Everywhere I see headlines about “The Great Resignation.” Many are pontificating about why people are leaving jobs or about unemployed individuals’ motivations for choosing to delay looking for a new position. However, I am particularly concerned with the employees who are left behind to pick up the slack as open positions remain unfilled. These changes in the workforce have created an enormous burden on these healthcare professionals, all while patient volume remains the same or increases. This burden falls on the direct patient care staff as well as support and management in healthcare. There is only so much they can absorb.
On the surface, leaving open positions unfilled in hopes that current employees will expand their capacity and work more efficiently seems like an effective way to cut costs. As someone who has worked in healthcare finance for decades, I can understand this line of thinking, but caution against this near-sighted approach.
COVID burnout is on everyone’s lips, and while the potential for burnout for employees who remain at understaffed organizations is certainly related and exacerbated by COVID, the burnout these workers are experiencing is distinct. The long-term financial costs associated with widespread burnout among staff would be staggering, to say nothing of the loss of integrity and the trust of our communities by failing to show proper concern for our employees’ well-being.
Name your priorities.
Part of the solution to prevent burnout in the employees who have chosen to stay in your organization must be to discern what tasks, responsibilities, services, and processes are essential to the operation of your facility and your mission to provide quality care for your patients. Anything outside of those priorities needs to be placed on the backburner for the time being.
One possibility as hospitals choose what to prioritize is to introduce automation where possible in order to ease the burden on employees who are spread thin. Even before the pandemic began, I advocated for the use of automation in hospitals’ back offices. Automation was viewed with skepticism in the healthcare industry, yet the past year a half has brought on the necessary embrace of automation technology from grocery stores to restaurants to reduce possible disease-spreading contact and respond to the lack of workers to fill customer-facing positions. Healthcare must follow suit.