The Great Resignation has begun, impacting Health care workers (HCWs). In this article, we explore why staff burnout is occurring, what this means for Australian hospitals and how they can prevent and overcome it.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a work-related stress syndrome, which is commonly a result of poor management of workplace stressors. It can be identified with signs and behaviours like motivation loss, exhaustion and fatigue.
This occupational phenomenon is particularly prevalent in human services industries like the healthcare industry, due to the nature of the work requiring employees to interact extensively with patients while working long and taxing hours.
Medicine, especially, places high expectations and responsibilities on individuals.
Burnout in Hospitals
As of 2022, the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) has found 78.8% of nurses working in the sector feel burnt out from working too much, working overtime and feeling exhausted.
Staff burnout is expensive to hospitals and consists of many direct and indirect costs. In fact, costs can range from $500,000 to more than $1 million per doctor.
Some examples of the costs incurred include the cost of medical errors, recruitment costs, and the lost revenue during recruitment.
Why Does Burnout Happen?
Factors contributing significantly to staff burnout include:
HCWS are facing higher than ever levels of hospital activity and the resultant excessive workload is contributing to workplace stress and sleep deprivation. Long hours take a toll on one’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Poor workplace safety, support and culture
HCWs are not feeling safe at work due to the lack of appropriately fitted Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The lack of digital pathology also makes it difficult for them to social distance as they are unable to work from home. On top of this, organisations are not recognising their work despite expecting them to go above and beyond.
Media and community responses
In spite of putting their health at risk, HCWs have had to deal with under-appreciation by their own organisations and the general public. They may feel like no matter how much effort they put into battling the pandemic, there will always be a sector of the community that undermines their efforts.
Low job satisfaction
Low job satisfaction can happen when HCWs are unable to provide the care they want and are trained to. Having undergone vigorous training to acquire the relevant skills, they can feel a lack of personal accomplishment when this occurs. As a result, emotional exhaustion is normal.
Consequences of staff burnout
Staff burnout can have dire consequences. The spillover effects not only impact hospitals on a large scale, but impact patients and employees too.
Having exhausted employees can lead to:
- Reduced quality of patient care
Patient safety is compromised when HCWs have less emotional energy and attachment to the job. The communication with patients worsens medical errors are likely to occur.
- Staff shortage / increased absenteeism
The unwillingness to work only encourages employees to resign. Staff shortage in hospitals is prominent across Australia. As of 2022, four health services in Victoria are already not meeting the minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. Staff shortages can also endanger patients as elective surgeries may be delayed.
- Toxic working environment
On top of an already unpleasant working environment, the lack of workplace support can make HCWs feel hesitant about seeking help when needed. To this day, tackling toxic workplace culture is one of Australia’s healthcare industry’s most pressing challenges.
How can hospitals manage staff burnout?
We often think of staff burnout as an individual problem one is responsible for managing. But now that “burnout” has been officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the onus of managing it is shifting towards organisations.
When it comes down to overcoming or even preventing burnout, it is not solely about effective rostering. Here are 3 other ways hospitals can effectively manage HCWs’ exhaustion:
- Regularly monitoring your employees’ mental health
- Appreciate your staff
Manual administrative tasks in hospitals can be laborious and unproductive. Digitising processes like patient or visitor check-in processes can save HCWs time and effort, enabling more time on patient care.
A well-rounded visitor management system reduces the need for staff to request for visitor or patient details before typing them down. This process typically requires a significant amount of time when the hours are accumulated daily.
Administrative staff in your hospital can be trained and diverted to other clinically important activities. For example, helping with patient care responsibilities so as to lighten the workload of other HCWs.
With the stressful workload spread more evenly across a slightly larger workforce on the floor, staff will feel less overwhelmed.
Regular check-ins with staff
The first and most important step of managing staff burnout is to recognise and measure it. This includes having a good understanding of your staff’s well-being at work and acknowledging it.
Capturing employee experience is a good measure of how they are feeling at work. This is an opportunity for employers to review the current management and make way for improvements.
A weekly survey should ask questions such as how they felt that week, what their workload was like or suggestions on possible ways to support them. Allowing your staff to feel heard can minimise burnout as long as they understand that they are not alone in struggling.
If your staff are at their breaking point, scheduling private chats with them is helpful in ensuring they get the help they need. If necessary, professional support should always be available for them.
Appreciate your staff
It should be clear by now how serious the staff burnout situation is in the Australian healthcare scene. Hence, it is extremely important in seeking the right steps to retain and motivate your existing staff.
Emphasising employee recognition is one way to incentivise your staff as they probably not only want to be heard, but seen as well. They are in need of recognition, support and appreciation the most.
Sincere recognition is believed to boost morale and performance. Spending a little time of your day to give personalised positive feedback can go a long way. It could be delivered verbally, or even in the form of short notes.
Learn to focus on the value your staff brings to the organisation instead of what they can do better. When HCWs feel more valued and supported, they are more likely to be satisfied with the organisation as a whole. They will be more productive and are less likely to leave.