Care Workers Need Emotional Intelligence Training — For Their Own Sake

Care workers, like nurses and other professionals who work on the frontlines in nursing homes or other care facilities, have very important jobs — essential even. But, this work is tough. Sure, it’s meaningful and fulfilling, but it demands long hours and is physically exhausting and extremely stressful. These care workers are so important to our society; we’d be smart to consider ways to help them care for themselves a little better, so that they’ll continue to do their jobs happily and well, for as long as possible.

emotional intelligence training
Image Credit: Medill DC/Flickr

Recently, researchers in Australia asked if emotional intelligence training specifically developed for residential aged care staff might help ease these vital workers’ tension and therefore extend their career life-expectancy. This pilot program was tried and tested, and some interesting results emerged. Care workers here in the U.S. might benefit from learning about some of the key findings. Here are a few ideas to consider.

  1. Nurses and caregivers are rarely provided with training to help them cope with job stress.

Career training generally does a decent job of teaching us the basics of our industry, but not much attention is paid to providing professionals with some of the specific soft-skills that might actually make a big difference. The stress of working as a nurse can cause talented professionals to leave the industry before they might otherwise, and this has consequences for individual patients as well as society as a whole. Obviously, frequent turnover of workers in any care facility is not ideal — and veteran nurses bring invaluable assets and strengths to the work that novices just can’t. Care workers should be mindful of their emotional and physical needs, and organizations would be wise to consider how to best support them.

  1. Emotional intelligence seems to help.

Researchers elected to pilot this emotional intelligence training because they noticed how individuals with high emotional intelligence seemed to function better on the job than others.

“They seemed to put on a happy face in spite of the emotional labour, even if they were tired, frustrated or getting a hard time from residents or families,” Dr. Leila Karimi, coauthor of the study, told Australian Ageing Agenda. “I realised emotional intelligence was one of the skills that protected them against the emotional burden.”

  1. The consequences of emotional intelligence training for care workers were significant.

The pilot program created a six-month emotional intelligence training program at two aged care facilities. Around 60 professionals participated; the group included nurses, care workers, food and catering staff, and lifestyle staff. Half of these workers were in the control group and the other half received the training.

Researchers noted that, first, a significant improvement in participants’ level of emotional intelligence demonstrated that these skills can be taught. Additionally, the group that received the training experienced improvements to their general well-being, as well as reduced stress levels. The quality of the patient care they administered improved as well. These participants said that the training not only helped them professionally, it helped them personally as well.

“This course was the best investment of my life,” one of the participants commented to researchers, as was reported by Australian Ageing Agenda. “My friends and family noticed ‘positive changes’ in me.”

Researchers are hoping to extend their research by conducting this study again with a larger sample size in order to confirm that the results can be duplicated.

“Then, we’re hoping to make some changes in the education system,” Dr. Karimi told AAA, “because nurses and personal care workers receive lots of training about clinical aspects of care, but they don’t receive any specific training on the emotional or communication aspects of the job, which we believe are equally important.”

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