The term “burnout” is (unfortunately) becoming more prominent and popular in a variety of industries across the world. While it isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, we saw a huge rise during the pandemic – especially in the healthcare industry.
A Washington Post survey performed during the pandemic found that 55% of healthcare workers experienced symptoms of burnout during the pandemic, but 44% were already feeling those symptoms before COVID-19 thanks to issues like long working hours, dealing with electronic medical records (EMRs), and completing administrative work.
While we might be entering a post-pandemic world, those in healthcare are still dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19 while recognizing that its variants are still causing problems. On top of that, it’s no secret that the healthcare industry is stressful, and fast-paced, and forces those involved to deal with high-pressure situations daily. For healthcare professionals who work in hospitals, the risk of burnout is very real.
Burnout can be dangerous and harmful in any industry, but it’s especially challenging for healthcare workers who have people’s lives in their hands. It can impact both physical and mental well-being, and steps should always be taken to reduce employee burnout and foster an environment of mental well-being.
Thankfully, there are tools, tech, and practices hospitals can use to reduce burnout and maintain the health of their team. Let’s take a look at the risks associated with burnout, as well as some of the helpful tools that can make a difference.
Job burnout is nothing more than a specific type of stress. However, it’s typically so intense that it can not only impact on-the-job performance, but also the mental and physical well-being of each employee. Some of the common causes of burnout include a lack of control at work, unclear expectations, a lack of social support, and an unhealthy work-life balance.
In a hospital setting, it’s fairly easy to see how burnout could quickly become a problem. Depending on your position, you might not have much control over the hours you work or the ups and downs of your day. However, that doesn’t mean you must feel consistently burnt out and stressed over your career.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to recognize the potential signs of burnout. If you’re in a position of leadership, being able to recognize these signs in others can also help to foster a healthier work environment. Some of the most notable symptoms of burnout include:
Prolonged burnout can also increase your risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It often leads to mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, making it exceedingly difficult to focus on your job. When you know your career is causing you to feel burnt out, you might even end up resenting what you do or feel a lack of motivation. That’s dangerous and damaging in any industry, but it’s especially concerning when you’re working with patients all day and need to remain focused and productive. From a hospital’s perspective, burnout can lead to a healthcare provider shortage, medical errors, and increased financial burdens. It’s up to hospitals and their employees to work together to combat burnout.
There are personal self-care actions you can take to combat burnout regularly. Things like prioritizing sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and finding ways to de-stress are important. However, when you’re spending so much time at work, it’s just as essential for the hospital itself to utilize tools and practices that can help.
As stated above, many healthcare workers were experiencing stress before the pandemic, and one of the major contributors was having to deal with electronic medical records (EMR). There are variations in EMR systems across hospitals and providers, but in today’s tech-forward world, your facility must find a system that works for you and your patients. Far too often, medical staff has to spend too much of their time combing through multiple systems to find patient data, and even more time entering data in the right places. That can lead to stress, build feelings of pressure, and cause frustration when the information you’re looking for is strewn across multiple channels.
Thankfully, new systems and third-party vendors are making it easier to include add-ons and extensions that allow for more interoperability. That means data can be exchanged quickly and easily between different information systems. It creates a sort of EMR ecosystem that allows providers to find information quickly and enter it without having to search for the right “category” or program.
These extensions can also improve patient communication, tearing away another layer of stress from providers. Most of today’s EMR systems are mobile-friendly and allow patients and providers to view data in the palm of their hands, no matter where they are. Things like patient portals and apps have made it easier for patients with questions or who need access to their health information to feel more connected with their doctors, specialists, or even emergency medical teams.
That kind of mobile technology is just one example of another tool helping to reduce burnout in hospitals and even private practices across the country – telemedicine. The COVID-19 pandemic brought many necessary changes to the healthcare industry to improve patient care and reduce the risk of burnout for professionals. While telemedicine had started to grow in popularity before the pandemic, we saw a rapid rise in popularity as doctors encouraged patients to stay home and stay safe beginning in 2020.
