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Strategies for Allied Healthcare Leaders to Cool Down Workplace Burnout

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In the healthcare industry, we are no strangers to burnout in the workplace. During this past year, since the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the country, it has unfortunately become all too familiar a phenomenon amongst healthcare professionals—a 2020 CCJM article indicating that more than 40% of healthcare providers are experiencing burnout. Many have endured long hours caring for patients in the throes of a global crisis, adding mental and physical stress to their hard work on the front line.

As we transition into 2021, there is hope for brighter days and a turned tide in the fight against COVID-19. Even with the vaccine rollout in motion, there is still much to be done—and it is more imperative now than ever that healthcare leaders stay mindful of their staffs and act proactively to combat burnout in the workplace. To help magnify burnout prevention across Allied Healthcare, we compiled four foundational ways for leaders to build a system of support in the workplace.

1. Understand the Potential Causes of Burnout

Before you can effectively prevent burnout in your work environment, it’s crucial to understand the stressors from which it originates. Like many mental health issues, burnout can be brought on by a multitude of causes—each unique to the person they affect. So, burnout cannot be properly treated with a blanket approach. Leaders should take time to break the source of burnout down into smaller components, so that it can be addressed at its roots.

Articles from Med Travelers and Mayo Clinic detail some of the more prevalent causes for caregiver burnout in the workplace:

  • Lack of control – A phenomenon that many healthcare professionals have experienced at some point in their career. When working with other people, things can happen that were not anticipated, and this can feel like a lack of control over circumstances or environment.
  • Lack of support – If supervisors are spread thin over their department, or resources for help are not readily available, staff members can feel isolated and inadequately supported in their work environment. 
  • Unclear expectations – Often the result of a lack of support, uncertainty over day-today tasks and career expectations can leave staff feeling frustrated and stuck in their development.  
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics – If staff members feel undermined by peers or micro-managed by superiors, their workplace stress can intensify as a result. 
  • Work-life imbalance – With high productivity demands and long hours on the job, healthcare staff can feel overworked and lacking in their home lives as a result. 

Working through the pandemic can add additional stressors to the work environment, further emphasizing the need for mindful leadership and staff support. Born from general uncertainty and the real dangers posed by dealing with a deadly virus, stress from COVID-19 can exacerbate the normal effects of burnout to an even higher degree.

No matter the cause of burnout and workplace stress for individuals, it falls on leadership to institute systematic practices to achieve a lasting resolution for all healthcare staff.

2. Tackle Burnout as a Team

In seeking to combat burnout in your facility with lasting results, it is imperative to make it a collaborative effort across all levels of leadership. You can certainly make an impact on your staff through individual mindfulness, but burnout is a largely systemic issue and should be addressed as such. Educate your fellow leaders on the causes and effects of burnout and convey the importance of acting as a coalition in order to ensure your collective work environment is a happier, healthier, and more productive place.

Involve Staff in Decision Making

Getting staff members to take more ownership of performance improvement initiatives is an excellent practice to drive personal development and a sense of autonomy in their careers. Having the notion that they are making a direct impact on their career development can inspire a greater sense of purpose at work and improve team morale.

Here are some tactics to further integrate your staff into decision making (courtesy of AMN):

  • Tap specialists for program-specific improvement teams
  • Make special efforts to include primary care providers
  • Streamline and simulate more frequent performance improvement projects

Small, concerted efforts like these will not remove frontline workers from their duties for an unreasonable amount of time and will make them a stakeholder in the continued improvement of the workplace culture.

3. Foster a Communicative & Supportive Work Culture

At the heart many of the causes of burnout is communication and support. These issues arise during normal day-to-day work but have been especially prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This study conducted by Mental Health America, surveyed 1,119 healthcare workers during a three-month stretch from June-September of 2020 about the mental health effects of the pandemic. When asked about the top work-related stressors over the last three months, some of the top responses were:

  • Insufficient communication from leadership – 30.12% 
  • Job security/employment status – 22.61% 
  • Insufficient training – 12.69%

Each of these stressors point directly to healthcare workers feeling a lack of communication and support in their work environment, which can in-turn, lead to a lack of trust, a feeling of no control, and a general sense of frustration—some of the main catalysts for burnout.

With the fight against COVID-19 continuing into 2021, the call for action is crucial to preserving the mental health and performance of its frontline. Allied Healthcare leadership has the power to cultivate a strong culture shift by proactively offering support systems for staff members and communicating more frequently and transparently—both in encouragement and criticism.

Change the Face of Feedback

A recent article from AMN stresses the significance that feedback carries in the healthcare workplace. Often construed in a critical light, feedback from supervisors and managers can weigh negatively on staff and contribute to the causes of burnout over time. To encourage a more positive, engaging work environment, feedback needs to more frequently reinforce successes and positive behaviors than admonish smaller problems.

Changing feedback culture starts with incorporating effective feedback practices at the leadership and middle-management levels. Some key characteristics of effective feedback include (courtesy of AMN):

  • Balanced (both positive reinforcement and constructive criticism)
  • Frequent
  • Focused on development and professional advancement

Changing the nature of feedback, communication, and support for your healthcare staff is a building block for constructing a culture of respect, trust, and gratitude that will help your healthcare team thrive.

4. Be Mindful of Overworking Your Employees

Already a significant cause of burnout, overwork can be especially taxing for healthcare staff as they regularly confront COVID-19. As discussed above, feeling a lack of support and communication, paired with uncertainty about job security, can lead to staff being uncomfortable with voicing their issues. This makes overwork more difficult to identify for leaders addressing burnout, but nonetheless pervasive.

The study by Mental Health America (referenced above) found that burnout (53.53%) and a heavy/increased workload (48.61%) were two of the most common work-related stressors among respondents. Even when overwork was not explicitly mentioned, respondents indicated that they felt:

  • Stressed out – 93% 
  • Anxious – 86% 
  • Frustrated – 77% 
  • Exhausted and burnt out – 76% 
  • Overwhelmed – 75%

Even as you encourage communication, you can be proactive in keeping an eye out for signs of overwork within your staff. To help alleviate the burden of overwork, you can take initiatives like promoting PTO, offering schedule flexibility, and delegating tasks more evenly to lighten the load.

Explore Contractor Help

Looking for outside help to lighten the load for your weary staff? One solution can be to bring in travel contractors to bolster your ranks and lift some of the burden from your team. Working on shorter assignments allows travelers to approach each contract with renewed energy and let permanent staff take well-earned breaks for self-care.

Travelers have gone through the same training and credentialing as permanent placement staff, so you can be assured that performance will continue at a high level, no matter which role you fill. If you like the idea of hiring contractors at your facility but don’t know where to start, AMN can help with that.

Visit our website to learn more about travel contracting.

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Armed with these tips and the determination to make systemic changes, you can become a true part of the solution when it comes to workplace burnout.

Written by Sam MacKay


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