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What do you do with a problem: navigating positive change amid unprecedented workplace challenges

What do you do with a problem: navigating positive change amid unprecedented workplace challenges

Karen Freeman (left) and Janelle Leetham. Photo: supplied

In Melton City Council, maternal and child health nurses have been working below 50 per cent of their required EFT for at least two years. ANMF delegates Karen Freeman and Janelle Leetham decided to do something about it.

‘Melton is the fastest growing municipality in Australia,’ says Karen. ‘And COVID hastened on retirement or moving out of the profession for many, so retention has been a big issue for us, as well as the statewide shortage in maternal and child health nurses. Melton has sat below 50 per cent of our required EFT for a few years now.’

Beginning in 2021, amid the high rate of resignations and retirement, Karen and Janelle started documenting and quantifying the risks this environment posed to staff, from physical safety risks due to excessive overtime to psychosocial hazards and issues relating to the increasing complexity of client and family needs. ‘We were trying to work out how to make our work safer,’ Karen says.

At this month’s OHS conference, Karen and Janelle will present their results.

‘When we sat down to talk about our outline for the presentation, it made us realise how much we actually have achieved here,’ Karen says, ‘so that was pretty affirming.’

It takes a village…

Their presentation, titled ‘Navigating positive change amid unprecedented workplace challenges’, will share the challenges they faced and the successes they’ve had. Because they are maternal and child health nurses, Karen and Janelle are planning to structure their talk around one of their favourite children’s book, Kobi Yamada’s What do you do with a problem?.

‘We’re going to use that story as part of our presentation, which will look at the work we’ve done and the possibilities and good things that came out of actually facing and exploring this problem,’ Karen explains.

‘The other idea that’s guiding us is the concept that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s the same thing with the work we’ve done, so we’ll talk about that importance of continual consultation and collaboration with our own team.’

Consultation and collaboration

Consultation and collaboration emerged as a dominant theme during the course of their work. ‘We kind of feel like we’ve created this culture of consultation now, where we’re actually part of the conversation without constantly having to ask.’

While it sounds like common sense, this can be surprisingly rare. Some of Karen and Janelle’s solutions seem straightforward, but they proved especially powerful: ‘Simply asking management to come and talk to the team [made a difference]’, Karen says. ‘Providing that space for the team to be able to talk about their concerns to management directly.’

The key message here, she adds, is that ‘we’re living the problem, but we can also be part of the solution.’

Karen is also keen to emphasise the importance of consultation with and support from ANMF. ‘We’ve had lots of consultation and support from many levels in ANMF, which has been such a huge benefit for us. We’ve learned so much thanks to that support from the OHS team, our organiser, the professional officers. I don’t think everyone knows that support is available.’

At the end of the day, she says, ‘we’re not experts. We’re just like everybody else. The people who are working on the ground often have a lot of the solutions if they’re given the opportunity. It’s just so important to work together.’

The ANMF (Vic Branch) OHS conference is on from 9am to 4pm on Friday 22 March at the Carson Conference Centre, 535 Elizabeth Street Melbourne. It attracts up to six CPD hours required by the NMBA for registration renewal.

Register now.