Working in healthcare can be hard on your mental health. It’s stressful, demanding, and sometimes even traumatizing. Healthcare workers and nurses commonly experience some burnout and anxiety, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made these feelings even more acute.
In fact, since COVID started, healthcare workers have reported cases of emotional and physical exhaustion and burnout. A June – September 2020 survey by Mental Health America showed that 86% felt anxiety, 76% felt exhaustion and burnout, and 75% felt overwhelmed. And that was 2020. It’s expected that 500,000 nurses will give up bedside nursing by the end of 2022, leaving the ones behind at risk for more mental health concerns. So what can be done to help?
Managers in healthcare, including everyone from the chief nursing officer to managers of each healthcare unit, are uniquely (and powerfully) positioned to change the direction of this mental health spiral within their own teams. This article explores ways managers can support their staff and promote positive mental health changes, so nurses can stay in the careers they have always dreamed of having.
Are you or your team struggling? One nurse practitioner shares guidance on helping healthcare workers reduce exhaustion and burnout.
4 Benefits of Supporting Mental Health in Your Employees
Research has found a number of tangible benefits attached to supporting your employees’ mental health. Here are four that could improve your workplace:
- Increased productivity: Studies have shown that mentally healthy nurses work more effectively, and patient outcomes are generally more positive.
- Better retention and fewer instances of turnover: It’s proven when nurses and healthcare workers feel supported and happy in their work and with colleagues, they stay there! Because they don’t leave their jobs, you as the manager save money and time by not training new people every few months.
- Better physical health: Mental health affects employees’ physical health as well. There are fewer instances of time off or FMLA absences for health - related issues in nurses who state their units are a mentally healthy place to work — saving you and your unit money and time!
- Fewer mistakes: Healthcare workers and nurses who are more satisfied in their jobs with fewer job - related stressors make fewer mistakes and generally have better patient outcomes.
7 Ways to Support Employees’ Mental Health
Whether you are an individual struggling - or a manager with a team of burned out healthcare workers, positive mental health is an important part of your job. Here are some ways to help you and your staff experience less job-related anxiety, exhaustion, and stress. You can even start making some small steps today.
1. Understand Triggers
The first step in making change is understanding what triggers your employees are experiencing. Talk to your employees. Learn what they think is making their jobs harder — or what specifically is draining them emotionally and physically. Ask what they think would help and listen closely to their answers. Ask follow-up questions to avoid making assumptions.
2. Reduce the Stigma
The second most crucial step is to acknowledge their struggles. Acknowledgment and frequent discussion of mental health struggles can help remove the stigma. Let your team know that they can talk about their feelings openly.
3. Provide Access to Mental Health Resources
When discussing these issues with your staff, have resources on hand. Provide contact information for the internal and external agencies your organization already has in place. Ensure your team knows what’s available to them and that you care. You can also start your own group session by having an office social worker or counselor serve as an expert in providing guidance and support.
4. Promote Well-Being and Self-Care
When you or your staff seems frustrated and burned out, insist that they care for themselves FIRST. This means not pushing forced overtime or employing guilt when nurses won’t pick up extra shifts. Make sure your staff takes care of themselves first — and make sure they always know you want them to do that.
5. Model Well-Being and Self-Care
Along with the previous point, take care of yourself first. Show the staff that it’s okay to not work endless hours or to go home when you’re not feeling your best. Show them this by doing it for yourself!
6. Advocate for Better Insurance
Mental health can vary from mild burnout to full - on depression and trauma, which is beyond your scope as someone’s manager. Ensuring that your employees have outside resources, including covered mental health care, is an essential step in supporting your staff and their well - being. As a manager, you can advocate these needs to the administration of your organization. Let your team know that you will fight for the services they want and need.
7. Build Resilience
In Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven M. Southwick, MD, and Dennis S. Charney, MD, explain how resilience is developed. Here are some recommendations from their book that you can work into your unit’s culture — and model in your own leadership:
- Stay flexible and optimistic: Flexibility is a must, especially as a manager. Staffing, patient, and admin issues can easily overwhelm you. Staying flexible, positive, and calm will help keep you and your staff resilient to sudden changes and stressors of the job.
- Maintain a moral compass: Do what’s right, and encourage the same in your employees. People work better when they know what is expected of them, including when a mistake is made. (Get a guide on what to do if you make a mistake.)
- Provide social support: Fostering an environment of positivity and support is integral. You can go as far as to start a support group where your staff can vent and debrief. The better supported they feel, the more resilient they will be.
- Tout brain strength: Encourage your staff to do improvement projects and start journal clubs. The more they engage their brains, the more connected they will be to their nursing practice as well. The goal is to (truly) learn something new each day.
- Share meaning and gratitude: When patients tell you a nurse did a good job, make sure you tell that nurse what a difference they made. Show your staff that their patients appreciate them and that they make a difference in the workplace every day, even when it’s stressful. These positive memories and feelings will outweigh the difficult ones and help build resilience.
Mental Health Resources for Healthcare Workers
Along with these changes you can make to your own unit, there are a number of resources that you can make your staff aware of. As a manager, if you’re unsure where to start, check these out and start to slowly integrate some of these recommendations or even just make them available and known to your staff. Simply sharing them with your staff can show that you are aware of how stressful their jobs can be and that you care.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a number of resources including support groups in your area, self-paced courses, and more. You can use some of these resources on your unit as a manager or just make them available to your staff.
- The Heroes Health Initiative is a collection of different resources geared toward healthcare workers. This includes a live therapist or chatting/texting with a therapist as well as a crisis line for healthcare workers. Make these resources available to your staff! They may not be as comfortable talking with you or their colleagues about their mental health struggles, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing some. They need the help, and you can provide it by making these helplines available.
- The American Hospital Association also has many resources available that are geared toward hospitals and hospital workers specifically. This includes a support line, toolkits, and free Talkspace subscriptions.
If you’re ready to make these changes in your unit, start with culture shifts such as being supportive and caring, and then move onto bigger shifts like insurance advocacy and resilience training. Your staff and patients will benefit every day, and you’ll be able to create a supportive and thriving work environment for everyone.