The clinical workforce is exhausted and straining to hold on after more than a year of trauma from the pandemic and other ongoing workplace stressors. Due to the current situation, approximately one out of every five clinicians is considering leaving the field. Therefore, leaders must find dependable ways to help revitalize their teams to avoid further losses and prepare for the road ahead.
The number of absences, turnover and health care workers leaving the field are already on the rise. As more people leave, the pressure on those who remain grows, creating a vicious cycle. This scenario can wreak havoc on the lives of clinicians and negatively impact quality of care and patient safety.
We are all aware that there is still a long way to go before we recover. However, health care leaders can be proactive in supporting clinical teams and ensuring their long-term sustainability.
Responding to Trauma
To begin, we can recognize that it’s possible for teams to regain a high level of functioning by addressing and learning from this experience. It comes down to the role that leaders play in promoting team well-being and creating an environment that fosters growth in the face of adversity.
The clinical literature describes how people who experience a trauma can benefit from trauma-informed care. Given that the pandemic affects the entire health care organization, it is becoming increasingly popular to apply these same concepts to a system-wide organizational response.
You can help health care teams heal from trauma and start to view adversity as an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. Indeed, research on clinician burnout suggests that as leaders you have more influence than you may realize over the well-being and motivation of your team. Consider the following three approaches as you explore ways to help teams rebound.
Too often, we fall into the pattern of reacting to crisis after crisis without pausing to contemplate our experiences. Instead, creating opportunities (i.e., time and space) for people to reflect on how the pandemic has affected them and what can be learned from the experience may be therapeutic. Reflecting on negative experiences can lead to increased self-awareness, the discovery of new possibilities, better interpersonal relationships, a greater appreciation for life and inner growth.
Studies have shown how beneficial journaling can be in the recovery process. In addition, sharing our experiences with one another allows us to make sense of events and turn negative thoughts into constructive observations. Experts agree that sharing stories of trauma can be empowering and leads to the formation of peer-support relationships. These connections can be a source of inspiration and hope.
2. Celebrate Wins
While acknowledging loss is appropriate and part of the healing process, we must be careful not to focus solely on the negative, as this can lead to despair and disillusionment. Rather, it helps to try to find the positive things that we may often overlook.
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer discuss the power of small wins. Seeing progress, no matter how small, can energize and encourage people to keep going. So, I encourage leaders to seek out wins and share them widely. You can remind clinical teams how their work is making a difference and moving things forward.
3. Envision the Future
Many organizations are experiencing a lack of communication, with people still waiting to hear a vision and detailed plan for moving past the pandemic. Anxiety results from being left in the dark, and it is hard to be motivated when you don’t know where things are headed or what your role is in getting there. On the other hand, planning for the future has been shown to improve psychological well-being and build encouragement.
You can be proactive in sharing the specific approaches for how the organization plans to move forward, including each team member's role in this strategy. Creating two-way communication channels for individuals to provide input, including concerns and preferences, encourages participation in the transformation process. By looking forward together, we maintain our focus on the future and provide hope.
As a leader, you can take action to help health care teams recover from this prolonged period of trauma. You can create a climate that allows people to respond to adversity as an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. Following this approach helps promote well-being and motivation as we prepare to face the challenges ahead.
- Elizabeth Grace Saunders EG, Six Causes of Burnout, and How to Avoid Them. Harv Bus Rev. 2019 Jul.
- Shanafelt TD, Gorringe G, Menaker R, Storz KA, Reeves D, Buskirk SJ, Sloan JA, Swensen SJ. Impact of organizational leadership on physician burnout and satisfaction. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015 Apr;90(4):432-40. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.01.012. Epub 2015 Mar 18. PMID: 25796117.
- Tedeschi RG. Growth After Trauma. Harv Bus Rev. 2020 July–August
- Amabile TM, Kramer SJ. The Power of Small Wins. Harv Bus Rev. 2011 May
- Olson K, Shanafelt T, Southwick S. Pandemic-Driven Posttraumatic Growth for Organizations and Individuals. JAMA. 2020;324(18):1829–1830. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.20275