How Healthcare Managers Can Neutralize Burnout and Low Morale

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Consider the following statistics:

  • Over the last 2.5 years, 86% of frontline workers have reported struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression.1
  • 62% have cited mental health struggles.2
  • 55% have experienced substantial burnout.2
  • 15% have expressed thoughts of suicide or self-harm.3

What should we take away from these troubling stats?

For starters? That they seem to confirm something that many have suspected for years now regarding both burnout and low morale in healthcare workers: that the total number of HCWs suffering with them are increasing significantly. And the last 2.5 years - which have seen unprecedented stress, trauma, and loss amongst the healthcare worker (HCW) population - appear to have only made matters worse.

As a healthcare manager, you play a crucial role in protecting your healthcare workers from burnout and helping them maintain morale. It's a tremendous responsibility, and it's crucial that you feel fully equipped to meet it. Our latest blog breaks down several categories of ideas for doing exactly that, providing you concrete and easy-to-implement tips, tricks, and strategies to help you support and care for your employees during these trying times.

Motivate your team:

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  • Idea #1: Understand each healthcare worker's unique abilities and potential. Strive to provide your team members with fresh challenges, regularly recognize their achievements, and seek out "specific-to-them" opportunities that will allow them to grow continually and learn new things. By keeping your HCW's engaged, rewarded, and challenged in their job, you will help them feel valued on an individual level, while also ensuring that their passion for the significant work they do remains alive and well.
  • Idea #2: Lead with positivity and enthusiasm about the future. Understand this: if you are expecting your healthcare workers to express positivity and enthusiasm for their work, you MUST set the example for them to follow. Lead with the same qualities that you expect to be demonstrated by your team, and you will find that not only will your passion be emulated by your staff, but also - mysteriously - your outlook on your job will become that much more positive, as well.

Encourage autonomy with your employees:

  • Idea #1: Give healthcare workers more control over their schedules. Flexibility is significant to healthcare workers, particularly regarding maintaining a healthy work/life balance. One recent survey showed that many employees value flexibility in their work schedule just as much as they do a 10% raise in their salary. Don't underestimate the value that HCWs place in having a flexible schedule. Instead, please do what you can to ensure they retain as much control over their time as possible. Your employees will be thrilled - not to mention grateful.
  • Idea #2: Encourage ideas for resolution to department problems. Remember: there is no "bad ideas" - just underdeveloped ones. Whenever a problem or issue arises within the department, ask your staff, "Do you have any ideas for how we can remedy this situation?" Chances are, you'll receive a diverse array of responses, many of which you probably wouldn't have thought of yourself! Even better? Your healthcare workers will appreciate the fact that you asked for their input. It's a win-win.
  • Idea #3: Focus on identifying and implementing workflow efficiencies that make each day easier for your employees. By mitigating the stressors that your staff experiences each day, you not only help to ensure a more productive workflow, but you also better guarantee employees who are healthier and happier in their jobs.

Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork:

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  • Idea #1: Be present in the department. If there is a time of day that is particularly busy, leave your office and assist your healthcare workers on the floor, particularly when they are overwhelmed. This can look like many different things, whether helping to clean their rooms between patients, tidying up supplies, or even just assisting with paperwork. Please do your best to recognize when your healthcare workers need help and provide it without hesitation. Your employees may not thank you to your face, but they will deeply appreciate that you took time out of your busy day to help.
  • Idea #2: Implement a buddy system. Pick two of your healthcare workers who you feel might complement one another with their talents, then pair them up so that they can both learn from and teach one another. Don't be unconventional in your pairings, and don't hesitate to pair coworkers who may not seem to have a lot in common at first glance. For example: you might consider pairing a younger employee with an employee who has worked in the department for several years. Such a pairing would allow the younger employee to learn the "tricks of the trade" from someone who has ostensibly seen and experienced everything there is to see, while also allowing the older employee to soak in the enthusiasm and energy for the job from someone who is "fresh" and excited to dive into their new career. Seek out unconventional staff pairings, then apply them with aplomb.

Be proactive about fighting burnout:

  • Idea #1: Mandate lunches and breaks. Remember to encourage your employees to take breaks and lunches, and if necessary, even go so far as to mandate them. Ensuring that healthcare workers stay refreshed is critically important to guarantee that they both remain focused and fully capable of providing the best care possible - so make sure that everyone on your team is resting their bodies and taking time to recharge.
  • Idea #2: Allow requested days off. As mentioned previously, flexibility in terms of scheduling is one of THE most important things to healthcare workers. When a day of vacation is requested and subsequently denied, it can be very disheartening, opening the door for potential low morale to creep in. When possible, do your best to accommodate requests for days off...and if you absolutely must deny a day, be sure to explain clearly to the requestor why it was denied, so that they fully understand and don't feel taken advantage of.
  • Idea #3: Check in daily to see what can be done to help your employees be successful. In many departments - especially ones with large staffs - it can be hard to know exactly where and who to help. A great way to determine this? Start off every shift by asking your employees, "How can I help you be successful today?" Not only does this enable you to gauge where the greatest areas of need are, but it also helps your staff feel valued and cared for. The more valued someone feels, the less risk of burnout.

