The NSW Ambulance Service had its work cut out for it when it had to overhaul its workplace culture to promote a more supportive, respectful and positive environment for all staff.
In 2008, a parliamentary inquiry was launched to investigate claims that bullying and harassment were common behaviours of service staff at all levels.
The NSW Ambulance Service employs more than 4300 people as well as close to 250 volunteers, and operates a fleet of more than 1500 ambulances and other vehicles.
Almost all employees – 90 per cent – are operational staff involved in the frontline delivery of care to the people of NSW.
To address the issues highlighted in the inquiry, the NSW Ambulance Service had to implement strategic reforms to empower managers and staff to deal with conflict. Staff needed to have a clear understanding of how to move forward with conflict as it occurred.
NSW Ambulance Service acting manager, healthy workplace strategies, Marlene Booth says the public nature of the inquiry gave the ambulance service an opportunity to address issues that had plagued the organisation for some time.
“Because the chief executive was on board with it we were able to start consulting with staff and providing the resources to do something about it,” she says. “And that’s a key basis on which to work.” A comprehensive Healthy Workplace
Strategies program was developed, and the first issue tackled was how to achieve effective resolution of staff conflict and how to reduce the risk of bullying in the workplace.
In 2009, Respectful Workplace Training was rolled out for staff, starting with the CEO and senior leadership team. It gave all staff, regardless of their rank, the opportunity to address concerns in the workplace, promoting individual responsibility in the resolution of conflict, which represented a significant cultural shift.
“Staff were trained on a six-step conversational model for difficult conversations. This model authorised those conversations to take place, and staff learnt how to conduct themselves during the process,” says Booth.
The ambulance service also introduced a policy around raising workplace concerns, which was created to help staff manage workplace conflict and grievance conflict.
With around 300 locations across the state, it was crucial that no matter where they were, staff could access the same information quickly and easily. To support the new workplace strategy, the ambulance service developed a film, which was used to train managers in how to manage conflict.
Mental health support systems were also introduced in recognition of the difficult situations ambulance service staff is exposed to.
Booth says it is clear the training has had a positive impact.
“One of the most promising things anecdotally is that staff and managers are asking for the training. Managers can see the benefits in staff being released to attend this support training,” she says.
She says the award is a very significant recognition of the hard work the NSW Ambulance Service at all levels did to help and support its workforce.
“Having public recognition by winning an award as prestigious as this also communicates something to our workforce – that we are doing something that is pretty special,” she says. “And that we are progressing quite healthily as an organisation.”