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Recognizing and preventing burnout in your senior care organization

MatrixCare’s SVP of Skilled Nursing Solutions, Kevin Whitehurst, recently hosted an online session with Mary Ellen Sanajko of Conduit Coaching. In this teleforum, they answered questions from senior care leaders about coping with burnout—in themselves and in their staff.

Here are a few of the questions the hosts covered during the session:

What is burnout? And how can I tell if I or my team members have it?

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. It’s not actually just about being overworked. It’s a measurable condition that takes a heavy, personal toll on you and your team. It leads to lower-quality care, increased errors, and a less safe environment for you, your staff, and your residents. Burnout also predicts employee disengagement.

With all the stresses and shortages during COVID-19, is burnout inevitable?

Research has found that burnout is influenced by several things, including our individual personalities, but also by work unit, organizational, and national factors. But the evidence consistently finds that workplace variables are the primary drivers of burnout. Pre-COVID, the top cause of burnout and disengagement was workload. Based on Gallup surveys in the past five years, people who strongly agreed that they always have too much to do were 2.2 times more likely to say they experienced burnout very often or always at work.

How can teams cope with COVID-19 so they stay healthy and do what’s necessary for residents?

Research shows that talking about the risks and causes of burnout reduces stigma and helps people develop resiliency. We also know that how people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than just the amount of work. So, a second idea for coping with burnout is to provide job flexibility where possible. Consider how you add flexibility‒whether it’s scheduling, prioritizing, or other ways because with all of the new rules around PPE and all the different regulations, your staff is dealing with less flexibility. Finding other ways to add flexibility can ease that stress.

How does technology play a role in this?

The pandemic has really pushed long term care to take advantage of technology in a positive way.  Staying connected with family has never been more important. Facilities are using smartphones and tablets to keep residents connected. This has been incredibly impactful with families who are not allowed to visit in person. MatrixCare also offers technology that allows facilities to integrate their EHR to schedule communication with residents and their families via video and broadcast messaging.

What role (if any) does an organization have in supporting recovery from burnout?

Putting burnout recovery all on the individual person is wrong. Organizational changes and social support are great sources of empowerment and have a positive effect on burnout recovery. Look at the individual’s support network: family, friends, social, religious groups. The work environment also needs to be part of the support network. Addressing burnout is a shared responsibility between the individual and the organization in which they work because having an engaged workforce is critical for senior care organizations.

Look at what you can do to create a compassionate workplace where wellbeing is a part of your culture. Maybe it’s improving workplace communication or creating support groups. We know this can be tough but consider structural changes you can make like rostering extra staff or allowing adequate rest between shifts.

No burnout prevention strategies will work unless you pay attention to enhancing the work environment and take advantage of the technology available. Isolated strategies directed at individuals are limited. Improving work processes is crucial for preventing burnout.

Contact us to discuss how we can help you manage COVID-19.


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