Reading time 5 minutes
Employee burnout has become a concern for organizations in every industry. Long hours, increased workloads, and a “results at all costs” mentality are taking a toll on America’s workforce. And nowhere is this more evident than with our public health employees who were strained to their limits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This post outlines some of the challenges public health employees face, which could have dire consequences for our nation moving forward. We’ll also outline five ways public health departments can help alleviate–or prevent–employee burnout.
The Concerning Rise of Public Health Worker Burnout
Historically underfunded and understaffed, public health departments faced disproportionate burdens from the COVID-19 pandemic. Local health departments were short-staffed and using outdated technology. Public health workers had to raise awareness, promote interventions, advise leaders on policy, and track COVID-19 data within their communities. As a result, they worked large amounts of overtime to keep up with unprecedented workloads and ever-changing situations. It was a scenario that guaranteed worker burnout.
According to the 2021 Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS), more than half of public health employees report at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, and 25% reported experiencing three or four PTSD symptoms. In addition, 41% of public health executives felt they were “bullied, threatened or harassed by individuals outside of the health department.”
When burnout leads to public health staffing crises
The increased burden on public health employees and resulting reports of burnout are alarming. Almost one-third of public healthcare workers said they are thinking of leaving their organizations in the next year. A shortage of staff within public health affects the health of our communities and weakens our defense against future public health threats.
PH WINS co-author de Beaumont states, “Understanding employees’ reasons for leaving is critical for improving recruitment and retention. Among the reasons most often cited by employees who said they are considering leaving were work overload/burnout (41%) and stress (37%), both of which were significantly higher than in 2017.”
The problem has become so severe that U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, issued an advisory in May 2022, declaring the health worker burnout crisis a national priority.
“When PH WINS respondents were asked what they needed to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (aside from additional funding), more than half (51%) cited additional staff capacity. Continued underfunding of public health, combined with the high levels of stress, burnout, and turnover detailed in this brief, could have detrimental effects on the workforce’s ability to meet the needs of the public for years to come.”
—de Beaumont & ASTHO
Take Action to Retain Staff and Alleviate Burnout
Recognizing the potential threat of a public health employee shortage and understanding the importance of public health to the nation’s health is the first step in addressing the problem.
Here are five actions public health departments and organizations can take to help alleviate and prevent burnout among their employees.
- Value and protect employees
Public health workers are part of our societal backbone. Their role in keeping communities healthy and safe cannot be understated. To this end, public health departments need to make it clear that they value their employees by paying them a fair living wage, giving them adequate paid time off, and managing workloads.
- Provide support for physical and mental health
Only so much can be done to reduce workplace stress in a field like public health, where the demands of the job include dealing with the public and navigating emergent situations. Providing wellness programs and services to help workers manage and reduce stress, as well as improve their physical and mental well-being, is imperative.
- Create a Culture of Community
Creating a sense of community within an organization can help employees feel supported. Welcoming employee input during workplace meetings, modeling positive company morale, and encouraging teamwork among employees can strengthen the bonds within an organization. Workers who are supported by their administrators and co-workers are likely to be more productive and satisfied in their positions.
- Prioritize Work-Life Balance
All work and no play makes for unhappy, stressed employees. It’s essential to encourage public health workers to connect with others outside the workplace and take care of themselves physically and mentally. Employees who pursue personal interests, spend time with friends and family, and take time away from work can return relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle the challenges of their workday.
Allow staff to have contact-free time, and don’t send communications and requests outside of working hours. Encourage them to be fully present at work, and at home.
- Reduce Administrative Burdens By Automating Workflows and Outreach Management
Outdated technology systems put a high strain on public health departments, often causing them to perform or duplicate tasks manually. This leads to entry errors, increased burdens on resources, and employee frustration. Incorporating up-to-date, highly configurable, integrative solutions like those offered by People.Health can automate workflows, empower employees, and reduce costs.
Because there is no one-size fits all solution. People.Health has a suite of productivity solutions that can help modernize workflows for education, communication, engagement, operations, and data integration within public health organizations.
Caring for those who care for our communities
The health of our communities depends on our public healthcare workers. If we don’t take care of them now, we face dire consequences in the future. However, increasing the public healthcare workforce will take time.
In the short term, local health departments should look to technology solutions to streamline systems, improve workflows, and lessen the burden on their workforce.
Contact People.Health today
to learn more about how our solutions can work for you and your communities.