The pandemic is over and the H.R. 382 bill to terminate the public health emergency mandate with respect to COVID-19 is set for May 11, 2023.1 While the pandemic has subsided, the negative impact on our workforce still lingers on. During the peak of the pandemic in 2020-2021, healthcare workers carried a significant burden to care for others while risking the overall health and wellbeing of themselves and their family members. Working in prolonged crisis mode which extended beyond what anyone could have anticipated has left many of our healthcare workers feeling numb and distressed, with several leaving or thinking about leaving the field. In 2021, approximately 334,000 physicians, nurse practitioners, and other clinicians left the workforce due to pandemic related stressors, creating a severe workforce shortage and burden on workers who were already experiencing burnout even before the pandemic.2
The World Health Organization included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). While it is not considered a medical condition, it is included in the ICD-11 as an occupational phenomenon, “reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.”3 The ICD-11 lists symptoms of burnout to be: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.4
What can organizations do to take care of their workforce?
In Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report, U.S. and Canadian workers experienced the highest levels of daily stress.5 Workplace stress adversely impacts health and has resulted in healthcare expenditures of $190,000 billion, approximately 8% of national healthcare outlays.6
An important first step is to recognize that an organization’s culture plays an important role in increasing or decreasing burnout as well as leadership’s lack of acknowledgement and response to employees’ struggles.7
Addressing issues that contribute to burnout such as unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workloads, lack of role clarity, lack of leadership support, and unreasonable time pressures can help.8 This may seem daunting to leaders as they recognize that while the pandemic is over, many healthcare organizations are still functioning in crisis mode due to staffing shortages and difficulty in filling positions, putting added stress on existing workers. Investing in employee wellbeing should be a strategic focus as there is not one magic bullet to address this very real and complicated issue. Instead, it will take a multi-level approach and buy in from all levels of the organization.
Some opportunities to avail are continuing to build a sense of resiliency in the workforce by keeping the lines of communication open, removing barriers employees are feeling to get the job done, offering wellness programs and making mental health services accessible. Lastly, from my own experiences in workforce engagement, I find those who chose to work in healthcare often have an internal motivation that drew them to this field. Asides from addressing the aforementioned strategies, finding ways to re-introduce employees to their why may be a way to heal, build resiliency, and go forward.
Huma Shah, DrPH,FACHE
Dr. Shah is the Program Director of the Master's in Healthcare Administration Program and Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health. Her research interests include organizational strategy/culture, health policy, leadership, clinical outcomes, and spirituality in the workplace.
- 1Statement of Administration Policy (January 30, 2023). https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/SAP-H.R.-382-H.J…
- 2Devereaux, M. (October 20, 2022). Physicians left their jobs by the hundreds of thousands in 2021: report. Modern Healthcare. https://www.modernhealthcare.com/physicians/physicians-left-their-jobs-…?
- 3International Classification of Diseases. (May 29, 2019). World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-pheno…
- 4International Classification of Diseases. (May 29, 2019). World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-pheno…
- 5State of the Global workplace: 2022 Report. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.a…
- 6Moss, J. (December 11, 20190). Burnout is about your workplace, not your people. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/12/burnout-is-about-your-workplace-not-your-people
- 7 Workplace Stress: Are you experiencing workplace stress? (n.d.). The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress
- 8 Wigert, B. &Agrawal, S. (July 12, 2018). Employee burnout, Part 1: the 5 main causes. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-caus…