HR leader at Queensland Health discusses personal challenges – and tips for mental health and wellbeing
Sabina Schlegel knows all too well how burnout can impact those experiencing high levels of stress.
As a leader in a healthcare organisation and someone who has personal experience of burnout, she is passionate about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
“It’s evident that burnout and COVID-19 impacted healthcare workers in very big ways,” says the director of organisational development, change and inclusion at Queensland Health.
“Burnout is a response to chronic job-related stress and there are lots of things that contribute to that, including lack of resources, conflict with colleagues, poor management practices and high workload.”
One contributing factor has been the growth of hybrid work situations which has brought different stressors and challenges, says Schlegel, who will be sharing her learnings and experiences at the HR Summit Brisbane at the workshop ‘How to identify and deal with burnout’.
Building a thriving workforce in a hybrid situation
Consequently, she and her team have led a project to help build successful hybrid and adaptive cultures. In particular, the focus has been understanding what it means to build a thriving workforce in these conditions.
“In a hybrid situation, there is more of a tendency towards ambiguity and uncertainty, and both of these can cause stress,” says Schlegel.
Consequently, a focus for her has been exploring how people tolerate ambiguity and creating tools to help employees work through it.
“I’ve been really focused on understanding employee experiences and how work and life has changed, especially as a result of the pandemic,” she says.
Feeling included and valued at work
Another key to helping prevent burnout is understanding the role psychological safety has in creating a thriving workforce and helping prevent burnout, says Schlegel. To create this, priority needs to be given to wellbeing, she says.
“Psychological safety is about prioritising the relationships in your team. It’s about creating a space for people to be able to safely speak up and provide new ideas, and where people aren’t punished for making mistakes. It’s also about having values that support the way in which we treat each other and about walking or living those values.
“People need to feel included, and that their contribution is valued. Those are some of the ways in which we build psychological safety.”
Schlegel and her team have developed this by creating leadership tools and resources through short online courses.
“I think it’s important to look at how an organisation - leaders and managers and the environment – contribute to burnout,” says Schlegel, who is passionate about advocating for “leading kindly”.
“In my presentation, I’ll be exploring how research shows some things can help prevent burnout and how there are actions that managers can take to combat it if they spot signs of it in team members.”
Signs of employee burnout
Things to look out for in someone include withdrawal, more conflict, the employee turning up to work late or being more irritable, she says.
“Sometimes there’s poor decision making, depression, an inability to concentrate, and incivility too.”
Burnout can impact all age groups, says Schlegel, but there are risk factors.
“People with low levels of social support are more prone, as are those with high levels of personal stress. People who have histories that can contribute to the way they deal with particular scenarios and also those who don't have good self-efficacy and may not be so confident with themselves - these are some of the risk factors.”
The point at which burnout happens, she says, is when people can no longer manage and are ‘absolutely on the edge’.
“It’s just something that is really important to me - to make sure that people understand it. That is what drives me, having experienced it myself.”