More communication is always better:

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  • Idea #1: Conduct regular 1x1 meetings with each of your employees. Dedicate time to truly getting to know your healthcare workers - don't settle for a professional or surface-level relationship, but actively strive to build a genuine connection. Please make an effort to understand who your employees are, what they like, and their unique talents and strengths. By investing time and energy into your employees individually, not only do you ensure that they feel cared for and valued, but you also develop a clearer sense of what each brings to the table, professionally AND personally - a true win-win for any team.
  • Idea #2: Assure your employees that it's okay for them to be completely honest with you. If your employees feel like they can't say or recommend something for fear of how you might react, they won't come to you with ideas...and when they stop coming to you with ideas, not only do YOU lose out on their unique perspectives, but it also presents the opportunity for your employees to "check out" and disengage. Seek to avoid this at all costs by encouraging any input.
  • Idea #3: Conduct department meetings that are transparent, encouraging, and educational. During department meetings, don't hesitate to discuss what has and hasn't been working, and be proactive about addressing issues and requesting feedback. At the same time, take time during these meetings to share recognition and appreciation of your employees, and potentially even consider investing in educational speakers to come to speak to your team (or, if you don't have time for this, consider even just setting aside 5-10 minutes at the end of each meeting for a "tips and tricks exchange" amongst coworkers, where staff can share ideas for how to do their jobs better). All of these are great, easy ways to simultaneously improve teamwork, strengthen communication, and forge deeper bonds amongst your team.

Treat your healthcare workers as unique individuals with a common goal:

  • Idea #1: Be aware of the individual talents that each one of your employees possesses - then find ways to utilize them. When you recognize the unique skills and abilities of your healthcare workers, and then actively seek out fun or interesting ways to let them apply those talent within their work, you ensure two things: 1.) that your employees feel recognized and valued for what they bring to the team, and 2.) that the department ALSO gains from their singular skills and prowess.
  • Idea #2: Celebrate your employees. If you have a seasoned healthcare worker who is an outstanding employee, don't hesitate to tell them just how proud you are. Every employee wants to feel like they are doing a good job - so make yours feel irreplaceable and valued. When you recognize their achievements and celebrate the amazing work that they're doing, you help them to feel appreciated. And ultimately, that's something that ALL employees are looking for.
  • Idea #3: Avoid a cookie cutter approach at all costs. Remember: each one of your employees is unique, and as such, deserve to be treated with respect and recognition. Strive to approach your relationships with your staff in a way that is personal and tailored specifically to the individual - get to know them on a human level first, and then seek out distinct ways to both nurture your relationship with them and help them develop as healthcare workers.

Don't hesitate to provide guidance when needed:

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  • Idea #1: Recognize the varying experience levels of your staff - then provide guidance accordingly. Recognize that not every healthcare worker is going to require the same level of oversight or direction - depending on who they are and how long they've worked in the field, one healthcare worker may not need as much instruction when conducting their work, while another may need extra attention. Being able to recognize what each one of your employees require, and then providing that assistance and guidance accordingly, is critically important when it comes to maintaining the morale and spirits of your teams:
    • for healthcare workers with less experience - provide them with thorough instructions on what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. HCWs who are new to the field are often looking for advice on how to do their job better and are eager for whatever advice you might have - so provide it to them.
    • for healthcare workers with medium degrees of experience - make sure that they know that you are there to support them, then encourage them to ask for help if needed. Provide guidance, while also remembering that they are not new to the profession, and trust that they will ask for help when needed.
    • for healthcare workers with high degrees of experience - discuss objectives with them, then let them perform their job, trusting that they'll do the best they can to meet the objectives you've outlined. Remember: you've already done the work upfront to hire qualified people. So sit back and let them do what they do best.

Recognize when workloads threaten to become overbearing, then take steps to stop it:

  • Idea #1: Help protect your healthcare workers against injury. Whether it's advocating to your superiors for protective measures for your employees, handing out journal articles that demonstrate safest ways to conduct scans, or even having physical therapists stop by on a quarterly basis to observe how your staff are performing their procedures (as well as potentially offering suggestions for how they might improve), there is a lot that you can do to help prevent musculoskeletal injuries in your healthcare workers, on both a practical AND physical level.
  • Idea #2: Advocate for schedule restrictions for personal days off. As a manager, you are in a unique position to strongly advocate for and protect your healthcare workers, both on a day-to-day safety level and an administrative one. Making sure that your employees know they will be able to take time to spend with their families, without caveat or exception, is a critically important component in ensuring that their workload doesn't tip over into feeling oppressive.
  • Idea #3: Work with Radiologists and ER physicians on setting and maintain specific call-back protocols. For a healthcare worker who is away from work and attempting to recharge, it can be detrimental - not to mention dispiriting - to be constantly called back into work for non-emergent exams. Work closely with your medical teams to ensure that your staff is only being called back for truly emergent cases.

