Jackie Larson, President, Avantas
A health system’s greatest asset is its staff. Many hospitals and health systems across the country have been tested like they’ve never had before over the past several months. Healthcare providers have been forced to adapt to a new routine as the coronavirus continues to strain the industry.
The impact on healthcare workers can be emotionally and physically stressful. This type of extreme stress or fatigue can lead to everything from respiratory problems to gastrointestinal issues. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy are all symptoms of burnout.
The healthcare field has higher rates of staff burnout and it’s easy to see why. Working in such a variable environment is emotionally challenging. And there are the physical demands of bedside care that can lead to injuries. And on top of that, throw in the stressors of most other shift-work professions, e.g., schedule issues, perceived inability to take a vacation, problems with managers and other co-workers, etc. All of this can leave nurses and other providers burned out, often within a few years of beginning their career.
The truth is that there is no simple answer. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to reducing burnout and increasing staff satisfaction. It is likely a combination of workforce procedures, culture, and leadership.
When healthcare leaders try to fix the issue, it’s important to focus on staffing and scheduling policies and how they are being applied across the organization. Staffing practices should be analyzed on the unit and department level and then streamlined across the entire hospital or health system for consistency. Adopting this enterprise mentality will create better transparency with regard to staffing needs and opens the door to sharing resources.
Honing in on how schedules are created is another critical factor when attempting to improve staff burnout. Staffing and scheduling is a major cause of frustration for staff. Without the proper tools, scheduling can be a thorn in a nurse manager’s side – often trying to pin down staffing needs until the start of a shift. This typically results in over or understaffing – forcing cancellations and floating, or pushing staffing into extra hours or overtime, which negatively affects morale and can lead to nurse burnout.
Automating the scheduling process and utilizing predictive analytics helps ensure nurse schedules are balanced and staff commitments are being met. This software also optimizes self-scheduling, open shift management, and requesting time off processes, which further boost staff satisfaction.
In a time when burnout is a real threat, employers have to focus on what they can do to ensure the wellbeing of their employees. Creating policies and implementing tools to improve the working lives of employees helps improve productivity and tenure. Encouraging a work-life balance and recognizing employees for their contribution to the greater good of the organization are ways to keep healthcare staff satisfied and engaged within their roles.