Healthcare worker burnout is a longstanding, persistent challenge. The National Academy of Medicine reported that even before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, burnout had reached crisis levels in the U.S. healthcare workforce. Up to 54 percent of nurses and physicians and 45-60 percent of medical students and residents reported symptoms of burnout.
Those numbers are far worse now, according to a recent Surgeon General’s advisory from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Researchers who conducted a survey from June through September 2020 found that, of more than 1,100 health workers, 93 percent reported they were experiencing stress, 86 percent reported anxiety, 76 percent reported exhaustion and burnout, and 41 percent reported loneliness.”
These statistics are not unique to front-line clinicians. Healthcare facility personnel have been exposed to human suffering and death at a level that no one had experienced before the pandemic.
Everyone who works in healthcare has been affected by the events of the past two years. Physicians and nurses feel the squeeze of staffing shortages to care for patients, while facilities staff feel a similar pressure to care for the healing environment.
In their efforts to care for others, facilities staff often do not prioritize care for themselves. This is where healthcare facility managers and administrative staff can make an impact.
Looking for trouble
Although facilities staff might not outwardly express feelings of anxiety or loneliness, managers can look for other clues that indicate high levels of stress. They can pay attention to the way team members interact with one another.
If staff are easily frustrated or experiencing mood swings, they might be dealing with high levels of stress. If they are more forgetful than usual, working overtime to catch up or, conversely, missing work frequently, they might be overwhelmed.
Behavioral manifestations are clear signs someone is having challenges. Mood swings, tearfulness and forgetfulness are all signs that a person might need help.
Leading by example
For many people, admitting their mental health needs support can be difficult. Some staff might see admitting they need help as weakness, and they might be reluctant to seek assistance.
Managers can take steps to break down these barriers. The first step is to be present. In the morning or at the start of a shift, a manager needs to be available and be seen, and in turn, listen and observe.
As people report on their tasks and priorities for the day, managers can listen for opportunities to intervene or make recommendations and be as available as possible. Even though staffing is short these days, managers need to support time off requests to allow people to recharge by getting out of the work environment.
Stepping up with support
Taking time off is not always possible when burnout is weighing heavily during the middle of a shift. Facilities staff can contribute by stepping in as needed and creating renewal spaces.
When patient-care employees need a break, make sure they take one. Get them off the unit, and have them sit down to eat lunch or take a break. Sometimes, that might mean facilities and administrative staff have to step up and help with unit coverage.
A large portion of facilities management staff in hospitals are technicians who maintain the buildings and have unique insights into the way a facility’s spaces can be used beyond clinical care. While physician lounges might be going away, clinicians should be able to take advantage of the benefits of separate respite or renewal spaces within the hospital. They can escape from the clinical space and go to a renewal space with comfortable furniture, soft music and lighting control.
Supporting mental health
The cornerstones of a successful healthcare facility are:
- supporting the mental health and front-line, support and administrative staff
- taking care of yourself
- being kind to teammates.
Healthcare workers deserve the best, and that includes their mental health. Facility managers need to support staff in any way they can because positive mental health allows workers to deliver the best care for patients. When employees take care of themselves and feel supported by their teams, they tend to feel better about their jobs and look forward to coming to work.
Positive mental health leads to less absenteeism, less turnover and overall organizational wellbeing. Staff are more engaged and productive when they feel surrounded by a positive environment and supportive team, which benefits the rest of the staff and improves the quality of care patients receive.
Supporting patient care staff means supporting patients, and supporting all facility staff means supporting the healing environment. This approach builds a strong, resilient community, no matter the difficulties ahead.
Jennefer Pursifull is vice president of marketing for Medxcel.