Even before the pandemic, burnout was a major problem among health care workers. Now, the situation is even direr. Roughly 20% of health care employees have left their jobs since March 2019 and many others plan to follow suit. Meanwhile, repeated surges in COVID-19 cases continue to overrun many hospitals’ capacity.
In these chaotic environments, it’s common for employees to work 12- to 16-hour shifts, skip breaks, and go home drained. The residual stress makes it difficult, if not impossible, to decompress while off the clock, creating a vicious cycle of depletion, disengagement and, ultimately, burnout.
Medical facility managers can help staff avoid this chain reaction by supporting their physical, mental, and emotional health.
1. Tie work to a mission of care
Employees want to know that their work makes a real difference in the world and that it’s meaningful and important. Yet, many health care workers lack this kind of fulfillment. Consequently, many lose motivation and eventually disengage. Others leave and look for meaning and purpose somewhere else. That’s why it’s important to tie work to a mission of care.
How do employees’ efforts directly impact patients? Look for evidence in the way the two groups communicate and openly recognize staff who go the extra mile. Doing so will incentivize others to embrace their mission and adopt a more purposeful approach to patient care.
2. Allow temporary reprieves
Severe hospital staffing shortages have prompted health officials to allow nurses and other workers to stay on the job, even when sick with coronavirus. As long as they’re exhibiting mild symptoms, they can—and are often encouraged to—keep working. It’s easy to see how such a situation could cause widespread burnout.
Instead of discouraging breaks and vacations or requiring employees to come to work ill, give them time and space to replenish themselves. Offer paid-time-off, grant leaves of absence, and reduce hours for overworked and exhausted employees. Current workforce shortages will likely worsen without such reprieves.
3. Utilize extended teams
It’s essential that you recognize and invest in mitigating stress on the job, too. In hospital settings or similar medical facilities, one popular approach is to make the most of extended teams. Perhaps yours consists of social workers, diabetes educators, nutritionists, or other non-physician employees.
These staff members can support doctors and nurses by completing forms, scheduling appointments, identifying care gaps, and anticipating orders before medical professionals enter patients’ rooms. Non-physician team members can also field common requests and act as intermediaries between clinical staff, patients, and insurance companies.
4. Implement automation-oriented technology
Technology can also alleviate stress and prevent burnout. However, most hospital staff would say the exact opposite. Internal policies, procedures, and technology add-ons often burden employees with unnecessary tasks.
For instance, nurses might spend hundreds of hours documenting that they conduct hourly rounds. These kinds of administrative responsibilities can easily exhaust employees and waste time. However, implementing automation-oriented tech could simplify workflows and improve efficiency, while minimizing stress.
One great example is integrated AI-driven computer-assisted physician documentation systems – or CAPD. This technology generates advice that enables physicians to produce clinical notes at the point of care very quickly. This way, health care employees don’t have to transcribe notes and complete electronic health records later on.
5. Offer access to supportive resources
Many health care employees suffer silently and put on a brave face to combat fatigue and stress. However, there’s a limit to their resilience, and they’re more likely to succumb to burnout if they lack supportive resources.
Mitigate emotional depletion by providing curated content on topics like compassion fatigue, parenting during a pandemic, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Hosting mental health programs, distributing anonymous mental health checkup surveys, and pairing workers in a buddy system are excellent ways to offer supportive resources, too.
6. Protect employees’ economic security
Hospitals furloughed 1.4 million health care employees in April 2020, alone. Since then, many have regained their positions or found new work, but some still fear future layoffs. If another variant were to emerge, would they be the next ones to lose their jobs?
The stress that accompanies economic insecurity can seriously wear on workers’ mental health, which inevitably affects their overall health and well-being. In a world of uncertainties, managers should assure employees of their job security, if possible. Be a reliable advocate for those most at risk and offer partial or full pay to staff who do have to take a temporary leave.
Taking a proactive approach
Stress is a given in healthcare today, and matters could get worse before they get better. That said, it’s crucial that you take a proactive approach to support employees’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Rather than wait for burnout to happen, managers should act now.
Start implementing the ideas above as soon as possible and check in with staff throughout the process. Open communication is key to creating a positive, supportive work environment, and it starts with you, so take the lead and make it happen.
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