Six Bright Ideas to Battle Staff Burnout

 In Reducing Employee Turnover

Staffing shortages are perhaps the single greatest challenge plaguing virtually all healthcare providers these days. It’s a complex problem. Staffing shortfalls – especially in positions providing hands-on care – can threaten to compromise quality, overburden existing staff and greatly reduce revenue because of inability to meet business demand.

Unfortunately, all indicators point to the situation getting worse before it gets better. According to Mercer’s “2021 External Healthcare Labor Market Analysis,” the healthcare labor market is expected to face shortages over the next five to 10 years as our nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout. Here are a few sobering statistics from the report:

  • There will be a shortage of labor at the low end of the wage spectrum, limiting access to home care.
  • About 9.7 million individuals currently work in lower-wage healthcare positions with the need in the next five years rising to 10.7 million.
  • Trends project 6.5 million healthcare employees will permanently leave their positions by 2026 with 1.9 million people replacing them.
  • Demand for nurses is set to grow 5 percent in the next five years.
  • More than 900,000 nurses will leave, causing employers to need to hire 1.1 million more by 2026.

This shortage not only magnifies the need to recruit from a shrinking labor pool, it amplifies the critical importance for providers to retain the staff that’s already onboard. While staffing shortages exist across a wide range of healthcare positions, the need for nurses and CNAs seems to consistently lead the pack. And the cost of turnover for each position can be staggering.

Turnover InsightFor example, Becker’s Hospital Review recently reported, “The average cost of turnover for a bedside RN is $40,038 and ranges from $28,400 to $51,700, causing a hospital to lose $3.6 million to $6.5 million per year. Each percent change in RN turnover costs or saves the average hospital $270,800 per year.”

Attack Turnover by Attacking Burnout

A major factor for healthcare professionals leaving the workforce is burnout – worsened by the COVID pandemic. A survey by the Mayo Clinic revealed that 1 in 5 nurses say they are burned out. And according to National Nurses United, 68 percent said they have considered leaving their jobs.

Earlier this year, an excellent report on CBS Mornings featuring senior medical correspondent Tara Narula, MD, addressed the growing issue of burnout. While the segment focused on nurses, the lessons learned may be applied to any healthcare worker. I’m happy to summarize the key points of this report with a little extra commentary:

The term “burnout” may seem like a slang term for a frazzled emotional state of mind, but it is actually a measurable condition. Christina Maslach – an American social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley – developed the Maslach Burnout Index™ (MBI). In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized MBI as the global yardstick to gauge professional burnout.

MBI comprises scoring for three core elements:

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Depersonalization – leading to feelings of no connections with patients
  3. Dissatisfaction with personal accomplishments – which can take away hope, interest and joy from caring for patients, leading to depression

How does each member of your team rate on the MBI? You can find out more with the Maslach Burnout Toolkit™ for Medical Personnel.

Bright Ideas to Battle Burnout

So how can your organization take an active role in deflating burnout? Consider these six key steps:

  1. Establish a Chief Wellness Officer or equivalent position. Even if you already have a similar function in your HR Department, do you have a leader on your team that focuses exclusively on the well-being of your staff? The task is so important, and the financial implications are so huge, that this type of role may merit a full-time employee.
  2. Develop peer support groups. Your team is so busy caring for others they often don’t take time to care for themselves. Nobody knows what a job is like than others in the same position. Carve out time and space at a regular cadence for your team members to communicate and commiserate with their peers about the challenges they’re facing and gain support from each other.
  3. Empower your culture to talk about mental health. Many caregivers feel they have to be “the strong ones” so they can care for those who are ill. It’s easy to bottle up emotions. Some may perceive admitting they’re emotionally empty, mentally exhausted and on the verge of throwing in the towel as a weakness. Encourage your entire culture that it’s a strength to talk about mental health. Lead by example through sharing your own worries and stresses. Expressing emotions and feelings to others can be very cathartic and healing.
  4. Offer flexible hours. The most attractive employers are going to meet employees where they are and provide options that benefit the needs of their team members. If at all possible, offer flexible work hours, especially for hands-on caregivers. Enable them to work on a schedule that best suits their lives holistically, including breaks between workdays to refresh and recharge. Allowing workers to set or influence their own schedules also gives them some sense of control – an essential ingredient in battling burnout.
  5. Provide hazard pay or bonuses for appropriate positions. Many healthcare employers, especially hospitals, already instituted this practice during the height of the COVID pandemic. Some hospitals were paying nurses two to four times their normal rate for working weekends or overnight shifts at ICUs. Others offered significant bonuses for staff who worked overtime to cover shortages. The key is to establish clear policies on the positions, conditions and exact rewards of extra pay or other perks … and stick to them.
  6. Encourage ongoing education and training for wellness. Even as the challenges of this pandemic era lessen, healthcare workers are still going to be in high demand and short supply for at least the next decade. Staffs still run the risk of being overburdened. The emotional, mental and physical toll of caregiving never ceases. So don’t assume a “one and done” approach for a short season. Keep regularly educating, training and coaching your team on how to take care of themselves. The concept of putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others makes great sense.

Want an expert consultant to talk through these and other ideas for improving your culture and team dynamics?  Feel free to email me anytime at

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