Amy Stewart

COVID-19 has taken a toll on staff, and many are reporting feeling upset, depressed, guilty and disconnected due to the workplace demands and the pandemic. What can I do to help them?

Staff displaying these symptoms may be suffering from moral distress, an emotional state that occurs when a person knows the morally right thing to do but some constraining factor prevents that action.

During COVID-19, staff may be unable to “do the right thing” because of limitations on healthcare. For example, a nurse who knows a terminally ill patient’s family cannot visit  but who cannot personally sit with the patient because of staffing constraints, experiences a violation of the nurse’s core value not to let a patient die alone. Such distress has residual effects, especially if it occurs frequently. 

To increase resiliency to moral distress, staff need to examine their emotions and discuss how they are feeling. This may require nurse leaders to take initiative, ask staff how they are feeling and encourage self-expression. It is important for staff to acknowledge what is happening and express why that feels wrong. 

There are several other ways to help staff to improve resiliency. Consider launching a positivity campaign, in which staff start each shift with something positive or state three things they are thankful for. Encourage self-care, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising and taking breaks. One way to do this is through a wellness campaign for staff. Nurse leaders should set the tone by also voicing positivity and participating in self-care and breaks. Lastly, some employees will need to seek personal support; make information on your employee assistance program available as a resource.