Even before COVID, there was a high level of exhaustion in healthcare. Caring for patients is a stressful job by nature, but amid a nursing shortage, nurses and doctors were working strenuous hours and were emotionally taxed. Patients’ needs came first, which meant our doctors and nurses were putting their own health and well-being on the backburner.
And then the pandemic turned the healthcare world upside down. The nursing shortage got worse as stress and burnout resulted in more nurses quitting and looking for jobs outside the high-pressured hospital setting. Coupled with that, health systems have seen an uptick in violence toward caregivers. There are more reports of verbal and sometimes physical abuse, adding to stress and caregiver trauma. Many of our caregivers feel as if the rest of the world has moved on from COVID, but in many ways, healthcare has not.
Supporting the holistic well-being of our caregivers
In this context, at CHRISTUS Health, an Irving, Texas-based, Catholic not-for-profit health system, we knew we had to do more to support the holistic well-being of our 50,000+ employees (“associates”).
We already offered a wide range of programs focused on the physical, emotional and financial health of our people, including chronic condition management, back-up child care, virtual tutoring for students, and financial assistance programs. But we decided to build on that foundation to help our caregivers and other associates build resilience.
Launching a multi-faceted resilience campaign to support caregiver holistic well-being
We were really looking for a comprehensive way to support our caregivers, and so we introduced a variety of new programs that included:
- Holding regular Lunch & Learns and webinars to help our associates develop coping skills and interpersonal skills so they can have healthier, more productive communications and relationships with others.
- Providing rooms where people can go and rest, to take a break during the work day and eat healthy snacks or get a massage.
- Offering yoga, meditation, and other classes onsite to promote holistic well-being.
- Extending our employee assistance program (EAP) to include live chat with licensed therapists, and establishing an “e-chaplain” service to make it easier for caregivers to talk with a spiritual care leader or ask them for a word of inspiration.
- Providing executive coaching to our clinical leaders, nursing directors, and other leaders to help them better address themes coming out of our associate engagement surveys.
- Providing Calm Business as a day-to-day self-care tool for associates to reduce stress and anxiety in the moment as well as helping them build resilience through Calm Workshops
- Addressing burnout and building resilience outside of work, e.g., for our communities affected by natural disasters.
Calm supports our caregivers and family members anytime, anywhere
Calm supports the resilience of our associates on a day-to-day basis. Everyone is comfortable using the Calm app no matter where they are from a mental health or emotional well-being perspective. An EAP is great for an associate who needs to speak with a clinical therapist and can wait for an appointment, but Calm is right there the minute they need it. Whether they need to reduce stress in the moment, manage a panic attack, or fall asleep after a night shift, Calm is readily accessible. The content is so easy to use, and there’s something for everyone.
We’re seeing CHRISTUS Health leaders take advantage of Calm to help them get meetings off to the right start, for example. One of our cultural traditions at CHRISTUS Health is to begin a meeting with a “reflection,” which could be a prayer, an inspirational story, or anything that sets a positive tone for the meeting and reminds us of our culture and core values. A lot of our leaders have used a Calm breathing exercise or other resource as the reflection.
For associates, one major highlight has been the content and tools to help them get better sleep. And what I love about Calm is that we aren’t just touching our employees, we’re touching people employees touch. The ability to share Calm with five family members is huge. A lot of our parents use Calm to help their children fall asleep, and I personally use Calm multiple times a week at my children’s bedtime.
Calm Workshops offer insights and practical tools to improve well-being
In addition to the Calm app, we’ve introduced Calm Workshops as part of our resilience campaign to support the mental well-being of our caregivers and other associates. The training is highly interactive and addresses a variety of topics from mental health literacy and minimizing stress and burnout to the power of resilience and getting better sleep. Everyone walks away with practical tools they can apply to their daily lives to make a real difference in their well-being.
We hold Calm Workshops regularly, and we always receive positive comments about both the training and the Calm app experience. People tell us how much they love Calm and how their whole family uses it.
Exceptional employee engagement and satisfaction
In fact, Calm has been an absolute hit with our associates and brings a huge return on investment from an employee satisfaction perspective. When we introduced Calm, more than 5,000 associates signed up for the app in the first five months, which rarely happens. Overall, 20% of our staff have enrolled in Calm, and 69% continue to use it on a regular basis.
Putting caregivers first, inside and outside of work
Our caregiver support needs to recognize that our associates experience stress and burnout from sources well beyond the workplace. In 2020, on top of COVID, some of our hospital communities experienced two devastating hurricanes, and so many of our associates lost everything. At the outset, we didn’t know where to start in supporting them, but we quickly decided to deposit $500 in every employee’s account to help with food, gas, and other necessities.
From that experience, we started a long-term approach and set up an employee hotline so that anyone could ask for help anytime, whether facing a small crisis or a large disaster. We learned that in a time of darkness, our CHRISTUS Health community rallies around each other and provides hope. As a result, we’ve seen higher associate engagement, stronger retention, and lower turnover in those communities. I firmly believe it’s because we showed up when our people needed support the most.
Every health system is seeing high rates of caregiver stress, burnout and turnover. As they extend themselves to care for patients in difficult circumstances, they need more support themselves. Providing the resources and support to help your employees reduce stress and burnout, inside and outside the workplace, can do more than get them through challenging times. It can foster employee loyalty, strengthen retention, and build a healthier healthcare workplace in the long run.