Healthcare professionals are struggling with burnout under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, but these three best practices can help.
By Marta Chmielowicz
As COVID-19 blazes through hospitals across the world, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers are putting their health on the line like never before. This is exacerbating the problem of burnout: not only are healthcare professionals caring for patients sick with a virus they are still learning about, but they are also experiencing staffing shortages that necessitate longer hours with fewer resources.
Research shows that healthcare workers have long experienced higher rates of burnout than the general population, but COVID-19 has worsened the situation for many, with a recent survey from Mental Health America reporting increases in sleep trouble, physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, and work-related dread over the last three months.
In response, healthcare organizations are stepping up with initiatives to improve the resilience and well-being of their teams. “Organizations are looking to help healthcare professionals reduce burnout, increase empathy and compassion, really reconnect with the joy and purpose of the practice, and prioritize shared good mental and physical health,” says Diane Fleischmann, vice president of operations at Cielo.
What are some approaches that can make a difference in the lives of healthcare workers?
1. Offer perks that make life easier. Healthcare workers have been carrying an incredible burden throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and this is expected to continue as they face a second wave of the virus. To maintain their well-being in such a stressful time, employers need to focus on meeting the needs of their team members, viewing them as people that also need to be taken care of.
“Organizations are communicating often and openly,” says Fleischmann. “They are ensuring that team members are heard, offering town halls and other opportunities for staff members to voice concerns, and then making sure that they are acknowledging those concerns.”
One way that HR leaders are combating burnout across their teams is by engaging with the community to offer perks like free lunches, family dinners that staff members can take home with them, and laundry services to wash and disinfect scrubs. These measures take some pressure off employees’ shoulders and make them feel heard and cared for by their employers.
2. Provide spaces to rest and rejuvenate in the workplace. In a moment when healthcare organizations are overwhelmed with patients and safety concerns, many workers find themselves without a place to rest during their workday. Fleischmann recommends that employers combat this by “working hard to ensure there are private spaces around the hospital where employees can get away and rest and reenergize themselves.”
3. Drive a sense of purpose. Another key element of retaining healthcare workers is developing a culture of support and camaraderie that reminds employees of their purpose.
“Organizations need to make sure that they communicate the mission and vision of why their staff became healthcare professionals,” says Fleischmann. This should be communicated to new employees during the onboarding process with messaging about the mission, values, and purpose of the organization.
For existing employees, one way that healthcare systems are driving a sense of purpose is the “Heroes Work Here” initiative, which involves posting signs and messages recognizing that healthcare workers are true heroes by putting themselves on the front lines to care for sick patients throughout this pandemic. According to Fleischmann, “This initiative creates alignment and brings forward a sense of purpose so that healthcare providers feel engaged and understand why they got into healthcare in the first place.”
By leveraging these programs, organizations can support their workforce and build a culture of resilience that will serve them well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.