Replenishing a Depleted Workforce: How to Support Healthcare Workers Through COVID-19


With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing and alarming levels of healthcare workers still experiencing stress, burnout, and other negative feelings surrounding their work, it’s time to return the favors they’ve given countless others.

Healthcare workers aren’t just on the front lines of the global pandemic. They’re also facing crises of their own (and maybe even issues that existed before COVID-19) — and they’re looking to employers for help.

Recent research from the American Medical Association and Hennepin Healthcare indicates that nearly half of more than 20,000 medical workers surveyed said they have experienced burnout. Nearly as many said they suffered from overload, and 38% admitted they battled depression and anxiety. This isn’t surprising given the current climate, and many of these issues have long plagued the industry as a whole. All in all, it’s reason enough for healthcare administrators to diagnose these underlying problems so they can prioritize innovative solutions.

As with many workplace issues, though, the culprit for diminished well-being and morale among healthcare personnel is multifaceted. Some are worn down from picking up extra shifts and juggling childcare arrangements. Others feel a general sense of imbalance, as noted in an article from the Association of American Medical Colleges. As the piece explains, medical workers’ lives have been upended occupationally, financially, and emotionally.

So what is the answer to this challenge — especially given COVID-19’s relentlessness and frustrating resilience? Administrators might want to begin looking toward companies with high employee satisfaction ratings (think Adidas and Under Armour, both of which have built campuses to support their employees). Or they might want to implement some additional perks to help employees cope with modern living stressors. Information from Canada Life Group Insurance suggests that one-quarter of personnel felt they’d be more productive if they had better benefits. Consequently, it might be worth experimenting with different add-ons.

For instance, investments in nutrient-rich food options could make sense. Giving employees nutritious items so they can adequately refuel between shifts provides nourishment without empty calories. The same holds true for on-site gyms, covered health clubs, or therapy memberships. After all, workers who have access to healthier choices are more inclined to use them.

Looking for more possibilities to renew the spirits of healthcare workers? Again, take a page from what’s worked for businesses in the corporate realm. Here are just a few ideas:

1. Employee appreciation programs.

A full 70% of participants in the Canada Life Group Insurance survey referenced above said they didn’t feel valued at work. One way to remind workers that their contributions are noticed is through celebrations. These can include anything from competitions with prizes to special gift bags filled with, say, sought-after skincare or loungewear.

2. On-site or visiting pets.

It’s not always possible to host pets in a healthcare environment. However, some sites have made it work, and even having a fish tank can change the atmosphere at a medical facility. If it’s not possible or safe to have pets at a location full-time, it may work to bring them in occasionally.

That’s what one hospital in South Carolina did: By partnering with a local animal shelter, the hospital brought smiles to workers in the form of wagging tails. As a chief nurse noted about her colleagues after these animal interactions: “When they do go back, they have a little bit more energy — a little bit more joy.”

3. Responsive textiles.

Infrared-emitting (or IR) fabrics have taken center stage for their potential to help people feel more comfortable and recharged. If people can rejuvenate with the aid of textiles, it might be easier for them to tackle their workloads.

In one double-blind study, for instance, participants with chronic wrist or elbow pain who wore armbands made from materials interwoven with IR fibers achieved gains in grip strength. Other studies of IR-emitting textiles have shown similar benefits for wearers. Therefore, smart textiles in healthcare might assist workers in feeling more physically optimized while they wear certain types of clothing or use furniture covered in an IR fabric.

Providing support for healthcare professionals is difficult — especially when they’re taking on so much burden. However, it’s also an opportunity for administrators to flex their creativity when it comes to fighting pandemic burnout. After all, a few changes could mean all the difference.

This article was originally published in Managed Healthcare Executive.