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How to prevent the spread of nurse burnout in your healthcare organization

When COVID-19 hit, healthcare teams were called upon to save the world. And they did. But what healthcare leaders didn’t realize was that the battle has just begun for healthcare heroes suffering a severe mental and emotional toll.

As COVID-19 cases rise and fall and rise again, so do physician and nurse burnout.

“Executive leaders are cutting back on their resources to the point where they have stopped investing in their people. They’ve stopped offering the very same programs that could help their teams protect their physical, emotional, and mental energy to ride this additional wave,” says Dr. Renee Thompson, founder of the Healthy Workforce Initiative,  a global leader in addressing disruptive behavior in healthcare.

Dr. Thompson says when things get tough financially, administrators cut back on education and development first.

And over time, administrators realize their mistake and then spend more time, energy, and financial resources to compensate for that mistake. Yet, here they go again, making the same mistake.

Ripple effects of ignoring rising incidents of burnout

“When your people are exhausted and burned out, they underperform, and they spread that stress and burnout to others. Nurse burnout begets more nurse burnout,” says Dr. Thompson.

Stress and nurse burnout are contagious, so healthcare executives need to focus just as much on strategies to reduce their nurses’ stress and burnout as they do managing their influx of COVID-19 patients.

Here’s a few things healthcare executives can do to prevent burnout from spreading in your organization.

Spread self-care and wellness

If stress and nurse burnout are contagious, then so are wellness and self-care.

“Now is a great time to invest in self-care and wellness activities. Employees need to hear from their leaders that their well-being is important and a priority in their organization. There needs to be a top-down, bottom-up, and everything in-between approach to taking care of healthcare teams,” says Dr. Thompson.

Add wellness as a standing agenda item in every meeting. Incorporate a wellness tip in any organization circulars or publications. Use email to send a wellness tip of the week.

Infuse positive messages everywhere, every day

Humans are pessimistic by nature. We think 60,000 thoughts a day, and 80% of them are negative. It’s the negativity bias, which protects us from potential threats.

To counter this, Dr. Thompson recommends healthcare leaders amp up their positive messaging.

Start every meeting with something positive. Increase the frequency that you praise and recognize employees and leaders. Find reasons to celebrate everything you can.

Create “no complaining” zones

It’s easy to walk into the break room and start venting about, well…about everything.

The break room is just that—a break from the high intensity of patient care. So when people use the break room to vent and complain, then nobody gets a true break from the stress.

“Identify your break room or other areas in your organization or department as “no complaining zones” to help stop the spread of stress and negativity,” says Dr. Thompson.

Fight stress and burnout as an organization, as a team

Dr. Thompson says each department needs to pull together by making the team’s physical, mental, and emotional health a priority.

She recommends including self-care tips during huddles, engaging employees in conversations about coping strategies during staff meetings, and creating employee-leader lead “self-care teams” to support the team’s mental health.

Continue developing your people

Dr. Thompson says now is the time to ramp up your efforts to develop your people, and she urges healthcare executives to give their employees a COVID break by giving their brains something else to focus on.

“Bring back the lunch and learns. Host a series of educational sessions regarding coping, communication, emotional intelligence, or how to become more resilient. Your people need to be developed now more than ever before because nurse burnout won’t go away with help,” she adds.

Healthcare executives saying they have no time for self-care or professional development is like saying they don’t have time to stop for gas because they’re too busy driving.

“We all will get through this, but to make sure your people can enjoy their lives after this crisis ends, you can’t wait until the crisis is over before you take care of your people,” she adds.










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