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Mitigating Burnout During the COVID-19 Crisis

April 2, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unimaginable toll on our human, material, and financial resources—globally, nationally, as communities, as hospitals, and as individuals.

As hospitals plan and implement crisis-of-care emergency operations, leaders must not marginalize efforts to address staff well-being. In an industry where 30-50% of staff reported burnout BEFORE COVID-19, the stress, workload, fatigue, and moral injury that can result from this pandemic will likely have long-ranging effects on all of us physically and mentally. We already have seen results from China reported in JAMA where staff showed evidence of depression (50.4%), anxiety (44%), insomnia (34%), and distress (71.5%) utilizing validated surveys.

Well-being in this chaotic context will require us to learn and lead together. Two sources include the National Academy of Medicine Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience and the National Center for PTSD, informed by their experience with our military forces and first responders.  

Leaders can mitigate burnout in crisis:

1)  Communicate. Honest communication—calmly, with confidence, and often. Reducing chaos reduces burnout.

2)  All voices. Listen to voices at all levels of the organization. They will inform you of what barriers to execution exist. More than ever, be visible, present, and approachable.

3)  Nimble teaming. Command, but resist command and control. Nurture a culture of psychological safety. No matter how much you think your executive team knows, the situation is evolving at far too rapid a pace. Create a team of nimble teams to address problems that need to be solved.

4)  Ask for help. Let people help and be willing to show vulnerability and ask for help. Staff want to be able to help, want to know how to help, and want to know that their help is important.

5)  Respect. Role model respect and dignity in every interaction.  

6)  You. It’s no longer about our four walls—ego-systems will not survive during crisis. Build an eco-system of partnerships and community now that will serve long into the future.  

High levels of burnout are an indication that the environment—the system—is toxic. Crisis is an opportunity to support our workforce and redesign our health care systems. 

Stop ignoring this CANARY in the coal mine.


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Burnout


Estes Park Institute burnout and leadership expert, Della Lin, MD, shares valuable advice and resources to mitigate burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic.