“A diffuse need of empathy”. Interventions in an Italian public healthcare organisation

By Ilaria Rita Faiulo and the AUSL team

AUSL of Bologna in one of the Italian partners of the H-WORK project. It is one of the major public healthcare organisation in Italy by size and complexity. It covers 46 cities and it provides healthcare assistance to more than 870.000 citizens. AUSL is organized in nine hospitals and several minor structures situated all over the province. It counts around 10.000 employees. The mission of AUSL is to promote health and wellbeing to its population by providing high quality health care services – included essential levels of care – according to national laws.

Since its big dimensions and the specific characteristics of its departments, three areas had been involved in the H-WORK project: Department of Medicine, Department of Emergency and the Institute of Neurological Science. Overall, these three areas count around 3.000 employees spread all over the several AUSL structures.

Interventions to support mental health

Even though the so-called “third wave” of Covid-19 pandemic was still in progress, we decided to start the interventions at the end of April 2021. Our motivation was to give back a sign of support and presence by the organization to employees who hardly worked for the entire year for facing the Covid-19 emergency. Specifically, we started implementing four interventions:

  • HelloBetter: Covid-19 “Calm through the crisis”: an online individual course about managing stress and anxieties due to Covid-19 pandemic;
  • Positive Leadership Development: an intervention combining class and coaching sessions for improving managers’ leadership skills;
  • Positive Social Interaction: a 3-group sessions intervention for empowering individual abilities in managing conflicts at work;
  • Sociomapping: a team intervention consisting in team members discussing and developing more effective communication strategies.

In Autumn 2021, we continued with:

  • Positive Stress Management: a 3-group sessions intervention focus on improving stress management skills

Then, we implemented several interventions in order to meet different roles’ and employees’ needs, according to the needs analysis previously run. Overall, more than 220 professionals actively participated to the interventions, all finished in December 2021.

Challenges and results

Since interventions started when the third Covid-19 wave was still in progress, the first challenge we faced was to get in touch with mangers for explaining them what interventions are and make them fully involved in recruiting participants. In fact, managers were the main channel for presenting the opportunity to their co-workers and then scheduling workshifts according to sessions appointments.

Due to pandemic, we run all interventions using a web meeting platform. Devices and infrastructures available and also digital competencies possessed by participants were not homogeneous. This led to some difficulties in connection and active interaction during the group sessions.

On the other hand, doing online intervention turned out in an opportunity too. In fact, it permitted to create heterogeneous classes made up of colleagues belonging to structures scattered throughout the territory. This brought to build connections among employees not even knowing each other. This first connection was enforced by the empathy spread during sessions. In fact, they often began a moment of openness of feelings and thoughts. The climate of trust characterizing the meetings, led employees to feel free to share emotions about what they were living and it resulted in an empathic answers by the others. Often, it was also a comparison of suggestions and information about work and organisation.

These moments of sharing were very powerful and make people feel gratitude about their work. The common and diffused sensation of “being alone” with their problems and bad feelings seemed be reduced.

A diffuse need of empathy

The most relevant awareness we learned by these interventions is about the diffuse need of empathy all over AUSL employees and its power for reducing the sense of loneliness. In addition, the need to be actively listened and sustained by the organization was relevant.

In fact, based on their feedback, participants particularly appreciated the opportunity to share their thoughts and emotions. Having somebody who empathizes with them and help them in focusing on their resources, made them feeling more confident.

Since positive feedback we received from the interventions, the organization will consider the opportunity to improve already existing mental health promoting events.