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Stress in Healthcare: Fostering a Healthy Workforce

Mental health is a vital component to any workforce, but especially in high-stress environments such as ones found in the healthcare industry. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and so much emphasis is placed on retaining key talent, we put together some data on the state of stress in healthcare, the toll it can take on a workforce, and what organizations can do to better support their employees' wellbeing.


Causes of Stress in the Healthcare Industry

Being a healthcare worker has always come with a lot of stress, but in recent years it has been further exacerbated. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), "work in healthcare involves intensely stressful situations, exposure to human suffering and death, unique pressures from relationships with the patient, family members, and employers, hazardous exposures, high administrative burdens, and little control over schedules." Coupled with the fact that many healthcare employees put others' well being above their own, and we have a recipe for disaster.

These factors and more all formulated cracks in a foundation — a foundation which the COVID-19 pandemic broke. It pushed the already-present fatigue, stress, and grief to a breaking point, which resulted in unprecedented rates of burnout and the aptly named 'turnover contagion'. 


Impact of Stress on Healthcare Professionals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that twice as many healthcare workers reported harassment at work in 2022 when compared to 2018, around 46% reported being burnt out, and 44% intended to look for a new job. Additionally, overall rates of trust in management was down six percent, indicating that workers may not trust their superiors to improve their lives materially.

The impact of stress is undeniable: It's mentally and physically draining, discouraging, and ultimately pushes people out of the profession they once loved. Their demanding, and often dangerous, duties may not seem worth the effort in the grand scheme if these stressors are allowed to fester. 

Image credit: CDC.gov

Ultimately, higher rates of anxiety, depression, and burnout reduce the quality of care each patient receives. 


Stress Mitigation Strategies for Healthcare Workers

However, all hope is not lost. There are, indeed, steps that healthcare facilities can take in order to reduce the likelihood of burnout, show that they care about their employees' mental health, and ultimately improve patient care. In fact, organizations have a duty to implement these steps. 


Work-Life Balance Initiatives

One of the main ways you can show appreciation for healthcare workers is by allowing them more agency in their work lives. The most significant way is by implementing better work-life balance initiatives such as:

  • Improved scheduling systems: When workers are free to accept or deny shifts that fit their lifestyle, they'll be more productive and effective within their roles. Internal resource pools (IRP), for instance, help in enhancing such flexibility by broadcasting open shifts via mobile app and allowing pre-certified employees to accept the shift. They can also search for shifts based on time, day, location, and other factors.
  • Sabbaticals: Nobody wants to be stuck in a dead-end job, and healthcare workers are no exception. Allowing sabbaticals so that they can pursue personal goals, further educate themselves in their role, or find opportunities for leadership training will give them a break from the day-to-day grind and revisit the bigger picture of their career path.
  • Mental health days: It's not enough to just have sick days or PTO. Allowing employees to take a mental health day when they feel overwhelmed, burned out, etc. not only increases the likelihood that they'll stay around for the long haul, it ensures they aren't making mistakes with their patients.
  • Career development: Continuing education and supplemental training shows that you care about growing your workers' personal skill sets in addition to improving the efficacy of your organization's overall efforts.


Employee Engagement & Support Programs

Workers in high-stress environments tend to become siloed in their everyday duties. This can bring on feelings of loneliness or feeling like they aren't part of a team. Management should take every opportunity they can to mitigate these feelings and reinforce each individual's importance toward a common goal. 

This can be facilitated through regular one-on-one check-ins, implementing formal sponsorship or mentorship programs, emphasizing team outings and/or team building activities, creating rewards programs that acknowledge stellar performance, offering health and wellness programs, and hosting town hall meetings with anonymized feedback.


Stress Management Resources

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide confidential counseling and can refer employees to other mental health professionals when necessary. Healthcare workers tend to see the worst of the worst and often report higher rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more, so ensuring your workforce isn't suffering in silence is critical to showing that you care. 

Other forms of stress management resources include:

  • Workshops: Group sessions that emphasize mindfulness, meditation, and other methods regarding how to reduce stress/become more resilient throughout the day.
  • Group therapy: Support groups where healthcare professionals can gather and empathize with each others' struggles can be particularly helpful after a traumatic event.
  • Crisis intervention resources: Make every single employee aware of the resources available to them — suicide prevention, confidential counseling, etc. and be sure to train management on how to recognize signs of depression, suicidal ideation, and how to intervene.


HWL Cares About Mental Health

HWL's suite of workforce management solutions are designed not only to help healthcare organizations contain costs, they help keep staff happy and fulfilled in their careers. By giving them more agency in their day, ensuring their peers aren't exiting their careers, providing seamless onboarding, and advising management on how they can make a positive impact in their subordinates' lives, we ensure your workforce is healthy for the long haul.

To learn more about HWL and our services, get in touch today.

May 21, 2024/By Ciara Endicott
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Author: Ciara Endicott

Ciara Endicott is currently a Marketing Specialist with HWL. Before coming to HWL, Ciara previously worked with a prominent and influential oncology practice in Arizona, overseeing the Integrative Oncology Patient Support Services marketing and communications. She also worked for a large radiology practice where she planned nationwide recruiting events for physicians. With over 7 years of marketing experience, Ciara has been an integral part of creating social media and blog content for healthcare organizations. Ciara enjoys the creative opportunities that marketing offers and enjoys her current role with HWL because she believes in their commitment to proactively working to improve healthcare staffing across the country.
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