by Karen Lehman, MHS President/CEO
Burnout, exhaustion, stress, anxiety, depression or just an overall blah feeling are real issues that many of us are experiencing right now. As pandemic restrictions are starting to lift and there is movement toward normalizing our lives again, many of us are dreaming about gathering with family and friends and doing other activities that we love. We should be excited to return to our “normal” activities, but instead, many of us find ourselves unable to shake off the feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. The pandemic upended our lives and changed everything about the ways that we related and behaved, it’s no wonder there is real trauma that many are experiencing as a result.
As a leader, this past year has required constant vigilance and diligence:
- Navigating regulations and mandates
- Keeping residents, those served, and staff safe
- Shutting down homes, programs and communities
- Restricting families from gathering with loved ones, etc.
And now, there’s a sense that there is a need to make up for the lost time on our strategic focus. The business needs leadership’s focus now more than ever, but the inspiration and challenge looking toward the future may not be as apparent as it once was.
Your front-line employees take the brunt of many of the problems or challenges that your organizations face. Residents, individuals served, and family members usually take out their frustrations on the people that they see and know. Besides the constant vigilance and new policies/procedures they experienced, direct care workers are most worried about jeopardizing their own health, their family’s well-being, and the challenge of work demands and home balance. And many have had personal loss from Covid-19 or have experienced loss of residents or individuals that they served. It’s been an incredibly challenging time for your staff with little end in sight.
More people than ever are re-thinking their work, considering their passion and commitment, and asking hard questions about the risks and rewards of working in the health and human services industry. Is it worth it? These are tough questions, especially in this time when you need all the staff you can get and don’t want to lose those you have.
So, what are the solutions or way forward from all of this?
After reading a lot of articles and seeking wisdom from experts, I think the first step to take is to name what you are feeling. This seemingly simple act has been shown to rebalance your brain’s neurochemical activity to allow you to engage in better problem solving. Then assess your life and work patterns. If you haven’t taken time off to rest deeply and recharge, consider doing that. Or find new ways to refresh and/or set greater boundaries for work/life balance. For leaders, the organization needs you to be in your best health – you are the role model and example for the organization. Taking care of yourself might mean a medical or physical check-up and talking to a professional if deeper support is needed. Exercise, rest, healthy eating, and permission to take care of yourself, because if you don’t, nothing else you do is going to matter. Recharging yourself can re-set your commitment and passion for the work you do. Maybe you need to reconsider how you are working and develop new strategies for building the team and for invigorating the vision for the future?
It is much easier for an executive to get away from the work setting, and so much harder, if not almost impossible, to provide the same kind of opportunity for front-line staff to do the same. But if you have staff leaving because of burn-out, loss of passion for those being served, tired of working overtime, and prolonged time in trauma-producing settings, you are perpetuating your cycle of recruitment and retention. Keeping good team members is the most important thing you can do!
Last week in a CEO networking meeting, Loralei LaVoie from Oregon Mennonite Residential Services (OMRS), shared a recent experience with a staff member resignation. Loralei immediately reached out to the staff member to learn why they were resigning. Upon hearing that it was due to burn-out and exhaustion, Loralei agreed to take the staff person off the schedule and gave them a number of days off. She asked the employee to consider waiting to resign until after time away. And at the end of those days away, the employee did not resign but returned to work more refreshed. This required Loralei and the team to work hard on covering those shifts, likely other staff had to work overtime to accommodate them, but she saved an employee from resigning!
The best thing we can do is to recognize and honor the varying perspectives or situations that people today are feeling. There are many ideas and potential “solutions” that can be offered in order to begin to restore ourselves, and our team members. Maybe it’s as simple as taking the time to give voice to and acknowledging the feelings, and, like Loralei, offering new solutions or options for consideration. We’d love to hear your stories about how you are navigating this time. MHS is here to support you, our members, in any way that we can. Collecting and sharing your stories is a wonderful way for us to learn from each other as we continue to fulfill our mission and purpose.