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Emotional intelligence training boosts aged care workers

La Trobe University researcher Dr Leila Karimi
Photo: La Trobe University researcher Dr Leila Karimi
A unique training project for aged care nurses and assistants-in-nursing (AINs) has improved their wellbeing and psychological empowerment while reducing their stress.

A group of La Trobe University researchers are hoping to roll out their Feeling Good, Working Well training program to aged care organisations after achieving positive results for workers’ emotional health and resilience in a recent trial.

The emotional intelligence training program was designed after the university’s previous research showed many nurses are overworked due to under-staffing and often feel under-appreciated while caring for sick and frail patients.

Dr Leila Karimi, a senior lecturer in health services management at La Trobe University and former Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) Institute research fellow who led the trial, says the study showed emotional intelligence is trainable to some extent.
Dr Karimi says the training equipped workers with new tools and skills in emotional intelligence that boosted their sense of empowerment, performance and effective practice for delivering person-centred care.

“Many participants reported that they became calmer, happier and more relaxed at work. They also felt more empowered,” she says.

“Coming together as a group from different areas of the facility….catering, lifestyles, nursing, as well as people from other cultures produced immediate benefits.”

Fifty-seven workers at a Victorian aged care organisation, including clinical support nurses, enrolled nurses, AINs (personal care workers) and other lifestyle, food and service workers, participated in the small training study that included monthly training days and data collection spanning a six-month period.

One group received emotional intelligence training from experienced emotional intelligence trainer Taruni Falconer while the comparison group did not receive any training.

Researchers found the training group received benefits associated with emotional intelligence that extended beyond the workplace - into their personal lives.

While there were no significant changes in job satisfaction, the training group reported better wellbeing, empowerment and less stress. The training also led to improved care, with patients and their families reporting a higher quality of care.

No major differences were observed for the control group.

Emotional intelligence

While intelligence refers to a person’s capacity to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, Dr Karimi describes emotional intelligence as the capacity to understand emotions and then to purposefully manage them.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to discriminate between various feelings, to label those feelings and to then use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, she says.

“Emotional intelligence also affects how we manage behaviour, deal with social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.

“It manifests itself in better self-awareness, motivation, empathy and good social skills.”

There is little international experimental research into emotional intelligence and its impact on the nursing profession.

Training program

The Feeling Good, Working Well training program was specifically designed for the aged care setting, based on workers’ needs, their expectations, educational background and the project’s timeframe.

Dr Karimi says the emotional intelligence segment was based on the globally validated Personal Leadership Seminars framework, which involves six practices and two principles. It was designed to help workers access higher levels of learning and insight, mutual cooperation and collaboration, and creativity in situations with significant cultural differences.

The program emphasises three key points. It encourages participants to first know themselves in order to be effective in their interactions with others, and to intentionally cultivate emotional intelligence to ensure clarity during stress, uncertainty and in environments of change.

Dr Karimi says the training took participants from awareness-raising through to new and conscious behaviours.

“A principal strength of this approach was the inclusion of ways to interrupt unconscious autopilot responses to stress via small steps called micro-practices,” she says.

“These minute conscious practices are fun and are attached to an action we are already doing in the course of our day.

“Participants, working with partners in the workplace, applied specific practices to build emotional intelligence.”

Emotional intelligence in practice

As part of the training, aged care workers were asked to commit to practices that still the mind, support self-reflection, self-management and self-motivation, enabling them to respond creatively and appropriately in their work.

Nurses also outlined what they loved most about their work and created personal vision statements - simple sentences designed to act as a personal anchor throughout their working day.

The statements included - ‘I, (unidentified nurse), at my most capable self am mindful, adaptable and energetic so that I can skilfully manage my staff teams and therefore benefit each resident’.

Another participant wrote - ‘I, (unidentified nurse), at my most capable am calm, loving, emphatic so that I can care for the residents in the most whole and effective way’.

Dr Karimi says the emotional intelligence of a nurse or care worker helps them to identify people’s emotions, needs and requirements while working to create an environment for the provision of more effective care.

“Working in an often over-crowded, high-stress environment enables aged care workers to use emotional intelligence to practice empathy - putting themselves in their shoes and being aware of, and sensitive to, their feelings to help them.”

The La Trobe researchers hope the program will eventually be extended to all aged care nurses.

“Participants not only used emotional intelligence in the workplace but in their real life situations,” Dr Karimi says.

“We felt that if the training has such an impact, not only on their workplace environment but also in their personal life, why shouldn’t we include that in their formal study or training?

“At the moment, the main focus of the training they receive during their studies is on clinical aspects and there is not much about communication and emotional aspects, which we believe is just as important.”


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords