3 Ways to Promote Better Mental Health for Healthcare Workers
The pandemic may be slackening, but it’s having a long-lasting effect on the healthcare workforce. A little more than half (52%) of healthcare workers report feeling burnt out, according to a recent USA Today-Ipsos survey.
And it’s not just the pandemic: the racial stress, violence and changes in the economy all are taking their toll on healthcare workers. “It's going to reverberate for years,” says Charmain Jackman, Ph.D, founder and CEO at InnoPsych. This month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is hosting Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s an opportunity to open conversations and begin taking more proactive steps toward supporting your workforce’s mental health.
Here’s how to promote better mental health for your healthcare workforce.
For over a year now, healthcare organizations have had to prioritize the present. Now that the pandemic presents less of a threat, it’s time to shift your priorities to the long-term — and take steps to minimize burnout. If not addressed, burnout is the inevitable result of the chaos and trauma healthcare workers have endured over the past couple of years.
Give people permission to take time off. Create policies around mental health days that give people judgment-free, no-questions-asked time away for self-care and rest. To do that, redesign your schedule. Focus as much as possible on forecasting needs so you can minimize last-minute call-ins and give people dedicated time off.
“Encourage employees to use their PTO by having leaders model taking time off without still working (such as being on calls despite being on vacation),” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., CEO and global keynote speaker at Elizabeth Lombardo International LLC. Build flexibility into your systems and processes so that, when things come up (and they will), you can pivot with less disruption to your clinical staff.
Many healthcare organizations have provided mental health resources for employees. Often, however, these resources are too broad. Mental health resources are vital for healthcare workers, but a one-size-fits-all approach may not have the impact you need.
“It doesn't always fit the needs of those on the margins,” Jackman says. “They're not thinking of people on the frontlines — people who may not be able to watch a webinar during their lunchtime because they're serving meals in the cafeteria.”
Communities of color, for example, have been left out of a lot of mental health resources, which could result in large parts of your workforce feeling like there aren’t any resources that can benefit them. Or, some resources may be designed for a general office population, who face a very different set of workplace stressors than clinical healthcare workers.
Don’t rely on trends and assumptions. Survey your employees to ask what their needs are. Think about who your suppliers are — and find providers who reflect your actual population.
Part of the conversation around mental health has to reframe how we define “self-care.” That definition changes by the individual, since we all recharge in different ways. But we tend to hold ourselves to a standard set by other people.
Many people go to the gym for self-care, for example, or set aside time for a massage, but these activities aren’t what everyone needs to unwind. Yet, your employees may feel guilty for not doing these things. Shift the emphasis to being versus doing. “It's often giving ourselves permission and making space for that,” Jackman says. Let employees know that it’s OK to just rest, and that they deserve that.
“Three times a day for at least five minutes, do something healthy and helpful to address your mental wellbeing,” Lombardo says. “During that time frame, people may choose to take a walk, get a cup of coffee, have a non-work related conversation with a colleague. ... The opportunities are endless.”
The healthcare workforce has been through a lot the past couple of years, and the past is catching up with their mental health and wellness. Take proactive steps to support your healthcare workers this Mental Health Awareness Month.