Fulfilling the Psychological Needs of the Healthcare Workforce
Organizations across industries are dealing with change and disruption, but the stressors in healthcare are at another level. Healthcare needs never stop—the work is ongoing and requires a high level of personal investment from the workforce. That creates additional strain on an already burnt-out population.
Healthcare has alway been high-stress. “The pandemic accelerated trends and brought to light needs that had been there all along,” says Lisa Jing, founder and CEO of Synergy at Work. But now that we’re talking about these issues, we can begin taking steps to remedy them.
Here are some steps you can take to facilitate better psychological safety and fulfillment for your healthcare workforce.
Facilitate Better Self-Care
Compassion fatigue is a serious problem in healthcare right now. Healthcare workers typically derive a lot of meaning from their work, and they often go above and beyond what’s expected of them. The lines between a healthy and a counterproductive amount of personal investment are blurred. “It takes a toll on the human being,” Jing says.
Psychological safety all starts with self-care. But finding the time for that is a significant challenge for healthcare workers. “Instead of being something that’s supposed to help them, it’s one more thing they have to do — and that causes more stress,” says Michelle Strasburger, CEO and Chief Wellness Strategist at The Wellness Value.
Healthcare systems need to support employees through the workplace environment and healthcare resources. Bringing resources to employees instead of expecting them to find them on their own can increase adoption and help employees learn to have empathy for themselves.
Revisit Workloads and Workflows
Find ways to revise workloads and processes to alleviate the constant stressors of overwork. Evaluate what needs to be done and who is available to do the work, Jing says. What are the highest priorities? Take a bird’s-eye view of the business and identify points where there might be slack. Can you move employees from those areas into support roles in your priority areas?
Use the information you gather to create more equitable workloads.
Consider the flow of work, too. Working in bursts of intense energy but then taking time to rest can be a more sustainable model than working without any breaks. This model can help employees find time to recover.
“Get creative about implementing flexibility,” Strasburger says. Build breaks into the workday and ensure employees actually use PTO and take vacations from work. Leverage resources that are less labor-intense, like telemedicine, to deliver excellent healthcare in a more sustainable model.
Protect Employees from Stressors
Creating a culture of safety—the feeling that employees matter and are heard and seen—can protect employees from stress. Empathy, especially from senior leaders toward frontline employees, can contribute to the sense of support employees need to prevent burnout.
Increased communication and transparency can protect employees from stress, too. Psychological health and safety include the ability to speak up and have a say in how the workplace is structured and operates.
As you make decisions, keep employees informed and ask for their input, too. Make sure that leaders and managers listen to employees attentively and respectfully. Employees need to be included in decisions that affect them. “Leaning in and listening is huge in figuring out what they need and what would work for them,” Strasburger says.
Taking care of the people who care for us is a priority moving forward. The healthcare workplace and systems can be re-engineered to support the healthcare workforce better. “We must address the whole person: body, mind and spirit,” Jing says. It’s time to institute a holistic approach across the healthcare environment.