Long hours, insecure environments, chronic stress and traumatic incidents, the impact of which affects both the physical and emotional wellbeing of health professionals globally, can experience anxiety, post-traumatic stress depression, and burnout.
As a result of this, even the most qualified and experienced has become affected, thus unable to function at their best, meaning those affected or infected by the COVID 19 may not be receiving the much-needed care, assistance and protection.
Investing in humanitarian wellbeing and resilience has, therefore, become a necessity.
Organizations must understand how to support staff’s psychological wellbeing who are exposed to traumatic conditions, especially where employees have little or no training on how to prepare or cope with the emotional impact of the current challenging working environment.
During COVID19, hospitals will need their staff to continue functioning and carrying out their critical roles and managing the increasing need for their services and information while dealing with their situations and emotions.
Frontline and critical workers, especially those in social care roles, may be worried about their vulnerability to a higher risk of infection and fear about spreading the virus to their families, or they may be experiencing stress because of having to offer support to the bereaved.
Employees who are in the roles that are exposed to new or additional trauma may, therefore, have a higher risk of mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). The ripple effect could result in long term sickness either now of after the crisis has passed.
Wellbeing research suggests that good organizational leadership and supportive work culture can positively impact the psychological wellbeing of these staff before and after the crisis. With increased pressure and anxiety during this period, employers must send a clear message that employee wellbeing matters.
Forward-thinking healthcare leaders saw the evidence of an emerging public health crisis and did their best to plan accordingly.
Similarly, the following actions offer suggestions for prioritizing staff wellbeing and joy at work now instead of waiting for circumstances to worsen.
Proactively listening to staff and responding to concerns about wellbeing.
Healthcare leaders from hospitals that have weathered COVID19 surges report the benefits of connecting with frontline workers and understanding how the ever-evolving situation affects their wellbeing. Most leaders shift the conversation with their frontline staff from “what is the matter” to “what matters to you,” allowing meaningful dialogue to elicit concerns.
Staff appear more likely to engage more accessible leaders, actively listen, openly share their feelings, and demonstrate genuine care for others’ welfare. The leadership traits also promote psychological safety, encouraging staff to speak up if they are worried about their own or colleagues’ physical or mental health.
To deepen the understanding of how staff are coping, leaders are gaining insights from multiple sources—these range from survey data to candid discussions about what is keeping people awake at night. This knowledge is then informing targeted wellbeing interventions and actions to address sources of concerns, including regularly replenishing stocks of personal protective equipment, providing sufficient time to recharge and rotating staff through high-pressure roles functions.
Provide open and honest communication.
With the uncertainty associated with the growing pandemic, staff are looking upon their healthcare leaders to provide reassurance and guidance. While the leaders are not expected to have all the answers, providing honest accounts of what is known and what remains unclear helps staff make sense of the situation.
Transparency builds confidence and trust in a crisis. Leaders must establish real-time communication and feedback mechanisms to remain responsive to staff concerns and learn what is working for them. Team huddles, shift debriefs, daily situation reports, and wellness rounds are some of the channels used to enhance communication and alleviate stress.
Virtual option reaches a wide audience of the workforce, especially with physical distance restrictions in place. Leaders have been live-streaming conference meetings and connecting with staff using their organizations’ online social networking platforms.
All interactions with staff provide opportunities to express gratitude and acknowledge their contribution during such challenging times.
Promote mental wellbeing and health.
Recognizing “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” staff caring for patients need a support system that encourages getting quality sleep, eating well, engaging in physical activity, and maintaining social connections. Instead of just telling staff to protect themselves, leaders have been engaging in tangible action. Many hospitals have been designating wellness centres where their staff can sleep or take a break. To encourage staff to refresh and refuel, some organizations provide “comfort boxes” containing snacks, wellbeing resources,toiletries and messages of appreciation. Checklists can prompt staff to reflect on how they feel, practice self-care,seek assistance when needed and check on their colleagues. Leaders who are open to how they tend to their wellbeing can also positively influence their staff by role modelling these behaviours.
Offer support where, how, and when staff need it.
Many organizations have ramped up services to support mental wellbeing. These include employee assistance programmes, pastoral programs, peer support, psychological support, and psychiatric services. Some have offered “psychological first aid” in strategic places like cafeteria, staff lounges to provide easy access. Others have set up 24/7 support or extended telepathy so staff can seek virtual support. Additionally, buddy staffing models and strategies fostering teamwork help frontline workers look out for each other, share their worries and support colleagues with support when stressed.
While some staff will actively seek assistance and want to discuss the impact of COVID19 on their wellbeing, others may prefer to shift their focus and escape the barrage of pandemic related information. In response to staff requests, respite rooms are being created- colloquially referred to as “Novid Rooms- where colleagues are not allowed to discuss anything related to COVID19.
Organize ways to ease the burden on staff.
To make the lives of staff easier, leaders have leveraged relationships with community partners and voluntary groups. There has been an overwhelming response from many keen “to care for caregivers” with offers of meals, childcare, pet sitting, errand running, and free parking. Providing alternative low or no-cost accommodation has also been well received by frontline workers cognizant of the risk of spreading the virus to loved ones. If staff become unwell or have to take COVID19 related leave, leaders should ensure timely access to services aiding recovery and cover associated out of pocket expenses.
Burnout was an issue in health care before the corona virus pandemic. The current pandemic is further testing the resilience of health care workers around the globe. Healthcare professionals dedicate their lives to helping others. To honor their commitment, the leaders need to support their well being and joy in the health care workforce’s work for the benefit of both staff and patient care.