What is causing burnout during the pandemic?

While burnout can come from a variety of sources, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic’s impact on those on the front lines is still being revealed.

A recent survey by The Joint Commission gathered the comments of more than 2,000 health care workers on what is causing their burnout. The results were published in the Feb. 2 issue pf the Sentinel Event Alert.

The major causes of burnout identified by the respondents included:

  • Fear of the unknown: This is rooted in unclear, confusing, or contradictory guidance from leading sources about which precautions should be taken to prevent spread of the disease compounded by shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), certain medications, and medical devices.
  • Fear of getting sick: This fear was high among health care workers, especially those who were more likely to experience serious complications from COVID-19 due to their age or pre-existing conditions. These fears are, again, exacerbated by shortages of PPE which has led to rationing in some areas.
  • Fear of bringing the virus home: A large number of respondents expressed fear of bringing the virus home especially to older family members and children, which has led in some cases to health care workers staying in hotels or making other arrangements to limit exposure in their home.
  • Staffing issues: The greatest issue facing health care organizations across all settings, with many citing the need for increased communication with staff, increased work from home, and staffing shortages.

The Joint Commission makes a number of recommendations on ways to support health care workers. These include:

  1. Foster open communication to build trust, reduce fears, and sustain morale.
  2. Eliminate barriers keeping health care workers from seeking mental health services and develop support systems for institutional and personal resilience.
  3. Protect workers’ safety.
  4. Develop a flexible workforce by determining which tasks can be completed from home.
  5. Provide workers with chances to collaborate, lead, and learn.