:28:53] There is a surge of interest in emotional intelligence from the aged care sector, which is great. And I think there does need to be a mindset shift around it such that it is viewed as a must-have skill in the sector, and I really congratulate Campbell and IRT for leading the way in what you’re doing with this concept for the people who are working and living within your facilities. Thanks, Campbell.

Marie [00:29:19] Thank you both on that note, we’ll wrap up. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Campbell. We really look forward to seeing many other aged care services following in your footsteps.

Campbell [00:29:29] Thank you, Marie. Thanks, Ben. It’s been terrific.

Ben [00:29:31] Likewise, thanks very much, Campbell. Thanks, Marie.

Marie [00:29:33] Thank you both.

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