December 13, 2022

Burnout in healthcare workers is a real issue, don’t let it ruin your holidays

Are you concerned about burnout this season? Here are 4 tips to help protect yourself and your staff from burnout

The holidays are typically a joyous time to gather with family and friends, but for healthcare professionals, it can be an added source of stress. With already heavy workloads leading to burnout, physicians and medical staff may find it harder than ever to stay focused on their well-being during the holiday season. 

What is burnout for healthcare workers? 

Physician burnout, a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of decreased personal achievement, is caused by long-term, unmanaged stress in the workplace. 

The Mayo Clinic reports that 63% of physicians face burnout each week due to long-term unmanaged stress in the workplace and heightened demands from Covid-19. 

The busy holiday season adds to the burden on physicians’ mental health. 

“November and December are typically the busiest months of the year in healthcare, with patients rightfully trying to fit in as many appointments, imaging exams, and lab work before their deductibles reset in January,” said Dr. Michael May, Medical Director at the Wimpole Clinic.

Independent practices are no strangers to the devastating effects of burnout, ranging from decreased provider engagement and morale issues to poor care delivery. 

To ensure your practice is well-prepared for the holiday season, read these 4 strategies that will help you stay one step ahead in supporting mental health, so everyone at your private practice stays merry and bright this year. 

Strategies to help providers care for their mental health and fight healthcare burnout

1. Support practitioner engagement with regular recognition

For practitioners working through the busy holiday season, feeling unappreciated at the office can erode morale. Especially if your practice keeps non-traditional hours or provides emergency or urgent care services.

Ensuring they feel seen and recognized for their efforts is essential to combat burnout during the holiday season. 

“Whether it’s another physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, imaging technologist, call center representative, scheduler, courier, administrative assistant, intern, or janitorial staff, they are an instrumental part of the team and deserve to be reminded of their importance,” said Dr. Brett Mollard, a radiologist at TRA Medical Imaging in Tacoma, Wash. 

“Doing so is essential to supporting the mental health of your team during the holidays.” 

The effects of commending colleagues for a job well-done go beyond fighting stress and burnout. When workers believe they will be recognized for their efforts, they are 2.7x more likely to be engaged in the workplace

Engaged practitioners put patients at ease and measurably contribute to patient retention. A patient experience study by PatientPop, a Tebra company, found 44% of patients said they would switch practices for a provider who was a better listener. 

“Acknowledge staff achievements and help celebrate their wins,” Mollard said. “Thank them and let them know you are proud of them for making excellent patient care a priority,” he added. 

2. Encourage exercise 

Mental health is directly linked to physical health. Physical exercise reduces stress while releasing endorphins and can directly influence the effect physicians have on their patients’ health outcomes. While physicians know the benefits of regular physical exercise better than anyone, they often fail to meet recommendations for physical activity

“Especially during the busy holiday season, it’s critically important to ensure all of your basic needs are met, including physical activity. In addition to getting enough sleep and eating a well-balanced diet, make sure you exercise a few days a week,” said Mollard.

Practices can support providers and staff in caring for their health during the holiday season by encouraging and incentivizing physical exercise. Cover the cost of a gym membership for the holiday season to get healthcare workers started on an exercise program. Doing so will support providers’ mental and physical health and encourage healthy habits as we enter the new year. 

3. Encourage team members to practice gratitude, and do so as a team 

Sometimes, the only thing we can change is our mindset. Practicing gratitude is a way to notice and appreciate the positive aspects rather than focusing on the negative. 

In the office, practicing gratitude can become contagious, said Mollard. “Not only does it help prevent burnout, but [gratitude] also helps create a positive feedback loop. The more grateful we are, the more those around us are likely to express gratitude, too,” he said. 

Mollard suggested these 3 ways for physicians to practice gratitude during the holiday season. 

— When you pass by a staff member you see regularly, stop and say “thank you.” They will be pleasantly surprised and it will make their day.

— Think of your patient as a friend or member of your family. Create a backstory for them if necessary. This will help you to feel more connected to them and invested in their care. 

— Start the day thinking about 3 things you’re grateful for the day ahead. Encourage those around you to do the same. For example, “I am grateful for my morning cup of coffee, my ergonomic desk, and the friendly techs I’ll be working with today.” This will help to set the tone for the day and put you and your team in a more positive mindset

4. Make sure staff get some time off to spend with loved ones 

Time away from work is an essential tool to support mental health. One literature review by the Mayo Clinic found that adjusting scheduling is an effective way to lessen burnout. And during the holidays, it’s extra important to ensure providers get time off to spend with family and friends. 

Alexander Sanchez, MD, Attending Psychiatrist at North Jersey Psychiatry Services recommended that senior providers manage their schedules to compensate for increased requests for time off. 

“Staff and colleagues will also inevitably request time off to celebrate and to use their allotted PTO,” he said. “It would be wise when building your own schedule to include blocked times to address any urgent issues that require coverage or your attention.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of the holiday season. Especially with increased patient visits at a busy practice, providers may not be effectively caring for their mental health. 

Practices can help lessen stress by fostering a healthy workplace culture. 

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