For many healthcare professionals that spent time on the COVID frontlines early on, any pre-existing feelings of professional burnout were grossly exacerbated by lack of control, overwhelming uncertainty, isolation, and the loss of life.
When it comes to how to address burnout, I have to say, everyone who sits at the table talks a good game – especially in 2020. Everyone talks about honoring front-line workers, supporting the team, protecting the staff, and having your back. But there is ample evidence that this isn’t always followed through with behavior. Consider hospitals that don’t have enough PPE to protect their staff. Or hospitals closing their cafeterias but providing no good option for people to eat while at work. Hospitals cutting hours and pay for those front-line workers that they supposedly value so much.
And while all of this is happening at the hospital, the providers are dealing with terrible working conditions. Burdensome PPE that limits abilities to interact with patients and is uncomfortable to wear briefly, let alone for twelve hour stretches. Variability in hours from too few hours, secondary to staffing cuts, or for others, too many hours due to colleagues who are out sick.
So what are signs of staff experiencing burnout? Poor performance, perhaps related to anxiety or detachment. Then there is difficulty concentrating, lack of creativity, fatigue, quickness to anger and cynicism. Physical symptoms include headaches, exhaustion, poor sleep, and muscle aches.
Look, I know that this is a very difficult time for hospitals. I know that money is tight. Revenue is down and expenses are up. There is a desperate need to cut from the budget. It’s easy to squeeze staff a little harder and promise it’ll be made it up to them later. Even setting aside the fairness issue (how many of the people you want to share in the financial downside get to also share in the financial upside?), I’m telling you, resist the temptation to do this because:
In other words, take care of your caregivers now – make sure that they’re safe, have appropriate protection, are well paid, well fed, and adequately staffed. See how they can share in the success of your organization, so when times are better, they’ll do better too. Do these things, and they’ll be loyal for life.