Now, many providers across the country — including hospitals and specialists — continue to offer telehealth services for a variety of reasons:
In a hospital setting, additional technology can be utilized, like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, to pre-screen patients — determining if they need a physical appointment or if they can be helped via telemedicine. Using a scheduling automation system, providers can also decide whether they want to conduct their telehealth appointments in the hospital or from their home/office. Most of these systems can “stagger” appointments so the provider doesn’t become overwhelmed.
Telehealth can also be beneficial for doctors and nurses who might otherwise have to spend long hours away from home. Travel nurses, for example, often have to deal with issues like sleep deprivation and social isolation. If they can stay home more often and help patients across the country virtually, it can improve their mental well-being and reduce the risk of burnout.
Because burnout has become such a prominent problem in healthcare facilities across the country, it’s up to each healthcare system and hospital to come up with effective programs for its team. Things like coping interventions, personal identity development programs, and even online intervention programs can help to reduce the risk of burnout among hospital staff.
Psychiatric interventions have already proven to be effective in the healthcare industry. Facility-led programs that include yoga, mindfulness practices, and meditation have led to a significant increase in self-care and a reduction in stress for healthcare workers across the country.
Workplace wellness programs are nothing new, but they’re becoming more essential than ever, especially in the healthcare sector. According to the CDC, 83% of all hospitals in the United States provide some type of wellness program for their employees. Wellness programs vary from place to place, but typically include stress management resources, a health/fitness center or gym membership, and medical screenings. When a wellness program prioritizes mental well-being as much as physical health, the team is less likely to experience the overwhelming stress that leads to burnout.
Simply providing resources to employees and educating them on how to practice self-care and manage their mental health outside of work can make a big difference and help to prevent burnout syndrome. Striving for a healthy work-life balance isn’t always easy for healthcare workers. It’s essential that hospitals and medical facilities encourage it, and offer helpful tips to employees on how to make the most of their time at home through exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep.
Finally, third-party programs can be a great resource for hospitals that don’t have their own intervention tools in place or the ability to facilitate their own mental health program. One of the best sources of help for healthcare workers struggling with stress, burnout, or other mental health issues is the Emotional PPE Project.
This project began as a way to connect healthcare workers with mental health resources at no cost. It serves as a directory, providing the contact information of volunteer mental health professionals who are ready to help healthcare workers in need while maintaining confidentiality.
In addition to wellness programs and interventions, something as simple as workplace appreciation efforts can go a long way. Throughout the first year of the pandemic, healthcare workers across the country were praised in a variety of ways. People applauded hospital workers at certain times every day in major cities. Healthcare workers were given special discounts at stores and restaurants. Local businesses provided catered meals to those working long shifts.
As expected, those acts of appreciation didn’t last forever. However, that doesn’t mean hospitals shouldn’t continue showing employee appreciation as often as possible. Appreciation and recognition in the workplace have multiple benefits, including:
There’s no right or wrong way to show an employee how much they’re appreciated and respected, but the recognition should be appropriate for the setting. For example, if a hospital wants to acknowledge the hard work of a staff member, that employee might be rewarded with additional vacation time, a pay raise, or a gift card.
Even small notes of appreciation — as simple as they might be — can go a long way in helping employees feel seen and valued, especially during times of stress and chaos. If you’re in management or an HR position within your healthcare facility, don’t hesitate to ask your employees what they truly want. Not only will they appreciate that you’re taking an interest in things that will benefit them, but you can use that information to create more personalized appreciation items. Regular employee recognition efforts will improve retention and can even make your facility a more attractive place to work as you’re recruiting new staff members.
Most people who decide to work in hospitals understand that things will be stressful. Every day comes with a new set of challenges. The shifts are long. The hours can be irregular. The hardest part, perhaps, is having to spend so much time away from family and friends. Even though most employees understand those issues, it doesn’t make it easier to deal with everyday stressors and doesn’t reduce the risk of burnout.
Whether you’re already in the healthcare industry or you’re taking on a hospital job for the first time, familiarize yourself with the tools, resources, and suggestions listed here. Hospitals can reduce burnout in employees through a combination of technology, healthy policies, and employee education. We don’t have to wait for the next global pandemic for healthcare workers to prioritize their well-being, the time to do so would be now.