By Rhonda Basler
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the rate of nurse burnout — physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion resulting from chronic workplace stress — was at critical levels. And with nurses on the front lines of a global pandemic, threats to their mental and physical health have multiplied exponentially.
Nurses are deeply empathetic, and the nature of their role takes an emotional and physical toll. On top of that, supply shortages, understaffing, lengthened shifts, and safety concerns brought on by the coronavirus threaten to overwhelm healthcare providers globally. One-third of nurses experienced burnout before the crisis, leading to chronic job dissatisfaction, errors at work, and decreased ability to care for patients. Left unchecked, it’s clear to see how this becomes dangerous.
Understandably, burnout is also tough for retention. Nurses’ dedication to patients will help them through this crisis, but retention will suffer once the wave subsides. Nurses are high-value employees, and the cost of losing them to burnout can be drastic for a healthcare organization. Over the last few years, however, nurse turnover has risen (and it’s up to 37% in some regions). The population of qualified nurses is also aging, and nearly one-third will reach retirement age in the near future.
Nurses Need Human-Centered Customer Experience Strategies
It’s clear healthcare leaders want to preserve nurses’ well-being. Although resources are in short supply, there are immediate actions that can help improve nurse satisfaction and retention both during and after the coronavirus crisis. Leaders can borrow from companies that have successfully improved the customer experience and apply their human-centered design principles to improve nurse satisfaction. Here are three ways to improve the nursing experience now:
1. Create moments of surprise and delight. Moments of joy can offset burnout in wonderful ways. Follow the example of customer experience leaders and be intentional about creating these moments for nurses. So yes, do plan and schedule “surprise-and-delight” moments. Companies do this all the time when they want to entice customers to continue to purchase their products and services, and this can work for employee engagement, too.
Give nurses a reason to pause and smile. Plant a tray of healthy (or less healthy) treats in the staff room, write an inspirational quote on the whiteboard, or offer rewards such as movie passes. These gestures might seem small, but they’ll make employees feel valued and break up the daily grind.
2. Say “thanks” at scale. Gratitude is easy to bestow and important for showing nurses they’re valued. All leaders have good intentions about saying “thank you.” But in reality, it often isn’t said enough. The best customer experience leaders do this all the time; they regularly thank customers for their loyalty, which reinforces ideal behaviors.
Try celebrating nurses on International Nurses Day or during National Nurses Week — decorate the staff room, send cards, and make a fuss. Take advantage of holidays such as Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day by sending notes of appreciation or thank-you cards. But go further: Incorporate moments of appreciation into regular training updates. Build a library of written sentiments and personalized gifts so it’s easier to keep up the habit.
Scale appreciation efforts by enlisting the help of marketing, HR, and communications departments. Vow never to send a communication without a note of thanks. Finally, make sure to map out when and how to express gratitude formally and on schedule. Marketing and employee relations can be vital in creating a plan and sticking to it.
3. Support nurses’ emotional journeys. Leaders can also help nurses avoid burnout by showing up for their emotional needs. It’s amazing how many companies that provide great customer experiences intentionally create space for employees to be there for customers’ emotional needs. For example, Glossier’s “editors” interact with customers individually and are free to have conversations over whatever channel the customer prefers.
Give nurses ways to release their emotions so they don’t have to shut down. Tools such as meditation, yoga, and discussion can help people process (rather than suppress) frustrations and traumas. Don’t wait for a crisis to offer support — show up for nurses even when they seem fine. Acknowledge that they have lives outside of work by asking about their kids and parents. Show them that you’re there for them as people, and not just as nurses.
Companies that design great customer experiences do so by thinking about what customers need and how to connect with them emotionally and authentically. Healthcare business leaders can do the same for nurses. When leaders can support and appreciate their nurses as if they were valued customers, it can give nurses the confidence to ask for help and overcome the earliest signs of burnout. Emotionally supported nurses will have more space and energy to provide the emotional support patients need. When nurses are better cared for, they can better care for patients.
Rhonda Basler leads the customer engagement and marketing team at Hallmark Business Connections, Hallmark’s B2B subsidiary. Her passion is innovating human-centered and results-oriented approaches to customer experience, employee engagement, and omnichannel marketing, creating great ROI through human connection. Follow her on Twitter at @rkbasler.