Making thoughtful changes to create healthier work environments for caregivers can help organizations address many of the challenges facing healthcare today. Investing in a positive work experience not only strengthens your people—it can foster better patient care.
We cover the current drivers impacting well-being and retention with actionable ideas that can help renew and revitalize caregivers in the short and long term.
The State of Nursing Today
Despite these large numbers, shortages are a real concern. Pre-pandemic, research showed that there would be a shortage of 5.7 million nurses by 2030. But the impact of COVID-19 on the nurse population has been unprecedented, making staff shortages a key challenge for healthcare leadership today.
Many are considering leaving the profession, and nurses at all levels are facing the effects of chronic stress. A study from the American Organization for Nursing Leadership found that nearly 75 percent of nurse leaders identified emotional health and well-being of staff as their top challenge amid the pandemic, up from 50 percent who said the same in July 2020.
In addition to the concerns about mental and emotional health, other challenges like an aging workforce, burnout, work-life balance and even violence are placing pressure on nurses.
“I am concerned about burnout and the mental health of the nurses and care providers working today who are living more loss and trauma in a week or month than they may have seen in their entire career…I don’t think we can underestimate the reality of turnover.”
April Hansen, RN, MSN, an executive vice president of workforce solutions and clinical services at staffing agency Aya Healthcare
Caring for Nurses in the Short Term
These are complex, multi-faceted issues without simple solutions. But there are strategies that healthcare organizations can implement to help create supportive, health-promoting environments for caregivers to feel their best and provide the best care. In the short term, organizations should consider how to:
Raise Awareness of Noise Pollution
Alarms, ringing phones, overhead pages and more can create noisy and often stressful environments for both caregivers and patients in a care setting. “Noise pollution” or any unwanted or disturbing sound is often associated with traffic or aircraft noise, but it’s also a reality for busy healthcare systems that detracts from healing spaces.
Place a decibel reader in various locations throughout the facility to understand the level of noise throughout the area. Many healthcare workers become desensitized to a noisy environment and may not realize that the ongoing noise can disturb patients—or even impact their own physical health, sleep and concentration at higher levels.
Improve the Air Quality
To help support the health or caregivers and patients, organizations should monitor and improve the internal air quality. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of proper ventilation and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems. Poor ventilation can increase the spread of airborne, illnesses, which can negatively impact the health of anyone in the facility. This includes the nurses needed to care for the sick.
Frequently cleaning and replacing air filters are standard maintenance procedures that can help improve air quality in the short term. Researching and investing in the latest technology in the long term can support a more efficient and cost-effective process that helps create a safer environment from infectious diseases, bacteria, germs and viruses.
Limit Overtime Requirements
To help mitigate the risk of burnout for nurses, carefully consider any overtime requirements in place—both voluntary and mandatory. Overtime is often an unfortunate reality of the continued staffing crisis, but it can have a negative impact on caregiver health, retention and performance.
Longer shifts and few days off force nurses to sacrifice the time they need to rest physically and recharge mentally. Without this much-needed time, nurses may be more likely to burnout or contribute to small or large medical errors. Overtime can be a major income source for nurses, so establishing caps on weekly hours can help support balance and overall well-being.
Caring for Nurses in the Long Term
Short-term fixes are a good starting point, but to make the largest impact on caregiver well-being and retention, plan for these long-term initiatives:
Update Technology for New Workflows
A McKinsey study found that telehealth usage is currently 38 times higher than it was pre-pandemic. Experts believe telehealth usage will continue, solidifying this shift in how we provide and receive care.
Healthcare organizations should plan to replace any temporary telehealth set-ups with long-term, professional-grade solutions that support flexible workflows and improved communication between patients and providers. Choose a combination of mobile workstations with cameras that can move from room to room with wall-mounted workstations that offer a space-saving solution.
Be sure to also invest in videoconferencing technology and equipment that can be used between patients and families, especially when isolation is required. When selecting any new equipment, choose solutions that offer a variety of noise level settings to support a positive caregiver and patient experience.
Invest in Ergonomic Solutions
Caring for nurses in the long-term goes beyond technology updates. It’s about recognizing the importance of ergonomics, neutral postures and the balance between movement and rest. In a recent survey, 95% of respondents said that better ergonomic equipment could improve their well-being at work.
In today’s digital healthcare environments, caregivers spend hours each shift completing documentation. It’s critical that this time spent at a computer is health-promoting and does not add mental and physical stress. The right ergonomic solutions are height-adjustable with easy monitor movement that provides a personalized charting experience.
The option to sit or stand allows caregivers to choose the right position for them—whether it’s standing to quickly add vital numbers or sitting to complete a more comprehensive task.
Commit to New Mental Health Programs
Beyond caring for caregivers’ physical wellness, leadership should also make an equal commitment to foster caregivers’ mental well-being. Healthcare has always had stressful work environments, however, staffing challenges coupled with an ever-evolving global health crisis have contributed to overwhelming levels of stress and burnout.
Think beyond band-aid measures like gift cards and free meals, and instead offer expanded mental health services to all employees, such as counseling programs. Accommodate regular debriefs among teams to share concerns and other feelings that may help co-workers support each other and alleviate mental stress.
Create Resimercial Spaces
There’s no better time to recommit to caregiver well-being than during a redesign or new build. The residential-commercial trend (“resimercial”) is already ushering in more home-like, warm designs in healthcare spaces to promote healing environments for patients. This can, in turn, benefit the caregivers who work in these areas daily.
Private rooms, careful sound-proofing and natural light can lessen distractions and uplift the spirits of nurses, providers and other staff. Incorporating medical vendors into the design process to ensure their products will be a good fit in the space or thoughtfully considering the placement of supply closets and other resources can also go a long way in improving the daily workflows of staff.
Build Environments for Caregivers to Feel Their Best
Even in fast-moving healthcare facilities, there are many opportunities to make small changes that can have a meaningful impact on caregiver well-being and retention. By creating environments where caregivers feel physically and mentally at their best, they’ll be able to better care for themselves and their patients. Listen to a full discussion about strategies for improving caregiver well-being here.