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Systems of support and worker wellbeing

Stress, burnout and staff retention are all challenges for the drug and alcohol workforce, so having practices and actions in place to support a worker's effectiveness and wellbeing is essential (Roche & Skinner 2005).

Strategies to provide support

Systems of workplace support are of key importance when working in a drug and alcohol setting. When working with people with complex needs and/or when implementing change management in your service, these systems are essential to ensure staff are not overwhelmed and feel supported by the service to carry out their role.

Workplace supports fall into two categories:

  1. Social/emotional support is "focused on meeting workers' needs to feel valued, cared for, respected and liked" (Roche & Skinner 2005, Ch14, p2).
  2. Instrumental support refers to "support that provides workers with practical assistance in terms of their roles, responsibilities and tasks" (Roche & Skinner 2005, Ch 14, p2).

All levels of the service can be engaged in a supportive workplace system, and services should investigate the types of strategies that can be implemented by co-workers, managers/supervisors and the service as a whole to facilitate a highly supportive workplace.

 Social/emotional supportInstrumental support


  • Ensuring fairness of treatment
  • Providing valued rewards
  • Ensuring supportive supervision
  • Ensuring good job conditions (physical safety, job security, promotion paths, autonomy)
  • Addressing work overload
  • Addressing role ambiguity or conflict
  • Providing access to high-quality resources and equipment


  • Channelling/facilitating organisational support
  • Providing positive social interaction praise, encouragement, caring, respect)
  • Recognising and rewarding good work
  • Involving workers in decision-making


  • Providing positive social interaction (praise, encouragement, caring, respect)
  • Providing help and advice
  • Filling in when others are absent
  • Assisting with heavy workloads
  • Providing constructive feedback
  • Appreciation and recognition
  • Sharing duties and responsibilities

Source: Roche & Skinner (2005), Ch14, p2.

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Addressing stress and burnout

Worker wellbeing is recognised as a major area of concern for workers in the human services industry, who often experience high levels of stress and burnout. The drug and alcohol workforce faces many challenges in meeting the demands of responding to the ever-changing and often increasing complex needs of the community, including stigmatisation, heavy workloads and increased expectations.

The Indigenous drug and alcohol workforce faces additional challenges, including, but not limited to, a lack of culturally appropriate support and understanding, racism, and difficulties setting appropriate boundaries, particularly when working in small communities where workers are likely to know clients personally (Gleadie et al 2010).

The National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) suggests a two-pronged approach to addressing stress and burnout in drug and alcohol services (Roche & Skinner 2005):

  1. There should be organisational strategies which focus on altering the work environment and/or the conditions causing the stress and burnout.
  2. The individual worker should focus on developing coping strategies and stress management techniques.

Organisations should ensure effective workplace support systems are in place to avoid or reduce the chance of stress and burnout occurring. Organisations should also consider how workers are supported to develop their own coping strategies, including regular formal and informal supervision sessions, promoting the use of reflective practice, and ensuring staff are aware of and have access to an employee assistance scheme.

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Find out more

For guidance on assessing your service's current workplace support systems (including a checklist and survey tool) and implementing effective systems see Chapter 14: Workplace Support in:

For guidance on supporting worker wellbeing, including checklists and survey instruments, see Chapter 13: Worker Wellbeing from the same resource. This contains a range of information specific to the wellbeing of the Indigenous alcohol and other drug workforce.

Practice Tips for Workers has information for workers to consider in relation to addressing their own wellbeing.

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