As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Canada, many frontline senior care workers continue to suffer from extreme stress, with burnout rates approaching 50 percent in physicians and nurses. Female healthcare workers, who comprise 80 percent of Canada’s health workforce, are particularly vulnerable to burnout and stress related to COVID-19, because of their primary roles as parents and caregivers, according to the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME).
Characterized by feelings of exhaustion and energy depletion, as well as feelings of cynicism and reduced professional efficacy, burnout is a psychological syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Burnout has far-reaching repercussions and is estimated to cost the healthcare system $4.6 billion in annual losses.
If healthcare and senior care facilities don’t act quickly to create an organizational culture to better support employees working in healthcare, Canada will see significant and long-term impacts on its healthcare delivery infrastructure, says the University of Toronto research team.
In this article, we explore some of the concrete actions senior care facilities can take to support the well-being of its employees and prevent professional burnout.
Incorporating well-being into an organization’s structure is the key to effectively supporting staff’s well-being. A good way to ensure that well-being is an organizational priority is to include a Chief Wellness Officer (CWO) as part of the C-Suite, who can act as a change agent and promote well-being across the organization. To encourage the long-term success of well-being programs, the CWO should ensure that organizational interventions are both proactive (prevent burnout) and reactive (support those employees who are struggling).
As with any organizational endeavour, success requires a framework and clear guidelines to shape goals and establish alignment around priorities. One helpful framework for well-being is the Job Demand-Control Model, which examines well-being though the relationship between job strain, the ability to make autonomous decisions, and social support. According to this model, workforce well-being hinges on providing employees with adequate control over their work experience and offering the necessary tools to complete their expected responsibilities.
To help employees feel in control of their work, more efficiently manage their jobs, and feel more in control over their work experiences, organizations can consider introducing tools such as shift management and employee scheduling software, making many day-to-day processes—from callouts to staff communications and scheduling— more efficient and streamlined, thereby improving the employee experience and lowering stress in the workplace.
Supportive Work Environments
According to recent studies, allowing staff to engage in work they find most meaningful for just 20% of the week may help to protect them against burnout. By incorporating professional development as part of their workplace policies, with the goal of providing professional fulfillment as a positive work outcome, many organizations are taking the necessary steps to prevent workplace burnout.
A number of other support measures have been identified by researchers as policies that can positively impact worker well-being. These include financial support, manageable workloads, provision of rest areas for sleep and recovery, care for basic physical needs (for example, providing meals during shifts), access to leisure activities and on-call counsellors if needed.
Measure for Success
As with any organizational policy, measuring success is the key to determining what is or is not effective and whether or not goals are being met. Consider measuring the success of well-being programs using metrics that reflect well-being priorities, such as burnout and engagement rates.
With the right approach to measurement, and the right burnout prevention policies in place, senior care facilities can effectively support the well-being of its employees and prevent professional burnout during the pandemic.
Burnout Resources for Employees:
For those frontline senior care workers in Canada who may be sacrificing their own well-being in their efforts to combat COVID-19, social support services do exist:
CAMH: In response to the pandemic, CAMH launched ECHO Ontario Coping with COVID in support of connection, resilience and community among healthcare providers. With over 500 healthcare providers and residents registered, and numbers steadily growing as more professionals seek support, the new program builds on ECHO Ontario Mental Health, a virtual training model that supports providers to deliver high-quality, evidence-based mental health and addictions care in local communities. For more information on ECHO Ontario Coping with COVID, visit https://camh.echoontario.ca/echo-coping-with-covid/
Mental Health Commission of Canada: Leading the development and dissemination of innovative programs and tools to support the mental health and wellness of Canadians, the MHCC offers a series of resources for individuals coping with COVID-19 related mental health issues, including information and tip sheets, training, webinars and other resources. For more information visit: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/mhcc-covid-19-resources
The Government of Canada: Providing useful resources, tools and services to help improve and maintain mental health, this page includes links to crisis service centres and phone lines, distress centres, stress management tools, mental health activities, videos and more. For more information: https://www.canada.ca/en/government/publicservice/covid-19/protect-mental-health.html
Crisis Services Canada: Crisis Services Canada (CSC) is a national network of distress, crisis and suicide prevention line services that has been helping Canadians since 2002. CSC offers COVID-19 mental health resources, FAQ’s, links to other support organizations, as well as access to immediate suicide prevention and support. For more information: https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/
Caring for Health Care Workers: In partnership with the By Health, For Health Collaborative (the Collaborative), the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and HealthcareCAN, Caring for HealthCare Workers is a resource for Canadian healthcare organizations seeking to assess and promote workplace psychological health and safety. The Caring for Health Care Workers website offers a toolkit created specifically for healthcare organizations. For more information: https://caringforhealthcareworkers.com/resources
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: The CCOHS is Canada’s national resource for workplace health and safety. CCOHS resources include podcasts, webinars, courses and e-learning, and helpful health and safety fact sheets, all related to mental well-being. https://www.ccohs.ca/topics/wellness/mentalhealth/#ctgt_wb-auto-18
The Canadian Mental Health Association: Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada, with a presence in more than 330 communities across every province and one territory. The CMHA provides advocacy, programs and resources that help to prevent mental health problems and illnesses, and support recovery and resilience. The CMHA offers free online support such as training and tools, job specific strategies, workplace management techniques, and other resources for employees. https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/
Wellness Together Canada: Funded by the Government of Canada in response to the unprecedented rise in mental distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wellness Together Canada is a mental health and substance use website to support people across Canada and Canadians living abroad in both official languages. In partnership with Stepped Care Solutions, Kids Help Phone and Homewood Health, Wellness Together Canada provides no-cost resources such as immediate text support, information and videos on common mental health issues, mental wellness programs with or without coaching, and individual phone, video and text counselling. For more information: https://ca.portal.gs/
Providing care to others during the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and in some cases depression. How frontline senior care workers cope with these emotions can affect their long-term well-being, as well as the care they give to others. During the pandemic, it is crucial that frontline senior care workers take the steps needed to cope with stress and seek help when needed.
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