Three Ways to Avoid Employee Burnout and Improve Culture in Healthcare

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming many parts of healthcare and may be the greatest career challenge ever experienced by many across the industry. However, healthcare was already an industry where stress and pace commonly led to burnout among care providers. The advent of the coronavirus has led to an increase in employee stress and untenable situations for a wide variety of caregivers unlike any we’ve ever known. As a result, understanding ways to counteract burnout and support healthcare employees has never been more important. Here are three steps a healthcare organization can take to address stress and potential burnout.

  • Acknowledge the Situation

Organizations can begin to deal with burnout (or the potential for it) by acknowledging existing situations and scenarios where it is likely to occur. For example, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic it is important to recognize the innate stress that is involved in providing care—not only are healthcare employees putting themselves at risk in their jobs, but those they care for as well. Individuals need to admit the potential for stress. Leaders have to admit there’s only so much they can control about the situation. It helps if those in charge do what they can to alleviate stress, like reducing the workload, removing obstacles, or just communicating steps that are being taken.

At an organizational level, it is essential to acknowledge what everyone is feeling and talk about the specific signs that you want to be aware of when individuals are starting to feel stressed and specifically burnt out. These signs may include cynicism, a loss of enthusiasm for their work, a decline in joy and satisfaction, increased detachment, and emotional exhaustion. The goal is to combat these reactions, especially before they lead to a drastic response like suicide, which some reports say one in five essential workers may consider at some time. Even a lesser negative reaction that can spread through emotional contagion needs to be countered by acknowledging the need for everyone in healthcare to take care of themselves first, before caring for others. Successful organizations are communicating openly and frequently about what’s happening and being vulnerable as a part of building stronger relationships with employees.

  • Engage the Healthcare Workforce

A vital question for those in healthcare now is how to stay engaged as individuals and as teams through this crisis. Regardless of role, we must maintain and strengthen our team culture. Engaging your people and staying engaged in your work is a fundamental aspect of creating and maintaining a strong and adaptable culture. One way is to frequently poll staff with a question or two about their reaction to what is going on. A long form annual employee survey is no longer appropriate when healthcare conditions are quickly changing, and compassion fatigue is a risk from the stress of providing healthcare. An important effort is to invest in real-time coaching and learning, like what is already practiced in high-performing organizations. Those kinds of care providers are focused on staff career development as well as what staff members need to know now to be successful with the tasks at hand. Some other important choices to engage staff are to avoid micromanagement, which requires time that healthcare organizations don’t have, and supporting decision-making autonomy, which is important for building employee trust. Other key engagement efforts involve more frequent coaching and mentoring sessions and taking time to really listen to your people at an individual and macro level. Identify barriers to success and focus on staff concerns, understanding that small changes can make a big difference in engagement, as can staying focused on wins and communicating them as quickly and frequently as possible.

  • Recognize Performance

Not only is there an inherent positive impact for celebrating wins but doing so typically leads to more of them. When we recognize each other for great performance, we are also affirming the values and expectations for which our organization stands. Recognition helps reinforce behavior that a leader hopes to see repeated. While it may only take 30 seconds to tell someone that you appreciate them, research has shown the positive impact on mood, role, clarity, and purpose may last for as long as seven hours. The most effective recognition needs to be (1) timely, (2) authentic, and (3) social whenever possible. If shared in a group the recognition has a multiplier effect, to help reinforce those behaviors across the entire organization.

This blog post is based on the HealthStream Webinar, “Avoiding Burnout and Improving Culture,” presented by Brad Weeks, Director, Assessments and Performance, HealthStream, and Craig Spilker, Head of Product & Engagement, AMPT.

HealthStream and our partner AMPT are committed to improving the healthcare workplace by supporting improved employee engagement and development. AMPT enables employees to connect, engage, and grow by allowing them to recognize, share and celebrate moments of greatness. The AMPT platform allows companies to connect their core values to recognition accomplishments, which ultimately drives employee performance. When an employee receives praise for their efforts, their job satisfaction increases, motivation improves, and positive actions are reinforced. Learn more about HealthStream solutions for healthcare employee engagement and retention.