Apr 23, 2020 | Leadership Best Practice Communication

How to Maintain a Bright Outlook in Hard Times—Hospital Edition

It’s no secret that strong morale leads to positive outcomes in the workplace. But keeping your team’s spirits high can be difficult on most days—and in times of crisis, that challenge multiplies. How do you even begin to care for yourself and your team?

Coronavirus has thrown a wrench into a lot of systems, but that doesn’t mean a bright outlook is impossible. Here’s why you should prioritize your staff’s mental and emotional health, plus a few ways you can improve or maintain a positive outlook (both as a manager and as a team).

The Mental and Emotional Toll on Healthcare Workers from Coronavirus

COVID-19 is sending more patients into hospitals, more healthcare workers into high-stress environments, and more materials into the SPD for reprocessing. While the world outside of healthcare and other essential services has slowed down to nearly full stop, the world inside of healthcare facilities is busier than perhaps ever before.

Hospitals that are on the front end of the pandemic are creating processes and systems to gear up for higher demand, while those that are already in the middle of the crisis are doing their best to provide the best quality care while facing shortages of beds, ventilators, and personal protective equipment. Healthcare workers are daily facing busier, more stressful shifts, while being exposed to the novel virus.

On top of their own physical health risks, healthcare workers are also at a higher risk of mental health issues due to the increased stress and strain, not to mention repeated exposure to patients who are at the very end of their lives. The combination of repeated trauma and ongoing high stress are a cocktail for mental and emotional dysfunction that—if not properly addressed—could impact staff for the rest of their lives, while also negatively influencing their work and patient outcomes.

Frontline healthcare workers are at particular risk. A recent study out of China surveyed 1,257 health workers exposed to coronavirus disease and found that roughly half had depression symptoms, while 44 percent experienced anxiety, 34 percent insomnia, and a shocking 71.5 percent experienced distress. The rates were higher across the board for frontline workers: “Frontline healthcare workers were 52.0% more likely to have symptoms of depression, 57.0% more likely to have symptoms of anxiety, 60.0% more likely to experience distress, and almost three times as likely to have insomnia than those who were not on the frontline,” Medical News Today reported.

In the short term, these symptoms can weaken morale and lead to inter-staff conflicts and increased staff turnover. They can also damage efficacy on the job and hurt patient outcomes. In the long term, unaddressed symptoms could lead to chronic depression, PTSD, or other ongoing mental health issues that negatively impact staff, their families, and the healthcare facilities where they work.

When we’re not in the middle of a crisis, the mental and emotional health of staff should be a top priority, but the crisis we’re in right now highlights exactly how important it is. Hospitals can’t afford to lose team members due to preventable, treatable mental health issues—so prevention and treatment must be priorities.

Five Ways to Improve or Maintain a Positive Outlook (for Managers and Their Teams)

What can you do to support the mental and emotional health of yourself and your team?

Keep Lines of Communication Open
Don’t leave your team members in the dark. The last thing your staff needs is unnecessary stress due to poor communication or having no avenue to voice their concerns. Open communication is a must. Provide your staff with regular updates on how your facility is facing the current crisis, the status of your PPE supply, and anything else they need to know to either do their jobs or have peace of mind while working. Be sure to also give your staff a way to reach you with their concerns or frustrations—and put a process in place to respond to those concerns in a timely manner. Your staff are on the front lines, living in the middle of a lot of risk every day they come to work. They deserve to be informed and to have their voices heard and respected.

Design Your Schedules to Prioritize Rest
Do not overwork your people. We repeat: Do not overwork your people. Stress already takes a toll on both mental health and the immune system. A lack of rest will only exacerbate those problems. Schedule shifts that will be sustainable in the long term. Avoid relying heavily on overtime work or doubles. Your staff need time away from work in order to bring their best selves to work, so make sure your scheduling allows them the time and space to de-stress and practice self-care.

Encourage Mindfulness and Other Self-Care Practices
In times of high stress, mindfulness can work a wonder by grounding people in the present moment and silencing tomorrow’s worries. If you or your staff aren’t familiar with mindfulness, Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, is offering U.S.-based healthcare workers a free subscription through the end of this year. Other self-care practices include: limiting your media (including social media) consumption, exercising, keeping a diary, and connecting with friends and family (while, of course, practicing social distancing).

De-Stigmatize Mental Health
Along with being open about what your institution is doing to handle this crisis, it’s important for you to be open with your staff about the toll this may take on their mental health—and the need to address any mental health struggles that develop or are triggered by their workplace experiences. If your institution doesn’t already have a streamlined process for helping staff members secure mental health counseling or therapy, put one in place or identify local counselors that staff can easily contact for remote therapy sessions. Don’t wait for staff to ask for this service—provide it before it ever crosses their mind.

Encourage Staff to Talk About Non-Work and Non-Coronavirus Topics
There’s a lot to process right now, but with coronavirus news and updates and concerns just about everywhere they turn, your staff may need to get their minds on something else. Encouraging your staff to talk about other things can relieve some of the stress, while also fostering deeper relationships that can serve as peer supports for staff whose family or friends may not understand what they’re experiencing at work. Try posting an ice-breaker or goofy conversation topic in the break room or finding a way to gamify work within the SPD. As a bonus, these efforts can replace actual team-building activities that you may not have time for right now.

The current coronavirus pandemic is dominating a lot of our thoughts and minds, and that makes sense. It’s an unprecedented crisis and healthcare workers are on the front lines. In the face of elevated stress, a bright outlook may be more important than ever. How are you supporting your staff?