square bulletBuilding a Sustainable Workforce

From Lisa Ladendorff, LCSW, Director of Development and Training, Northeast Oregon Network; Connie Sherrard, MSW, Training Program Manager, Northeast Oregon Network; and Kinda Cable, Training Program Project Manager, Northeast Oregon Network

Historically, western societies have viewed natural resources as something endlessly available, to be used for our benefit, with little regard for long term impacts on the environment, planet, and ultimately humankind. But now we see that impact in rising seas, burning forests, super storms, polluted air, and soiled waters. In addition to the physical threats, we see other impacts – especially in the young – including anxiety and existential depression about the future of society and the earth.

It is only recently that we have begun to think and talk about over-extraction of natural resources and the warming climate and the steps we should take to create sustainable systems to counteract these existential threats.

There is a parallel to this phenomenon in the way we view our workforce. Traditionally, human capital is seen as readily available to power our systems and economy. Employees are a resource that can be replaced if they do not fit the organizational mold or become worn out by the stress of the work and/or the systems within which they work.

Human beings function in ecological systems analogous to the physical environment, so sustainability requires intervention at all levels of the organization. For that reason, the Northeast Oregon Network (NEON) training and consulting program focuses on empowering organizations and staff to create, innovate, and apply tools to increase the sustainability of human support systems, particularly those that serve our most neglected and vulnerable populations.

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its third year, we often hear about burnout and mental health impacts on the health and human service workforce because it is made up of those who have over-provided and overextended during the height of the crisis. We see articles (professional and lay) about the “behavioral health” crises facing this workforce. Companies are focusing like never before on self-care plans. A quick online search comes back with results such as “national wellbeing plans,” “50 tips for self-care,” spa days, retreats, mental health days, etc. And yet, while self-care is a desirable goal and an admirable practice, these activities often send a message that self-care is something we do on our private time, on our own dime, by ourselves or with friends, to improve our wellbeing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the wounds often clearly occurred at work. But the healing is often expected to happen at home.

NEON’s Training Program is the recipient of a national Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) Workforce Resiliency Training grant to offer training to address and ameliorate the impacts of burnout through COVID-19. Our team, which has extensive training in compassion fatigue, reflected long and hard on this focus on the individual instead of the organization as the locus of responsibility for the problem. We realized that the current approach to the “self-care” model lacks balance and organizational justice and is unsustainable in the long run due to its negative impacts on the workforce.

NEON believes a platform of sustainable organizational wellness is built on three supporting legs: 1) opportunities and resources that support and encourage employee self-care; 2) strong, high-quality staff/supervisor relationships; and 3) organizational practices, procedures, and policies that create and sustain a structure that enables a culture of wellness. We are actively recruiting both large and small health and social service systems to train teams of staff, supervisors, and human resource and executive personnel. This training approach has organization-wide impacts at multiple levels. Employees’ voices and impact are elevated, and they are supported to learn and practice effective self-care strategies. Middle managers are given the knowledge and tools to become strong and supportive supervisors. And human resources and executive leadership are trained to pivot the culture of the workplace toward organizational justice and staff resilience through the practice of health-oriented leadership.

Self Care and Health Care Workers: Opportunity

We have received a Health Resources & Services (HRSA) Workforce Development Grant to support health care workforce throughout Oregon. We are providing training on self-care to health care workers who are certified but unlicensed and working with rural or culturally underserved populations, such as community health workers, peers, medical assistants, chemical dependency counselors and others. We are also offering training to supervisors and administrators within this workforce to support developing resiliency and compassion satisfaction throughout an organization. Due to generous grant funding, we are able to offer substantial scholarships to the above listed workers, iPads for technical support, and other free wellness supports.

Please visit our website for more information. We are happy to send more information via email or set up a half hour meeting time with you to see how your organization might benefit from this statewide grant.