There is an adage that states, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

King Solomon, said to be the wisest man that ever lived, said, “There is no new thing under the sun.”

How do these sayings relate to healthcare? How do they relate to clinician burnout and turnover  in a hospital, skilled nursing home or assisted living?  Sit back, put up your feet and let’s take a stroll down the healthcare memory lane for a bit.  

If you have been in the healthcare industry for any length of time you may never remember a time there was an overabundance of clinicians. Sure, your staffing levels may have been up to par per your labor budget or staffing regulations, but were all your positions filled?

Do you remember what happened when you received the notice from the 11-7 supervisor that they were leaving the company? Or how you felt when they recruited a few other staff members from the same shift?

Let me remind you.

Grieving staff losses

You used all five stages of the grieving process. You quickly moved from ignoring the resignation (denial), dismissing the employee as a bad seed (anger), offering them more money and paid time off to rescind the resignation (bargaining), driving the long way home with the radio off (depression), and finally to beginning interviews and realizing that you might have to pull some 11-7 shifts while performing all your other duties (acceptance). We have all been there! 

The loss of employees happens for many reasons. Increasing wages or benefits could be an answer, but many times leadership at the grassroots level cannot affect this change. More frequently than not, the employee thinks a change of scenery or more benefits will do the trick. It has been my experience that financial increases satisfy for a limited time when leaders don’t manage effectively.

I propose there is a widely known, but little used, secret that helps with employee burnout and eventual turnover. This solution — what some refer to as servant leadership — takes thoughtfulness and introspection, but it will save you valuable employees. 

Retaining quality employees saves you money, stress and citations. It will help build the facility’s clinical care, which in turn transforms your reputation.  So where do you start?

I suggest you begin by changing your focus. It is a common mistake to pursue a blanket goal. For instance, the goal of “getting out of agency” has been heard far too many times with little or no effect.

Over-ambitious goals set by the leadership team do nothing more than discourage and exhaust the people who are tasked with implementation. Over-ambitious goals lead to unattainable goals.

Focus on smaller attainable steps to create a process. Analyze your staff losses first. What clinical positions are open in the facility? Have someone qualified verify the positions and staffing ratios are correct. Be clear and concise. Every position matters. Keep in mind your goal of thwarting burnout, and remind others of the goal consistently with a singular focus.

The quickest way to ease the stress on others is to take care of the employees you currently have. Don’t neglect the people who have stayed through the tough times (including a lethal pandemic).

Leadership is now pressured to meet and exceed existing regulations, navigate the physical and emotional stresses of the healthcare profession, and meet new regulations.  If the goals are not presented in bite-sized pieces for everyone to digest, they lead to unrealized goals. This circular reasoning brings us back to over-ambitious goals not being achieved, a feeling of failure, anxiety, and potentially low self-esteem, which contributes to employee burnout.  The cycle continues as, one by one, your staff leave for greener pastures. 

Leading through service

We live in some amazing moments in long-term care. There have been many changes in the landscape in which we live and work. Change always brings with it new challenges. However, one principle remains unchanged: the principle of strong leadership. Techniques for leading others tend to take on the popularity of the day.  But witty catch phrases and pizza parties will never fill the holes broadened by a lack of compassion.

Leaders provide the tools for others so they can move as a group toward a goal. Review your staff each day for signs of burnout. Encourage others to take their breaks and lunch to clear their heads and come back refreshed.  Leaders protect the processes that have been established to create a streamlined work environment. Resist the temptation to abandon processes that led to the achieved goals. Once a goal is reached, make it a pillar of your daily operations.

Leaders continue to point their co-workers in the right direction to maintain energy and celebrate continuous achievement. When others see you are engaged and believe in the standards you promote, they are more apt to give unwavering support to the standards you set. In a constantly changing world, people attach themselves to a manager that cares about them, sets clear expectations and communicates constantly.  You may be the only unmovable rock in their lives.   

Finally, use humor to lessen stress on the job.  Proverbs 17:22 tells us, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Always keep in mind we work alongside people who are fulfilling a calling, not just showing up for a job.

Preventing burnout in your clinicians begins with leadership.  Show them you care about their physical and mental well-being, and the results will speak for themselves. 

Jason Davies MBA, NHA, CPM is the administrator at The Gardens at Wyoming Valley in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.