Thoughts from our Mental Health Webinar "Do our Aged Care Leaders find it harder to ask for help?"


In a world where everything is literally at your fingertips; with phones that listen to your conversations so they can bombard you with ads about that subject, in a world where if you’re having a discussion you can simply settle it by googling it in no time at all and a world that most people’s jobs require 2-3+ devices, how is it possible that we unplug? Is it possible to switch off?

Last month we held our mental health webinar “Do our Aged Care Leaders find it harder to ask for help?” A panel discussion on mental health within our industry. As we connected with leaders across the Aged Care Industry, we were beginning to see the significant impact that this year has had on the mental health of those in senior management positions.

This panel led by our Managing Director, Heath Downie and special guests, Lynn Bailey - Fresh Hope Care, Sharyn McIlwain - Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), Melissa Argent - Rockpool Residential Aged Care, Matt Sierp - Sapphire Coast Aged Care, Peter Williams - OneCare Limited, Jason Eldering & Sandra Glaister - SCC Queensland was a space where we shared stories and experiences of hope, strength and courage. We spoke of unplugging, COVID-19, leadership, tribes and teams, self-care and everything in between.

This panel was truly incredible to be a part of; we hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing conversation about this important issue within our Industry. A central topic of the panel discussion was Unplugging. As mentioned above, in a world where we are so plugged in, how is it possible for our Aged Care Leaders to unplug? With responsibilities ranging from residents, staff, facilities (and much more) - whilst it is important that they are available for their organisations, it is equally important that they are available for their loved ones, and more importantly, themselves.

Many of our leaders tackle this problem in various ways, and many of them had a wake-up call moment where they realised it was vital to unplug.

Sandra Glaister, Chief of Quality and Governance at SCC QLD had her granddaughter Daniella show her a picture she had painted. When Sandra asked which one was her, Daniella pointed to the person who was holding something up to her ear and replied “ Nonna, that’s you because while you were here all the time you were on your phone” and Sandra thought, “oh my, what a wake-up call because whilst I wasn’t on work, I was at work”.

Melissa Argent, CEO of Rockpool Residential Aged Care is a working mum, she has two small children and similar to Sandra’s point above she said: “It only took one time for my 5-year-old to say to me ‘Mummy, could you please put your phone down, just for tonight’ and it almost tore my heart out”.

These moments lead our leaders to implement rules around unplugging in their home and personal lives to ensure they were getting that time with their loved ones and themselves.

Sharyn McIlwain, State Manager (VIC/TAS) for LASA has a rule at home that she puts both her phones aside at 8 o’clock. She does not look at them again until the next morning, if it’s an emergency and anyone needs to reach her, others in the house can be contacted to get to her; otherwise, that time is for Sharyn and her family.

I think it is important to note that a happy leader produces a happy culture. Acknowledging that you need time off or ensuring that you unplug for the night not only does wonders for yourself, but it also shows your team that you are human and also that you trust them to get the job done when you are not there. Trust should be the backbone of any organisation. Trust each other and watch each other thrive. It begs the question, however, if you are relied upon so much, how can you ever take the time for yourself and what does that mean if you suddenly became ill or couldn’t continue to do your job to the full extent. Lynn Bailey, Executive General Manager, Fresh Hope Care quoted author of ‘The Infinite Game’ Simon Sinek, saying “Leadership does not mean Martyrdom” and this is precisely the point.

Lynn tackles unplugging by going on scuba diving holidays where there is absolutely no reception. “The first time I did that, I carried my phone with me for three whole days even though I knew it could not work because I was so attached to watch your phone, answer your phone, do your emails”. She trusts her team to take care of the rest whilst she’s away now, much like Matt Sierp, CEO of Sapphire Coast Community Care “I make it very clear that if I want time off, that people know when I’m not available. I can say that, and the other managers will have the phone diverted and what have you. We try to do that as a management group.”

In society today, there is such a demand for people to have full attendance (school still rewards kids for never having a sick day can you believe that?), be bounding with productivity every day, and be 100% all of the time. There is even a demand that you be so available at all times because people assume you should always answer your phone thanks to the invention of MOBILE phones. The fact is that if society continues this trend of go, go, go; we are just going to have more and more people burning out. As our Managing Director, Heath Downie stated regarding Aged Care Leaders “ If we fall, who else is there to continue our Industry?”. So, starting from the top and leading by example, leaders need to implement ways for themselves to take breaks, therefore making it okay that their staff do so too.

At OneCare Limited, CEO Peter Williams and his management team have an expectation that no one sends any emails after 6 o’clock and they hold each other accountable to this rule. This is the perfect example of setting the tone from the top. He also noted that it’s about the personal connection, your staff need to know the gravity of you needing that time out.

With the holiday’s coming up - no matter whether you’re a leader or not - remember to take the much-needed time out to spend time with your loved ones and yourself this Christmas break. Remember to unplug because you can always plug back in later when you’re rested and stronger. If we could celebrate looking after ourselves as much as we celebrate hard work, the world would be a better place.



3 Years in Aged Care (and counting!)

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