Keeping The Healthcare Industry Alive: The Problem of Chronic Burnout

The healthcare industry is in dire straits.

Healthcare workers have been on the front lines of this pandemic for almost two years now, constantly working with minimal resources and trying to keep beds from overflowing. After begging the public to help them flatten the curve, only to be pummeled again and again by wave after wave of this disease, healthcare workers are being burnt out en masse. 

keeping the healthcare industry alive

Even as government leaders attempt to provide workers with much-needed support, many healthcare workers feel like they don’t have the strength to keep fighting this disease, leading to a mass exodus that has further impacted the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry has lost around half a million employees since the onset of the pandemic in February. 

With variants like Omicron and newly discovered variants still spreading, the situation doesn’t look like it’ll be improving any time soon.

1. Workers in Crisis

Since COVID doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, managers and staffers should take a look at how they can help mitigate or slow this widespread burnout. Healthcare workers have been run ragged over the course of two years, exposed to traumatic incidents day after day, and with the crisis showing no signs of waning, they will need an unprecedented level of support to continue working these jobs. 

Here are some statistics that speak volumes about the industry’s current state and expose some problems that need immediate attention. 

  • When surveyed, a large majority of hospital workers say that they have received the PPE they need to do their jobs. However, that same majority (about 76%, according to the American Nurses Foundation) has not sought mental health treatment
  • Over half of surveyed respondents reported feeling exhausted, while large percentages of others reported feeling overwhelmed, irritable, and anxious. 
  • Very few (about 36% of workers) still believe their work has meaning.

If industry leaders want to resolve this ever-present crisis, they’ll need to start addressing the mental states of their employees, providing them much-needed mental and emotional support. 

Let’s talk about what that might look like. 

2. Finding a New Job Inside the Field

Burnt out workers have lost sight of why they took the job in the first place, succumbing to nihilism: and it’s no wonder, given that their efforts when attempting to treat COVID sometimes amount to naught. With those events playing out every day over and over again, inflicting more trauma on the involved worker, it’s no mystery why some workers are looking for jobs outside of the field.

A better alternative might be to encourage burnt-out workers to pursue another position in the field, something that has little to do with treating Coronavirus. If supervisors notice burnout warning signs in workers, perhaps they can suggest another position in the hospital that might suit the worker. 

For workers, browsing available listings for jobs in new, exciting medical fields might be the best way for them to recover their passion for healthcare, reminding them of why they chose that career track in the first place. Working in an entirely different role (such as a physician’s assistant) may encourage them not to give up on the medical field, allowing them to fill a completely different role instead of going and working somewhere else entirely.

3. Break Toxic Mindsets Toward Mental Health Treatment

In the healthcare field, workers of all stripes are taught early on that “complaining,” or talking about the trauma that the role inflicts upon them, is a sign of weakness and lack of resilience. This mentality has led us to the place we’re currently at, where workers would rather work until they’re burnt out than seek help for their mental health. 

Mandatory peer-to-peer counseling sessions might be one great way to break the stigma, encouraging the workers you have to talk about what’s bothering them and get advice from more experienced professionals who have grappled with similar issues before. Making sure your employees have access to mental health resources and encouraging them to seek help through these trying times may also significantly impact burnout.

4. Institute Mandatory Empathy Training For Leaders

During the pandemic, many leaders have felt the constant pressure of working with minimal resources amidst overflowing hospital beds and not having time to train and supervise their employees properly. Instead of taking time to show newer employees what they’re doing wrong, supervisors tend to complain to their peers, which (when it gets around, and it usually does) has a negative impact on morale and causes new hires to leave.

While supervisors are feeling perhaps more pressure than everyone else, encouraging them to adopt a mindset of empathy and camaraderie might be the best way to secure a long-term solution to this problem. Encouraging leaders to take an active, compassionate role in training new employees to deal with this situation, constantly monitoring how they feel, and showing them the proper way to care for patients, has been shown to improve the collective mental health of the team by fostering a sense of comradeship. 

The problem of burnout is chronic but not unsolvable. If the medical community takes the initiative, implementing some of the solutions above and looking to others to see what has worked for them, the problem of burnout might start to become manageable.