As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country and the implications of this pandemic are ever more far-reaching, perhaps no segment of the population will feel the stress more acutely than health care workers. Worker burnout is a serious concern, particularly in times of increased stress and anxiety, and we want to make sure our UofL Health employees take care of themselves, so they can continue to care for our community.
What is worker burnout?
Worker burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and loss of interest in the workplace. It is often caused by expending too much effort at work and having too little recovery time. For health care workers, particularly during a public health crisis, this can also lead to compassion fatigue, and loss of satisfaction in the lifesaving work they do. In addition, research suggests that working more than 12 hours per day can increase risk of injury by 37 percent. Other side effects of worker burnout include decreased alertness and productivity, and increased risk of errors.
What can we do to combat worker burnout?
Managers play a key role in mitigating and managing worker burnout. A 2014 study conducted by Brigham Young University found that higher levels of manager engagement directly contributed to reducing burnout and increasing levels of compassion satisfaction. UofL Health encourages all health care workers to take common sense precautions to fight worker burnout:
• Sufficient rest: Managers should aim to allow their workers 10 consecutive hours away from work to ensure 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
• Regular rest periods: Brief but frequent rest periods (10-15 minutes every 1-2 hours) are more effective against fatigue than fewer longer breaks, though longer breaks should be incorporated to allow for meals.
• Proper nutrition and exercise: Be sure to take time to get moderate exercise and eat full meals to keep energy levels up.
• Role-modeling: By practicing self-care, workers give their colleagues permission to do the same without feeling guilty, which benefits team morale.
• Employ the buddy system: Identify a colleague to be an accountability partner and check in with each other frequently for mental state and self-care techniques.
• Good communication: Regular information sharing among teams and the organization helps reduce worker stress and allows them to feel more in control.