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

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. Such distress has residual effects, especially if it occurs frequently. It is important for nurse leaders to identify staff who are struggling and intervene.

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 for which they are thankful. Encourage self-care, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising and taking breaks. 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. 

Caregivers cannot care for others if they don’t take care of themselves. Effective support helps to restore staff members’ moral integrity and emotional well-being so that they can focus on patient care.