When your job is to care for others, you can too easily forget to care for yourself. Healthcare workers often overlook their own mental health needs because they are more focused on keeping patients safe and giving the best care possible. But prioritizing your and your team’s mental health is essential, especially during the ongoing pandemic. By being present and promoting a supportive environment, leaders can help their teams cope with stress in healthy ways.

Caring-for-Others-Title-Graphic.jpgThe pandemic’s impacts on mental health
Since the onset of the pandemic, healthcare workers have had to work harder and face new challenges, leading to significant negative mental health effects. They have witnessed a new level of human suffering and confronted the fear of what it would mean for them and their families if they contracted COVID-19. During this time of added stress, associates are having to adapt to new facility policies and deal with staff shortages that create higher demands on the workforce. In order to maintain a positive work environment, leaders have to recognize these challenges and provide support through creative solutions.

Warning signs that your team needs support
Although associates may not outwardly express feelings of sadness or anxiety, there are often other clues you can spot that indicate high levels of stress. Pay attention to how your team members are interacting with one another. If associates are easily frustrated or experiencing mood swings, they may be dealing with high levels of stress. If they are more forgetful than usual, working overtime to catch up and neglecting self-care or missing work frequently, they may be overwhelmed.

Supporting your team during stressful times
Supportive leaders must be as available as possible for their teams. Importantly, they prioritize mental health by finding creative ways to approach problems and remove obstacles and barriers to getting work done. When they notice associates overworking themselves, they encourage them to take breaks, even if that means the administrative staff has to help out with coverage at times, and support time off requests to allow time to recharge.

Being aware of and receptive to associates’ thoughts and concerns is another important part of creating a supportive environment. Leaders can meet with small groups of employees to hear their ideas for improvements in the workplace. Being present when associates are gathering in the mornings or at the beginning of shifts also allows leaders opportunities to make recommendations and suggest resources to help associates handle stress in a positive way. Since the stigma of mental health often deters people from seeking assistance, leaders can normalize the process of accessing resources by recommending to their teams some of the mental health organizations around the country that offer free support for healthcare workers and their families.

On an organizational level, promoting gratitude goes a long way. At Medxcel, we encourage team members to recognize and celebrate each other’s successes through our Medxcel Moments program. Associates and leaders can praise, thank and reward their coworkers through a web app or with certificates.

Some hospitals have implemented resiliency training to help associates build skills necessary to cope with stress. Others set up relaxation lounges or renewal spaces to provide associates with a soothing environment during breaks. Music, lighting and comfortable seating help to create a tranquil space where associates can recharge.

Practicing self-care as a leader
Leading a team through stressful and unprecedented times poses its own mental health challenges. Facilities as a whole have seen more retirements and higher turnover recently, which means leaders have to hire, train and integrate more new associates into the culture of their organizations. While dealing with the pressures of today’s environment and allowing team members to turn to them for guidance, leaders shouldn’t neglect their own mental health.
Exercising regularly and keeping a proper sleep schedule are important aspects of maintaining positive mental health. As an added benefit, when leaders model the behavior, associates follow their lead.

Facility-wide benefits of positive mental health
When employees are taking care of themselves and feeling supported by their teams, they tend to feel good about their jobs and look forward to coming to work. Positive mental health leads to less absenteeism, less turnover and overall organizational wellbeing. Associates are more engaged and productive when they feel surrounded by a positive environment and supportive team, which benefits the rest of the staff and improves the quality of care patients receive.
To learn more about prioritizing mental health and helping your team cope with stress, check out Season 2, Episode 9 of our podcast, Outside the Patient’s Door: “Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others with Tom Flanagan and Jennefer Pursifull.”