Integrate creative ideas to bring positivity and passion back into your work:

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  • Idea #1: Develop and implement a physician mentorship program. Have one of your employees select an area of interest that they would like to learn more about, but perhaps haven't developed extensive experience. Then pair them with a physician who works in that specialty, allowing them to shadow that individual for the day (with pay included). After the employee spends the day with that physician, allow them to present what they learned at the next department meeting. Not only does this allow your employees to continue to learn and broaden their horizons as healthcare employees, but it also introduces a genuine sense of fun and discovery into the workplace (not to mention anticipation, as everyone else on the team begins to look forward to their upcoming mentorship opportunity).
  • Idea #2: Have each of your healthcare workers perform a personality test, then schedule a follow-up meeting with them to discuss the results. This allows the members of your team to develop a clearer idea of their strengths and weaknesses, while also helping to deepen their understanding of how their unique wirings complement those of their teammates.
  • Idea #3: Present specific cases at department meetings in which a patient outcome was directly affected by the treatment that they received. Making sure that your healthcare workers maintain a perspective of the importance of their work is critical... particularly during times of high stress. By presenting cases that demonstrate the value of the care they provide, you help your healthcare workers maintain that perspective while also allowing them to take special pride in the value of their unique skillset.
  • Idea #4: Have a monthly treat day or cook-/bake-off. Everyone loves delicious food, especially at work...but even better than getting to eat delicious food at work is delicious food that is infused with competition. Consider requesting everyone on your team make their favorite dish, then have the department head choose the winner, with a prize and bragging rights granted to the "best" dish. It's a great way to distract from a stressful day (plus, everyone also gets great recipes out of it, too!)
  • Idea #5: Have monthly birthday celebrations. Once a month, have a noon-hour get-together, where everyone whose birthday falls within that month is celebrated. This allows healthcare workers to feel valued, while also allowing them to rest their body and recharge mentally.
  • Idea #6: Bring in a massage therapist or yoga instructor. Many massage schools have students seeking hours to log - often at zero cost. Consider having a student come in once a month to help treat your healthcare workers. Having a massage therapist visit regularly can be a great help when it comes to relieving tense muscles, while also countering any potential MSK injuries (not to mention, it gives everyone something to look forward to!)
  • Idea #7: Play "Guess the Pathology" for a prize. Every few weeks, send out a blinded case study to everyone in the department (or post it in the break area) and have everyone on your team see if they can find correctly what specific disease or condition they are looking at. The first one who guesses correctly wins a prize, while everyone else who participates learns something new.
  • Idea #8: Have an "Employee of the Month" parking spot. Allow your staff to nominate someone on the team for going above and beyond each month. This could be for anything, whether it has a great catch on a procedure, staying late to help out a fellow teammate, or if a patient fills out a satisfaction card. The winner receives the parking spot...and the other members of your team are provided with just one more incentive for providing great, meaningful care to their patients.
  • Idea #9: Invite guest speakers with a focus on personal well-being to present to your team. Have a physical therapist come and speak to your team about proper ergonomics to prevent injury. Or have another speaker present on proper room set-up and workflow efficiencies that can help to simultaneously reduce stress and give your healthcare workers' bodies a few minutes for extra rest. Inviting these kinds of speakers shows your staff that they are valued members of the broader medical team and worthy of being protected from injuries, while also serving as venues for exchanging great new ideas.
  • Idea #10: Don't let COVID restrictions hamper your ideas. Consider virtual-based activities, like yoga, guided meditation, or even counseling for your employees. Being stuck at home doesn't mean that either inspiration or fun must take a back seat - in fact, it can mean quite the opposite, opening the door to a whole new range of potential ideas for you and your team to try out.
  • Idea #11: Don't restrict your creative ideas to the workplace. Instead, consider fun "outside-of-work" ideas, like laser tag, escape rooms, climbing gyms, golf simulators, canoe/kayaking trips, or competitive races. These can all be fun, engaging ways to build camaraderie and teamwork, while also allowing for a little friendly competition, too.

What to do next?

Check out our upcoming webinar, "How to Light a Spark in Healthcare Workers During Times of Low Morale."

Emily Smith (BS, RDMS, RVT) will examine common presentations of moral injury and burnout in sonographers and healthcare workers, as well as present ideas on how you can ameliorate and prevent low morale from spreading throughout your department.

References

  1. Clement S. Pascual C. & Ulmanu M. (n.d.). Stress on the front lines of covid-19. The Washington Post (apr 7 2021) A.8 A.8-A.8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/04/06/stress-front-lines-health-care-workers-share-hardest-parts-working-during-pandemic/
  2. Hendrickson R. Health care workers' suffering goes far beyond burnout. Self-care isn't the cure. STAT. December 16, 2021. https://www.statnews.com/2021/12/16/health-care-workers-suffering-goes-far-beyond-burnout-self-care-isnt-the-cure/
  3. The mental health of healthcare workers in COVID-19. Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/mental-health-healthcare-workers-covid-19
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