Employee burnout during the coronavirus pandemic
COVID-19 really is the magnifying glass on a majority of society’s problems, the perennial fire which heats already hot items in a busy kitchen. The very terrain of work engagement is a breeding ground for stress, strong senses of personal responsibility and expectations of oneself, are enough to contend with even in peacetime. With the pandemic raging on, many individuals – even in care and healthcare settings – are performing remote work as advised by the government and their employers. Others, including nurses, are working with reduced numbers of colleagues, sure to ramp pressure on resources which are already stretched, leading to a phenomenon known as burnout.
Burnout, by definition, is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands”. It can occur due to exterior factors, personal life issues and even as a result of contention with poor health – but for the purpose of this article, we will be framing our discussion and recommendations as to the pressure enforced by the pandemic and working restrictions. In April 2019, the British Medical Association warned that 50% of doctors were facing burnout from prolonged hours and the selfless commitment to their patients and colleagues. Adding to the perils of the healthcare sector, lack or delays in COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment and support served to add to anxieties and concern over safety. Now that the UK is further on in the epidemic, issues of PPE availability and testing capacity are improved, yet the sheer duration of this crisis may still be taking its toll as a further 51% of respondents (see references) stated a lack of governmental support was paramount to their own worries.
Dynamic management responsibilities and personal communication are more important now than ever, and despite the ebbing and flowing of government support, the manager or senior team members in a healthcare department can become a guiding light to unsure employees. As managers, it is vital to recognise signs of burnout in staff and to take time to ‘check-in’ beyond the realms of work responsibilities, something which happened regularly when grabbing a tea or having lunch. Some employees who are not in their office or clinics have been designating time to have video calls or hangouts with their colleagues to discuss their lives, concerns and interests without the formal narrative of work, giving at-least a feeling of contact back with our normal, social selves. For those still working in departments and clinics, individuals have found relief from being open and discussing concerns with their patients, relating to the issues that nearly everyone is dealing with right now and building morale and a patient-clinician relationship.
Open ears, understanding and flexibility are paramount to keeping employees grounded, as stress free as possible and calm throughout this time. We’ve also included a list of personal steps to take to address any stress or burnout symptoms you may be feeling, as well as some you can direct to employees;