Healthcare has had higher rates of burnout for years. However, in the aftermath of the pandemic, these rates only worsened.
In a survey led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital Investigators of physicians, nurses, and clinical and non-clinical staff from 206 healthcare organizations, 50% reported burnout. The highest levels were among nurses (56%) and other clinical staff (54.1%).
These numbers demonstrate a need for healthcare organizations to identify and then take action to figure out how to fix burnout in Healthcare.
To combat burnout in healthcare, you must first identify when your workforce is suffering from it.
Burnout is a “psychological state marked by exhaustion, a lack of enthusiasm, and an inability to cope because of stress.” In the workforce, this can present itself as exhaustion and feelings of apathy due to prolonged workplace stress.
The feeling of burnout can present itself in the following ways:
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Increased feelings of cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced sense of accomplishment
- Increased irritability, anger, or frustration
- Jaw-clenching and teeth grinding
- Increase in blood pressure, feelings of depression, and substance abuse
- Damaged relationships
- Increased mistakes at work
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of work-related dread
While many of these symptoms are similar to those felt when stressed, they differ. Signs of stress are temporary. In contrast, feelings of burnout are unrelenting and only resolved if actions are taken to fix it.
8 Ways to Combat Burnout in Healthcare
1. Promote Wellness
The high-stress nature of a healthcare worker’s job means they are naturally more susceptible to burnout. If employees do not care for themselves, they will eventually experience burnout.
Organizations must promote wellness as a way to cope with these job-related stresses. Encouraging self-care will provide employees with the tools to combat burnout.
Here are a few ways your organization can promote wellness:
- Provide opportunities for employees to learn and integrate stress-reduction techniques.
- Promote self-care. Develop programs and create schedules that promote healthy eating, exercise, good sleep habits, and more enjoyment of their hobbies.
- Teach the signs of burnout and encourage them to identify their symptoms.
- Periodically, incorporate wellness activities in the workday, like having a massage therapist available or a meditation break.
2. Give Employees Space to Recharge
One of the significant causes of physician burnout is the increasing workload outside of work hours. Full schedules create demanding shifts, leaving administrative tasks for after-work hours. The average physician spends 6 hours outside of work hours on Electronic Health Records (EHR).
What organizations can do is advocate for physicians, nurses, and other staff to have time and space to replenish themselves.
Here are some ways to advocate for a healthy boundary between work and home life:
- Encourage employees to unplug from work as much as possible when home by reducing communication outside work hours.
- Reallocate administrative tasks to shift workers and support staff.
- Consider giving extra time off, flexible deadlines, and reduced hours or workload
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3. Encourage Workplace Connection
A way to improve nurse burnout is to provide opportunities to connect with their peers. Employees who have a support system at work are likelier to feel happy.
As employees build connections with colleagues, they create a network of people for who they can ask for help. It also allows them to have feelings of solidarity when aspects of the job become difficult.
Encourage celebrations, volunteering, or other gatherings where nurses and other healthcare workers can build connections.
4. Encourage Mental Health Support
Unfortunately, in Healthcare, particularly with physicians, there is a stigma around accessing mental health assistance. Many believe that by talking to a therapist, they put their licensing and career in jeopardy.
The health organization should advocate for their workers to receive mental health support.
Here are some successful programs implemented by health organizations:
- Provide curated materials on how to deal with the stresses of the job (podcasts, articles, etc.)
- Have teams of behavioral clinicians for staff to come to (chaplains, social workers)
- Advocate for clinicians to have opportunities to replenish themselves when needed through leaves of absence, temporary role changes, or reduced hours.
5. Build Solutions to Solve Common Workplace Frustrations
A major complaint among burnt-out healthcare workers is a feeling unheard in their desire to change inefficient systems and policies. To combat this, allow employees to identify tasks that need elimination, particularly EHR tasks.
Here are some ways other organizations were able to improve overall morale through system changes:
- Hawaii Pacific Health ended its requirement for nurses to document each time they completed their hourly rounds. Ultimately, this saved about 1,700 nursing hours per month at the four hospitals in their system.
- University of California San Fransico Medical Center created a “triage playbook” that allows support staff to field the most common requests and queries.
- Torrance Memorial Medical Center created strict policies for abusive behavior toward staff.
6. Advocate for kindness in your leaders.
Traditionally, healthcare workers can experience a discouraging culture as they are learning. For example, medical students learn from others’ experiences that as they begin working in health organizations, there will be attendings and other leaders who do not teach with kindness.
This sentiment is not unique to medical students and residents but is also prevalent among other clinical staff. Training leaders to be kind and to treat workers with care will directly impact employee happiness.
At Mayo Clinic, they emphasize kindness in their leaders through an annual survey of their 73,000 staff. In prioritizing kind leaders, they found greater employee satisfaction and fulfillment while also lower levels of burnout among staff at all levels.
7. Prioritize time for what matters:
Patient loads and the pressure for productivity and efficiency are increasing. Instead of encouraging this pressure, try limiting the organization’s focus on productivity.
An organization that is too focused on productivity will find its employees with reduced joy in their work. They will also lose quality patient care based on a trusting and collaborative relationship.
Instead, allow clinicians to slow down and focus on their patients. Kindness and connection will positively impact patient care and job satisfaction.
8. Ensure Employees Feel Valued
The most significant impact on burnout in healthcare and the easiest to implement is to ensure employees feel valued.
Employees are more likely to endure stress and change when they feel valued. One of the simplest ways to make healthcare workers feel valued is to recognize them for their work and celebrate the things happening in their lives.
Make it a priority to dedicate a small amount of time each month for leadership, colleagues, or patients to show they care by writing letters of gratitude. A little appreciation can go a long way in combating burnout.
Kudoboard is an excellent and easy way to compile messages of gratitude. Our boards are an online group card for any occasion. Our boards are designed for anyone you invite to contribute messages of appreciation, congratulations, or best wishes.
Once everyone contributes, the recipient will receive a board full of meaningful messages that they will be able to look at when feelings of burnout begin to creep in.
Healthcare is a vital component of our society. It is imperative for the success of our communities to face healthcare worker burnout head-on. As health organizations take action to improve job satisfaction, healthcare worker retention will improve, and so will our communities.