There’s no other way to put it: our healthcare workers are exhausted. While provider burnout has always been a challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically exacerbated the issue.
In a webinar presented by U.S. News & World Report, Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the National Academy of Medicine, stated that staff burnout jumped from 40% before the pandemic up to 75%, citing that more clinicians are suffering from depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, and PTSD than ever documented previously. The Physicians Foundation’s 2022 Survey takes this further, finding that “more than half of clinicians know a provider who has contemplated, attempted or committed suicide.”
What can be done to alleviate this growing crisis and reignite morale? To start, we must think of small, immediate steps that make a meaningful difference. By listening to (and acting on) providers’ needs, investing in workforce resilience programs, extending healthcare coverage for mental health services, and improving access to wellness resources, we can finally begin to improve the lives of those who work to save our lives every day.
Why Investing in Wellness Matters
It is essential to understand that burnout is an organizational problem — not the result of waning provider resilience. Transforming a healthcare organization’s approach to employee well-being will take time and some financial backing but ignoring it could be even more costly.
Just in August 2022, around 486,000 healthcare workers quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So far this year, around 3% of the national healthcare workforce has left every month. Not only does this pattern demonstrate a clear retention problem — it shows that providers are extremely dissatisfied and have been for a while.
The World Health Organization estimates that every $1 invested in supporting mental health leads to a $4 return in improved health and productivity. Through wellness initiatives, doctors and nurses can learn more effective ways to cope or even conquer the battles they’re facing — enabling them to provide a better patient experience while supporting their own well-being and finding more satisfaction in their work. With a healthy mind, clinicians are more alert, quicker to respond, and more compassionate in their interactions.
There are many alternative ways to address healthcare burnout that don’t require a complete overhaul of existing programs. Here are four simple, yet effective, strategies your organization can take for a healthier and happier work environment:
The Power of Positivity
As quoted in a comprehensive study on workplace positivity and performance efficacy conducted by Harvard Business Review: “Improvement in patient satisfaction, internal climate, employee participation, and quality of care occurs when organizations provide compassionate support for employees, emphasize positive and inspiring messages to employees, forgive mistakes, express gratitude to and confidence in employees, clarify the meaningfulness of the work being done, and reinforce an environment characterized by respect and integrity.”
Our healthcare workers don’t need more donuts or “Healthcare Heroes” t-shirts — they need to know that leadership fully supports them as human beings, not just employees. It’s time to actively develop and launch programs that support provider well-being and lead this effort with open and honest dialogue about what these individuals experience and how health systems will do better moving forward.
Gratitude can go a long way — starting with leadership and management — launch a gratitude competition that empowers leaders to show appreciation by rewarding team members in the form of extra time off, bonuses, or gift cards. If monetary rewards are out of the question, consider this: according to the Live Happy app, happier people are healthier, more satisfied with life and their relationships, and more successful in their careers. Join a gratitude community like 365 Gratitude to foster gratitude in your workforce today.
Stress Reduction and Resilience Training
Healthcare providers understand that their job is never without its emotional, physical, and mental tolls, yet, they can only endure so much. In fact, medical students aren’t extensively taught how to build up their mental and physical health to meet the demands of their careers. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), most medical schools lack a solid “skills-based” resilience curriculum and only offer stress reduction programs as optional electives.
Resilience training equips leaders with the resources and knowledge needed to promote mental well-being among staff while teaching medical workers effective coping mechanisms to deal with stress and burnout throughout their day.
For example, designating time to be proactive about mental health can make a big impact in the fight against burnout, as back-to-back appointments and emergencies can make providers feel like they have no room to breathe. To combat this, many companies have begun shortening meetings to give employees enough time to rest, recharge, and refocus between meetings and tasks. Instead of scheduling 30-minute meetings, leaders are aiming for 25-minute meetings; instead of an hour, meetings are set for 50 minutes.
The goal is to provide employees with ample time to pause, partake in breathing exercises, and implement other stress reduction techniques they’ve learned to minimize burnout. Applying these practices within a work environment doesn’t come naturally for many people, so making it a personal and organizational priority is key to widespread participation.
Wellness Engagement Tools
Free online modules, such as those offered by the American Medical Association (AMA), provide interactive coaching on time-saving habits, stress injury remedies, peer support, and wellness leadership. Encouraging providers to keep these on-demand resources at hand can help them better manage and alleviate their stress and become sources of comfort for others needing guidance.
For optimal retention, wellness engagement tools that include gamification — like Virgin Pulse — can break down barriers to adopting what can be lifesaving well-being tools that strengthen culture, motivate people, and improve the bottom line.
Physician Well-Being Programs
Online programs that help organizations develop internal well-being initiatives, like the AMA’s Joy in Medicine™ Health System Recognition Program, provide participating hospitals with policy roadmaps, burnout assessments, and an active community to help maintain accountability when it comes to putting provider mental health first. Likewise, the American College of Physicians (ACP) houses a library of toolkits, strategies, and hubs to help organizations better serve their staff through tried and true methods.
Top-down approaches are needed to foster an environment where providers are encouraged to talk about workplace-related stress and trauma, and freely seek the help they need.
Sometimes, mental disorders and stress-induced burnout require more extensive wellness measures like regular therapy sessions or counseling. However, it’s not always feasible for healthcare professionals to take time off to access these services, and not all insurance plans provide coverage for these treatment options.
Consider offering in-house therapy for employees or improving existing insurance plans to cover mental health care. Extending access to employee assistance program benefits allows all healthcare workers to easily and affordably access treatment on their own terms and without barriers.
SEI’s Approach to Wellness
At SEI, we are intentional about investing in the health and well-being of our consultants. We recently launched Go365, the Golden Live Well Wellness Hub, and rolled out a series of in-depth, in-person wellness training programs from Excellence Wellness Solutions to support overall employee health and resilience through trying times. We began this journey with a series of open and honest conversations about the experiences we endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve learned that putting mental health first is more than just an investment. It’s an opportunity for teams to live out their individual and collective potential — and this aspiration translates over to the work we do with our client partners.
“We’re better consultants because we care,” says SEI Chief Strategy Officer Patrick Donegan. “We care about your organization, your staff, providers, and the lives of your patients. If we learned anything through the pandemic, it’s that everyone is battling something.”
How SEI Can Help
SEI partners with organizations experiencing significant challenges and transformation. We deliver consulting at the intersection of advisory and execution, and our consultants are strategic thought partners that also roll up their sleeves to get work done. We have the experience to tackle your toughest challenges; whether you’re looking for program leadership, change management, process optimization, training, or workforce development solutions.
Interested in alternative solutions for improving employee retention? Change is hard. Changing organizational behavior is likely to be even harder. Let us help you explore and implement new technologies and techniques to support cultural transformations that improve workforce retention, resilience, and overall well-being.
Unsure of how to tackle your most challenging and ambiguous problems? That’s our sweet spot. Reach out to us today to learn more today.