We wanted to know how COVID-19 has affected the mental health and well-being of our healthcare workers. So, in October, we launched a national survey asking healthcare providers how their mental, emotional, and physical well-being is compared to this time last year. As you can probably imagine, the results were pretty troubling. Here are some of the key findings our survey revealed.
The State of Healthcare Workers in 2020: Survey Results
Healthcare workers are overwhelmingly burned out.
The survey found that a startling 84% of respondents reported feeling at least mildly burned out from work. This may not be completely surprising, considering that 3 of the top 5 causes of their stress had to do with the current COVID-19 pandemic and being overworked. Here’s a list of the top 10 stressors that respondents identified:
- Fear of Getting COVID-19
- Long Hours/Shifts
- General State of the World
- Fear of Spreading COVID-19
- Family Responsibilities/Issues
- Lack of Support From Leadership
- The Election
- Lack of Job Security
- Conflicts With Coworkers and/or Managers
- It’s Not the Job/Career They Thought It Would Be
Their mental health has significantly deteriorated.
Just about half (48%) of survey respondents reported that their mental health is worse now than it was this time last year. This was particularly true for more than half of the nurse practitioners (54%) and mental health professionals (53%) we surveyed, as well as for half of all occupational therapists and nurses.
On top of that, just about half of the respondents admitted to crying at work at some point over the past year. When we broke it down by profession, we discovered that 67% of nurse practitioners, 52% of nurses, and half of all mental health professionals reported shedding tears in the workplace.
Despite all this, only 12% of all healthcare workers started psychotherapy over the past 12 months to help them cope with work-related stress. (That said, the data doesn’t reflect the number of respondents who were already in therapy.)
Healthcare workers are feeling sleep-deprived.
Adding fuel to the fire, 68% of respondents said that they’ve been getting less sleep over the past 12 months than they did last year. A closer look at the data revealed that a whopping 86% said that they’re getting 7 or less hours of sleep each night -- which means that nearly 90% of healthcare workers surveyed have been getting less than the recommended 8 hours of sleep needed for proper functioning. On top of that, 30% admitted to getting 4 or less hours of sleep a night. It’s unclear from the data whether the respondents’ lack of sleep is causing their burnout or is, in fact, the result of it. Regardless, what is clear is that our healthcare workers are struggling right now – and it’s taking a toll on their health.
Their work performance is suffering & they’re thinking of quitting.
While the stats on healthcare workers’ mental health are troubling on their own, the news gets even more concerning when you look at the impact it’s having on their job performance. For example, 1 in 3 healthcare workers feel like they’ve been making more mistakes at work over the past year. Additionally, half have considered either retiring, quitting their jobs, or changing their careers altogether.
Female & older healthcare workers are struggling the most.
Overall, female healthcare workers seem to be struggling more than their male counterparts. When asked about their psychological well-being, half of all women surveyed said that they feel worse about their mental health, compared to only 36% of men. In the same vein, a little over half (54%) of all women admitted to crying at work over the past year versus 22% of men. Additionally, 49% of female and 40% of male health providers surveyed have thought about leaving their jobs.
Older healthcare workers aren’t faring well either. A little over half (52%) of respondents who identified as being 45+ years old felt that their mental health is worse now than it was this time last year; that number jumped up to 66% percent of respondents who were above the age of 60. (This is compared to 48% of all healthcare workers of all ages.) Additionally, 55% of respondents aged 45 years or older said that they’ve considered quitting, changing careers, or retiring altogether. Again (and perhaps unsurprisingly), that number goes up to 71% of providers above the age of 60.
5 Self-Care Strategies for Preventing Burnout
“With the global COVID crisis surging, we have become increasingly alarmed about the other crisis, which is the well-being of our frontline healthcare workers,” said Evelyn Bavier, Berxi’s product development and portfolio director. “Our study illustrates that the situation is dire and immediate steps must be taken to take care of these professionals so they can take care of us.”
While our survey certainly paints a grim picture of the current state of our healthcare workers’ well-being, the good news is that there are tools they can use to combat these feelings of stress and burnout. Below, we’ve shared five stress-management strategies that were recommended to us by Mira Dineen, MSW, RSW, a registered social worker and psychotherapist in Ontario, Canada.
1. Practice on-the-spot stress stoppers.
You may not be able to get rid of your external stressors, but you can lower your own personal stress response by taking long, deep breaths to reset the parasympathetic nervous system and reciting a positive mantra. You can also try:
- Leaning on a colleague for help
- Noticing the positive
- Finding a Healthy Distraction
- Taking a break (if and when you’re able to)
2. Focus on the 5 things in your control.
You’re not always going to be able to control what’s going on around you so, sometimes, the best coping strategy is to focus on what you can control. For instance, when your stress levels are high, you can:
- Pay attention to what triggers your stress. Are you heading right to the monitors at the start of your shift before you’ve even had your coffee? Are you checking emails at home while you’re still in bed so your day starts off on a bad foot? Try to identify when your stress levels begin to rise, and take action to stop it before it begins.
- Don’t give in to guilt. We’ve all been there: the phone rings and it’s someone asking you to come back to fill a shift. You feel guilty, right? Healthcare workers are notorious for pushing themselves too hard and feeling guilty for needing help. Remember that you’re human and breaks are not a bad thing.
- Improve your health habits. Going back to the basics makes a difference and can boost your body’s resiliency: sleep, hydrate, move your body, and eat healthy food.
- Be kind to yourself. We’re all sick of the word, but these really are unprecedented times and you need to extend compassion to yourself too.
- Ask for help. Whether you’re comfortable asking for help or not, this is — unfortunately — a necessity right now. Remember, everyone knows healthcare workers are bearing the brunt of the current pandemic. Asking for more support is not showing weakness. It’s getting what you need to make you stronger.
3. Beware of compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is a real phenomenon that develops in healthcare workers and can be caused by:
- Being Around a Lot of Suffering
- Empathizing Strongly With Others
- Dealing With Significant Stress Outside of Work
- Not Having Enough People to Rely on for Support
- Foregoing Your Own Self-Care
If you are feeling the need to talk about your own experiences, consider turning to a mental health professional instead of a coworker because they may be dealing with compassion fatigue too and not able to give you the kind of support you need.
4. Get professional help.
We talked about getting help, but what does that actually look like? One of the positive aspects of healthcare to come out of the pandemic has been a rise in telehealth services. Even busy healthcare professionals can take advantage of telehealth appointments because it can work with your schedule.
5. Recognize and prevent burnout in the future.
This pandemic will not last forever. Healthcare workers may be feeling like this is the “new normal,” but the truth is, it’s not and changes will have to be made in the future to support the very people that make up our healthcare system. Once we make it through this crisis, it will be more important than ever for healthcare providers to speak up about their experiences, share what needs to be changed, and never accept burnout as “normal.”
The State of Healthcare Workers in 2020 Survey: Infographic
This data is based on Berxi’s October 2020 survey of 500 U.S. healthcare workers, which excluded physicians. The coping strategies listed above are not intended to be medical or mental health advice. If you have concerns about stress, sleep, burnout, or anything else, please consult a professional.