4 Keys to Remedying Healthcare Staff Burnout
Staff burnout in 2021 has reached crisis levels, threatening the health of organizations, providers, and patients across the country. Since the start of the pandemic, between 60 percent and 75 percent of clinicians have reported conditions that include exhaustion, depression, sleep disorders, and anxiety, according to Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine, at a November webinar hosted by U.S. News & World Report.
Several different factors have led to increased healthcare burnout. Higher patient volume, demands of the business of healthcare, increased regulatory requirements, staff shortages, frustrating technology and equipment, and supply-chain concerns all contribute to various degrees. This can lead to high staff turnover, increased healthcare costs, and limited ability to serve patients, all of which put further pressure on staff and create a vicious cycle.
What can organizations do in the face of all these challenges? Here are several ideas.
1. Involve leadership
Healthcare staff and lower-level managers should not have to fend for themselves when it comes to burnout. Burnout can affect entire healthcare organizations, so leadership at every level must be involved in mitigation.
Healthcare leadership should have a long-term focus on combating burnout. This involves significant investment in preventive strategies and system-wide changes. For example, a health organization’s leadership should join staffers on the ground to better understand their workdays. Hospital systems could create a position of chief wellness officer to oversee and address the health and wellbeing of all employees and providers.
2. Pay attention to details
While a “big picture” perspective is important to reduce burnout, details still matter. Tiny changes often can make a significant difference to workers’ stress levels. For example, replacing poorly functioning equipment, even non-medical devices like copiers, can reduce frustration for staff, improve efficiency, and make them feel they are valued.
Healthcare organizations should also consider changes to reduce stress in “smaller,” often overlooked roles, such as registration staff. Paying attention to these positions can keep the workplace running smoothly and improve the patient and provider experience.
3. Promote mental health
Mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety, are a significant risk for healthcare workers. Instead of letting these employees suffer in silence, healthcare employers can offer resources to support employees’ mental health.
These mental-health resources may include:
- Website pages with a list of information on burnout, outreach programs, and contact information for anonymous psychological health resources;
- Empathy training for managers, directors, faculty members, and others who regularly train and supervise medical students and other providers;
- Mental health first aid training for all staff to help identify stress; and
- Coverage for mental health services, or other access to free screenings and counseling.
4. Work to keep good employees
Although burnout is not always the cause of turnover, it is a significant contributor in healthcare. When creating a plan to reduce burnout, healthcare employers should include employee retention strategies.
- Create better teams and more engaged employees by reviewing and improving the recruitment and onboarding processes.
- Stay interviews can help employers learn what keeps high-performing employees, or what is contributing to their departures.
- Let employees know they are valued with a strong culture of recognition.
Employee burnout in healthcare can become a matter of life and death. By looking at both the big picture and the smallest details, healthcare leadership can create a healthier, more engaged and effective workforce.