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The term “burnout” is prevalent in almost every industry, particularly in the healthcare industry. Burnout is usually associated with exhaustion, reduced workflow efficiency, and increased workplace errors. 

Burnout has long been a cause for concern in long term care, especially since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, which resulted in an increase in hospitalizations, infection rates, and deaths among senior residents. Countless studies document that caregivers faced increased workloads during the pandemic while receiving less medical equipment, having fewer nurses, and lacking social support at work. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that nursing homes have higher levels of staff burnout.

Even before the pandemic, long term care facilities were struggling with a staffing shortage. Now the situation has gone from bad to worse, developing into a national staffing crisis. Many direct caregivers like CNAs (Certified Nurse Assistants) and nurses work in a challenging environment, leading to high stress levels and burnout. 

Past studies have noted that there are three typical signs of burnout

  • Emotional exhaustion (feeling drained emotionally)
  • Depersonalization (adverse detachment from patients, colleagues, or clients)
  • The feeling of a lack of personal accomplishment or lack of autonomy to do one’s job

As for the factors that increase nursing staff burnout, they include:

Staff suffering from burnout symptoms because the facility has not adequately addressed how to deal with burnout.
Facilities need to address and learn how to deal with burnout to avoid medical errors.
  • Bullying from colleagues 
  • Working long hours
  • High staff turnover
  • Increased patient acuity
  • A high number of chronic or seriously ill residents 
  • Lack of sleep
  • Working night shifts 
  • Emotional drain from resident deaths
  • Inadequate pay

Caregivers now find themselves with the dilemma of caring for residents in a facility with a high patient-to-nurse ratio. This, of course, results in them feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Ultimately, these factors impact a caregiver’s mental health, which affects the quality of care given to residents. 

If facilities do not address and learn how to deal with burnout, there is a high chance that their staff will make more medical errors leading to adverse patient outcomes, poor quality of care, and an increased risk of depression from nurses. 

Why Nursing Burnout Recovery Is Crucial

While it is common to believe that burnout is an individual’s problem, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently classified “burnout”—in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)— as an occupational phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress and has not been appropriately managed. 

The WHO also states that workplace burnout is the responsibility of organizations and facilities. It is up to leadership to avoid and prevent burnout in their facilities, and if burnout does occur, the blame should not fall on the burned-out individual. 

Still, the WHO does not classify “burnout” as a medical condition. So if an organization chooses to address staff “burnout,” this stems from their own initiative as an effort to improve employee satisfaction and mental well-being in the workplace. 

For organizations and facilities that want to prevent staff burnout, the WHO’s occupational health guidelines provide advice for organizations looking to manage burnout recovery and improve their employees’ occupational health. 

As mentioned earlier, in long term care facilities, staff burnout is prevalent due to the high-stress environment. Staff often make critical medical decisions that impact residents’ lives. Therefore, leadership needs to be more conscious and knowledgeable about avoiding mental and physical burnout. 

A part of understanding staff burnout recovery is for the facility’s management to recognize staff burnout symptoms. Some recognizable symptoms include noticing the facility’s staff:

A nurse is lacking in work satisfaction because the facility has not implemented any burnout recovery strategies.
Managing burnout recovery improves employees’ occupational health.
  • Becoming cynical or critical at work
  • Being reluctant to work and having trouble getting started
  • Becoming easily irritable or impatient with colleagues or residents 
  • Lacking the energy to perform consistently and productively
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lacking work satisfaction from meaningful work achievements
  • Feeling disillusioned about their job
  • Using food, alcohol, or drugs to feel better or to disengage 
  • Experiencing problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing unexplained physical ailments, such as headaches, stomach pains, or bowel issues

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6 Tips on How To Treat Burnout  

Caregivers are always at risk of physical or mental exhaustion. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) reports that at least 50% of primary caregivers report burnout symptoms, such as emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a low sense of professional accomplishment. But unlike other professions, if caregivers’ symptoms are ignored, the adverse effects can be catastrophic, leading to poor work performances, critical medical errors, and high staff turnover rates.

Therefore, facilities must take precautions on how to treat burnout so they can adequately handle the staff burnout when it occurs. Some effective strategies that facilities and individuals can adopt include:

1. Develop a Strong Team Culture

A crucial part of dealing with staff burnout is fostering the development of strong relationships in the facility. When the facility’s primary caregivers feel emotional or distressed, having someone to lean on and talk to can help alleviate stress. Furthermore, building a supportive team culture in a facility can help nurses share and balance workloads, especially if a particular caregiver cannot cope with their current work situation. 

2. Set Work and Personal Life Boundaries 

While it may not be easy to separate work and life, it is critical for caregivers to find a balance between their work and personal lives. Facility leadership needs to encourage their nurses to be more present and mindful, both at work and at home. They should advocate best practices for mindfulness, such as leaving their thoughts, feelings, and work grievances at work. When they are home, they can focus on their family and friends and do things that they enjoy.  

3. Get Enough Sleep

One can never understate the value of sleep. It is good practice for everyone to have a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep every day or night. Whether a caregiver is working a day or night shift, they should be encouraged to adjust their sleeping patterns, depending on their work schedules. 

A tired nurse suffering from burnout because the facility has not addressed how to treat burnout.
Facilities must take precautions on how to treat burnout to improve mental health.

Some of the many benefits of sleep include:

  • Better overall health
  • Healthier body weight
  • Lower risk of serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease 
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood, alertness, concentration, motivation, and stamina
  • Better decision-making, hence fewer medical errors

4. Don’t Ignore Physical and Mental Health

Even though caregivers have busy schedules and long working hours, it is still imperative for them to find the time to exercise regularly and have a healthy diet. Breaks and work leaves help caregivers rejuvenate their bodies while giving them a mental break from work. Also, having a healthy diet and eating certain foods like oily fish and berries can help rejuvenate brain cells.

5. Regular Therapy Sessions

If the facility’s budget allows, leadership should offer counseling or therapy sessions for their caregivers. This gives them the chance to offload any grievances they may have in a private and safe space. Alternatively, facilities can also organize group therapy sessions to encourage open and honest communication between the management and other team members. 

6. Improve Working Conditions

Facilities can improve the working conditions of their staff in several ways. One practical method is implementing an effective long term care software system that can improve and automate some administrative tasks. With state-of-the-art tools like an electronic Kardex, efficient point of care charting, and more accurate documentation processes, caregivers spend less time on paperwork and spend more time with residents. 

Learning How To Deal With Burnout

While it is essential to recognize the symptoms of staff burnout, it is equally crucial for facilities to learn how to deal with burnout more effectively. The healthcare industry is facing a staffing crisis, with many caregivers leaving the industry and opting for more manageable, less stressful jobs. 

If staff burnout is ignored, it will lead to poor quality of care, increased medical mistakes, charting errors, and incorrect medication administration. All these will negatively impact the facility’s reputation, census levels, and ultimately, the facility’s financial stability. Therefore, it is essential for leadership to address staff burnout issues immediately so as to avoid problems further down the line. 

For more on recent trends in long term care, read our blog and subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast

Cindy Wong
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