As is very well known, the primary health sector experienced significant stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic above and beyond lockdown stressors. 58% of GPs and 79% of primary care nurses said in 2021-22 that managing fatigue and burnout was one of their top professional challenges.
Unfortunately, self-reported fatigue and burnout remain high in 2023. The University of Melbourne’s 2023 State of the Future of Work report surveyed 1,400 workers and found that:
- Australian prime aged workers are exhausted, less motivated about their work and unable to concentrate at work because of responsibilities outside of work. This is particularly true for women, whose out-of-work responsibilities have increased since the onset of the pandemic.
- Young and middle-aged workers (33 percent) are three times more likely than their older counterparts (11 percent) to report that they are experiencing difficulty concentrating at work because of responsibilities outside of work.
- Caregivers, who report increased burden as outsourced care became more difficult to access, and for many, the line between homes and workplaces became blurred.
- More than 40% of those with existing chronic illness spoke of a desire to quit – likely high because of the stress of COVID, and potentially also because of the effects of long COVID.
Therefore organisations are at risk of losing both prime age workers and younger promising workers due to fatigue and responsibilities outside work. Primary health workers report fatigue and burnout for many reasons including:
- Work stressors: COVID-19 testing, care, and vaccination stressors led to an increase in overall responsibility that exacerbated stressors at work. Some staff have subsequently left workplaces, placing more strain on those remaining. For example there are many staff that are completely new to general practice that require support.
- Emotional toll of providing care: Patients are generally presenting with multiple illnesses and, thankfully, are more willing to raise burnout and mental illness themselves, but this does create an emotional toll on health workers.
- Adapting to change: Rapid changes in patient expectaitons, protocols, guidelines, and procedures added to stress and fatigue.
- Lack of resources: Lack of financial resources for those bulk billing, or having conversations about private fees, can be stressful. Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies, and colleagues added strain
- Ethical dilemmas: Healthcare professionals might have faced difficult ethical decisions due to the different opinions about PPE and lockdown amongst patients and fellow staff, and these may have affected relationships.
Despite the challenges in 2023, the University of Melbourne report also uncovers an intriguing positive impact – many workers have found solace in Flexible work arrangements that were introduced during COVID and that are now, at least partially, continuing. Even clinicians have increased at-home clinical work, through telehealth. Remote and flexible work arrangements are now seen by many workers as crucial to their commitment to their current job.
What can we do to support workers?
- Promote a culture of wellbeing:
- Leaders should prioritise and actively support employee wellbeing initiatives, and set an example themselves
- Encourage open discussion about stress, burnout, and mental health, reducing stigma and normalising seeking help
- Recognition and appreciation of successes
- Workload management:
- Realistic workloads – ask employees how they feel
- Ask workers how you can help them better balance their personal and professional lives.
- Training and skill development:
- Recognising and preventing burnout
- Communication skills
- Mental health support:
- Provide access to counseling and mental health services
- Consider peer support programs
- Work-life balance:
- Help staff manage their lives by providing flexible work and leave policies
- Raise the importance of self-care practices such as exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies – and consider having joint staff sessions
- Technology and workflow enhancements:
- Streamline documentation processes to reduce administrative burden.
- Invest in technologies that enhance efficiency and accuracy – ask employees how to make tasks easier.
A multifaceted approach that addresses both individual and systemic factors is most effective in combating burnout and promoting resilience in organisations.
The University of Melbourne report also asks governments to focus on funding or legislating:
- universal high-quality childcare to support caregivers
- legislation to ensure workers’ rights to flexible and remote work, and
- equitable access to technological upskilling.
Our effort to support the health industry
Larter has been offering education and training for health professionals for 13 years.
Our newest module is “The Importance of Self-care and Avoiding Burnout”. It is designed and delivered by medical educators and practice management educators.
This module is strengths-based and provides attendees with resources to
- identify early signs of burnout
- recall strategies to assist staff in managing the demands of work, and
- describe the benefits of putting in place staff well-being programs to ensure appropriate work-life balance.
Ideally it is a one-hour model – 45-minute presentation with a 15-minute Q&A session. However, we have also delivered 40-minute lunchtime sessions. If you would like to discuss your education needs, contact us via email@example.com