We’re in the midst of a record-breaking flu season with the transmission of seasonal flu virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 putting the strain on hospitals and healthcare providers. And it isn’t over yet. What can you do to support your team through the next few months? 

We asked Kaelah Bogan, RN, to share her perspective. Now a Marketplace Recruiting Operations Associate at Medely, Bogan previously worked in Geri Med-Surg, Inpatient Hospice, and Respiratory Stepdown, as well as with post-op Head and Neck/Vascular patients. Before joining Medely, she worked in a critical care COVID-19 unit.

“Working the COVID pandemic really opened my eyes to just how important it is to keep myself and my family safe,” Bogan said. Health professionals take extra precautions to prevent infection, here are several ways your facility can help.

1. Empower your team to prioritize self care

Nurses and allied pros were exhausted before the annual flu season started. More than half of nurses told the American Nurses Association (ANA) last summer that they were experiencing a degree of burnout, a work-related condition that leaves people feeling physically and mentally exhausted, disconnected from their work, and unable to perform at their best. 

Bogan said many of the things she has encountered as a nurse, particularly during the pandemic, left her feeling mentally drained. “Initially, I thought you just had to leave work at work and not take it home with you,” she said. “I can tell you, that doesn’t actually work well.”

Addressing chronic stress can be complex and highly individualized, but there are general strategies you can follow to both encourage health habits and help reduce feelings of burnout among your team.

Offer support and resources for health professionals

The ANA survey found most nurses feel their supervisors and peers would be supportive if they asked for help at work—but they aren’t confident that their supervisors would know what resources to provide. More than any other employer, hospitals have prioritized workplace wellness programs so help your team understand what supports are available and how to access them.

Help your team reclaim some control

One way to help alleviate stress is to find ways to give healthcare workers more control over their work. Improved scheduling can provide some predictability, as can asking your team for their suggestions: “If you band together to offer mutual support, identify problems, and brainstorm and advocate for solutions, you will all increase your sense of control and connection,” executive coach Monique Valcour advised in HBR.

Enable better work/life balance across the organization

Logically, we know how important work/life balance is to mental health, but we don’t always follow through—managers included. Seventy-nine percent of healthcare executives surveyed by the American Hospital Association said their organizations don’t do enough to reduce or prevent executive burnout. That’s a challenge when you’re trying to encourage wellness among your staff, so try to lead by example.

“During the height of the pandemic, my hospital approved eight free EAP [employee assistance program] sessions and reimbursed us for four hours of paid ‘self-care’,” said Bogan. “We had to take these four hours to do something for ourselves to take our minds off of the weight of the pandemic. This was such a kind gesture that really made us feel supported.”

2. Find ways to celebrate your team beyond the holidays

While the end of the year is a traditional time to show gratitude, recognizing your team’s efforts and contributions at other times of the year can help them feel valued.

“I think it helps to truly feel supported when management takes the time to make you feel they care about you as an individual, not just another nurse,” said Bogan. “When I was working on the COVID unit, it was really meaningful to me when the Director of Nursing at our hospital personally came by to thank us for the care we were providing to our patients.”

“It is little things like this that are meaningful and show: ‘Hey, we know this is tough, but we appreciate you and care about supporting you,’” Bogan added.

3. Maintain your focus on safety standards and staffing

The ANA survey found that most nurses feel their work environment is “healthy and/or positive”. However, for many, the early days of the pandemic still loom large. Bogan said COVID-19 made PPE essential and its unanticipated shortage left a mark: “Working 12+ hours in the same N95 mask, gown, and shield was exhausting.”

Despite the emphasis healthcare facilities place on workplace safety and safeguards, healthcare has its risks—from back injury to occupational infection. Keep working to protect your team this season by strengthening internal relationships, exploring different ways to deliver care, and working to boost both recruitment and retention.

An extended workforce can also be a staffing advantage, providing access to trusted per diem and assignment healthcare professionals when your team needs the support. Let’s talk about how Medely can help your organization build a reliable and flexible staffing strategy.