Self-Care Is Critical for Workers’ Wellbeing, Especially in Health Care
May Is Global Employee Health and Fitness Month
MERCERVILLE – Before the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals were reporting that they were experiencing “burnout” and the public health crisis has exacerbated this situation. The World Health Organization (WHO) characterizes “burnout” as feeling energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance or feelings of cynicism related to their jobs; and reduced professional proficiency. It can also be connected to depressive disorder in some cases. These circumstances reinforce the importance of self-care, which is the focus of Global Employee Health and Fitness Month (GEHFM). The goal of this month is to promote “the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to employers and their employees through worksite health promotion activities and environments,” as described on the website (https://www.gehfm.org/). The National Association for Health and Fitness, which founded GEHFM, argues that employee health is a strategic component to an organization’s success in addition to an employee’s long-term health. The focus of this month can be beneficial to the behavioral healthcare workforce, which is experiencing increased burnout and staffing shortages.
Burnout in the healthcare field is common due to the emotional and psychological work that comes with providing care, in addition to long work hours and administrative tasks. For example, electronic health records that have a poor user interface can reduce efficiency and become time-consuming. This results in healthcare workers becoming exhausted and having less time to spend with their families and engage in self-care, such as fitness. In many cases, healthcare workers leave the field, which is exacerbating the shortage of workers. Additionally, employee burnout and lack of self-care can result in individuals becoming dissatisfied with the services that they receive. Employees may become less involved with patients and hinders the relationship that they would develop with them to promote recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for behavioral health services, which has resulted in increased work-related stress and burnout for behavioral and other healthcare workers. Frontline employees reported experiencing difficulty sleeping, physical and emotional exhaustion and work-related dread, according to a survey conducted by Mental Health America. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the burnout rates that exist in behavioral health care. The uncertainty, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, resulted in many workers feeling that they had no control over what was happening. Healthcare providers also had to transition to working remotely
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and providing virtual services for the populations they serve. Employees had to adapt to a new
working environment overnight. There is also a shortage of behavioral healthcare workers. They make low wages that have made it difficult to attract and retain qualified mental healthcare and substance use treatment staff at all levels. The behavioral healthcare field needs more funding in order to increase salaries and be more competitive. Fears related to COVID-19 have also led to staff resigning and increased difficulty hiring while the demand for mental health and substance abuse services continues to increase.
“The shortage of behavioral healthcare workers is significantly contributing to employees experiencing burnout as workloads increase for the meaning employees when staffing is not at full capacity. Employers can promote and encourage healthy living. Healthy employees are happier, have more energy, are less stressed and more productive. Self-care, such as maintaining healthy eating habits and exercising, can help reduce feelings that are associated with burnout and maintain – and even improve – mental wellness,” said Debra L. Wentz, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc.
GEHFM seeks to improve the quality of life for all individuals by promoting physical fitness and sports. Encouraging integration of health and wellness practices in the workplace has a positive impact not only on a person’s physical health, but also on their mental health. For example, exercise can naturally reduce anxiety because movement releases endorphins that relieve tension and stress while increasing mental and physical energy. Fitness also reduces brain inflammation and can create patterns in the brain that promote calmer feelings, which can lead to stronger resilience. Behavioral health staff who practice self-care can also encourage the individuals whom they serve to do the same. Therefore, fitness and self-care contribute to a healthier New Jersey following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers also benefit from investing in the health of their employees. Healthcare workers who practice self-care will be more engaged with tasks and the individuals they serve. They will also be less likely to take time off because of illness. Additionally, employee morale will increase, thereby creating a more supportive work environment that will reduce the likelihood of burnout. These factors will improve organizational productivity and can contribute to the success of an organization in a post-pandemic world.
The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA) is a statewide trade association representing more than 150 organizations that serve New Jersey residents with mental illness and/or substance use disorders, and their families. NJAMHAA members may be found in every county and almost every community statewide. They serve more than 500,000 children and adults each year and contribute to the economy through 61,000 direct and indirect jobs. NJAMHAA’s mission is to promote the value of its members as the highest quality behavioral healthcare providers for the residents of New Jersey through advocacy and professional development.