Healthcare employees are exhausted. Burnout reached “crisis” levels in 2019 – and has only worsened since the pandemic. Now, more than 50% of public health workers report symptoms of at least one mental health condition.

Projections show a shortage of 3 million essential health workers by 2026. It’s no surprise, burnout’s a leading contributor. It’s a sneaky, gradual process that differs from person to person. It can lead to fatigue, anxiety, and depression. And when it strikes, burnout impacts all areas of an employee’s life.

To ward off exhaustion, talent acquisition and other healthcare leaders must take proactive steps. Here are six ways to get ahead of employee burnout:

  1. Provide a safe and healthy work environment
    First assess the current work environment. Do your people feel safe? Is it a healthy culture? Some healthcare organizations have leadership roles dedicated to employee well-being. Having someone responsible for monitoring progress and making recommendations helps level-set expectations for all and leads to action plans for risk mitigation.

  2. Increase leadership communication and visibility
    Leaders are key in reducing the stigma sometimes associated with burnout. Acknowledge the stress your staff is under. Promote mental health services like employee assistance programs and peer support groups. To identify symptoms of burnout conduct organization-wide surveys and encourage managers to regularly check in with their team members, reporting trends to upper management and HR to create an action plan if necessary.

  3. Rethink existing responsibilities and workflows
    In every workplace, employees experience frustration rooted in rules, policies, and procedures. Indeed, your organization must follow healthcare laws and regulations – but leaders can change or limit internal practices that hinder practitioner well-being. Upskill administrative team members to alleviate the workload of clinical staff and search for tech-enabled solutions to reduce time-consuming tasks are two methods to try.

  4. Engage teams differently
    Chronic stress leads to disengagement. Beating burnout requires more than traditional team-building activities and recognition programs. You need to increase inclusion and build psychological safety among employees with more meaningful strategies, such as mentoring, encouraging peer-to-peer support, offering development opportunities, and creating effective feedback loops.

  5. Create a culture that boosts retention
    Turnover among first-year registered nurses outpaces all other tenure categories, at about 83%. Add nurses with less than two years of service and that jumps to 91.6%. Improving the employer experience will help your healthcare workers build resilience. Focus on your onboarding and orientation programs to instill a strong sense of belonging from the start. Conduct 90-day check-ins to identify early signs of stress. Create a shared vision to drive a sense of purpose and unity.

  6. Provide flexible work options
    Healthcare workers are fed up with rigid scheduling, demanding more flexibility. In response, many healthcare organizations are implementing innovative flexible work programs. Some strategies you can borrow:

    • Self-scheduling, allowing employees to select their shifts
    • Float pools, to cover dips in staffing and allow time off when needed
    • Job-sharing, allowing part-time staff to fulfill an FTE equivalent
    • Alternative scheduling, using staggered start times, overlapping shifts, or compressed workweeks
    • Internal travelers, so employees can float within a hospital system if needed

Increased flexibility promotes better balance for your existing workforce and can also be an effective recruiting tool.

These strategies will help healthcare leaders create a more compassionate culture, combating fatigue and hopelessness. Proactively addressing burnout will leave employees better equipped to care for themselves, their peers, and their patients.