In May 2022, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an official advisory on burnout and mental wellbeing among healthcare workers—declaring it an official crisis. And it’s no secret that healthcare faculties continue to struggle with staff shortages amid worsening attrition rates.
The crisis stems from record-high public health demand that has caused extreme exhaustion, stress, and poor work-life balance. All of these conditions have created a healthcare workforce that is burnt out and frustrated.
The U.S. Surgeon General expressed that the industry needs “bold, fundamental change.” So how can healthcare leaders enact this change for existing and incoming workers? By finding ways to fight persisting healthcare burnout—or prevent it from happening at all.
Let’s get started.
Burnout, Mental Health, and Healthcare Staff
Heightened burnout in healthcare faculty is making it difficult for clinics and hospitals to retain talent. Not only are more people leaving the industry, there’s a marked decrease in entrants. This ultimately causes a shortage of healthcare professionals.
Healthcare leaders can fight this shortage by combatting burnout and creating work environments that promote mental health. These will attract more entrants to the field and encourage existing staff to stay.
Knowing how to identify symptoms of healthcare burnout is one of the first steps in decreasing it within your faculty. A negative trend among healthcare workers right now is not feeling like they can or should express feelings of burnout before it’s too late. While it’s important for them to speak up, it’s equally as important for leadership to be aware of the warning signs, or conditions.
Here’s a list of common symptoms to help you identify burnout in your healthcare staff:
- Apathy or detachment from patients
- Lack of motivation
- Frequent mood swings
- Frequent illness and use of sick days
- Isolation and withdrawing
- Poor memory
If you notice any of these warning signs in your staff, it may be time to make a change.
Ways to Fight or Prevent Healthcare Worker Burnout
A proactive approach is an effective way to protect or improve the mental wellbeing of your staff. Here’s a list of ideas to help you foster conditions that keep your healthcare teams healthy, happy, and well.
Let your staff know that their wellness is a top priority, but don’t stop at verbally encouraging wellness. Provide them with resources and avenues that will enable healthy behaviors in and out of the workplace. Actions always speak louder than words!
Here are a few ways to encourage wellness:
- Sponsoring Exercise Classes—Sometimes personal cost can be a major obstacle to exercise, even though it’s one of the top ways to prevent burnout.
- Mental Health Zones or Zen Dens—Create a designated area where your staff can go to process feelings or simply recharge. You can include relaxing activities like coloring or puzzles, or yoga mats for meditation.
- Insisting on Breaks—Let your staff know that they can and should take breaks throughout the day to prevent from overexerting themselves.
A workplace culture that prioritizes wellness can minimize conditions that cause burnout.
Flexibility is also extremely helpful in reducing and preventing burnout-inducing conditions. It can improve work-life balance for healthcare professionals, which is great for alleviating symptoms of burnout.
If you can make telehealth a possibility for your staff, that’s an excellent way to provide them with flexibility. Rather than working every shift in person, this would allow them to care for patients via virtual appointments. Telehealth shifts can also give them more time in their day to care for themselves and their families, as it cuts down on time spent commuting to and from work.
When you increase flexibility options, you’re also increasing time they have available to spend with friends and family. And time with loved ones is monumental in combatting burnout and other mental health challenges.
Healthy, Uplifting Environment
When people feel burnt out, the smallest self-care tasks can seem daunting and possibly worsen existing symptoms. You can uplift your healthcare staff and prevent burnout by easing the burden of these small tasks. For example, keeping healthy snacks or beverages in the breakroom so they don’t have to worry about packing them at home.
Another way to achieve this is through encouraging boundaries. Let your staff know you don’t expect them to say yes to everything—nor do you expect them to work to or past their breaking point. Establishing an uplifting culture that prioritizes health and wellbeing will help prevent your faculty from falling into burnout-inducing habits.
Humankind is communal by nature. We derive comfort and joy from having a community that makes us feel connected and like we belong.
Having a community also gives us people that we can lean on when times get tough, making it easier to ask for help when we need a hand. By fostering a culture centered around community, you’re giving your healthcare staff an environment where they can feel supported and heard.
Mental Health Resources
As with covering the little things, arranging mental health resources for your staff reduces the stress or time commitment of finding those services on their own. And when you allow them to designate work hours to improving their mental health, they’re far more likely to access these resources and avoid burnout.
Here are a few examples of mental health resources for preventing burnout:
- Onsite or virtual counseling
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Study halls, webinars, and other informational sources surrounding mental health and available resources
Building a mental health toolkit for your teams to use when they need it is a great way to support their wellbeing.
Talk About It!
Start an open conversation with your staff around the risks of burnout and other mental health challenges. Make sure they’ve been educated on symptoms and warning signs and are aware of tools they can use to prevent or ease burnout.
Supplying resources for mental and physical health will be more effective when people know how and when to use them. Prevention will likely be more successful when it’s a team-wide initiative.
Plus, showing that burnout and mental health are not taboo will let your staff know that it’s okay to ask for help.
Develop Culture to Prevent Burnout
The key takeaway from these tips is that the culture you foster can make a huge impact. When culture is toxic or unsupportive—prioritizing high work ethic over wellbeing—healthcare workers are far more likely to experience burnout. But when you show them that the mental wellbeing of your staff is a top priority, you can more effectively prevent burnout within your team.
And if you find your culture needs improvement, our culture experts are happy to help.
Healthcare workers do so much to take care of others, they should feel taken care of too.