COVID-19 has put unprecedented strain on the healthcare workforce, challenging clinical resources, and departments supporting the clinicians. Healthcare CIOs worked extremely hard to transition their organization towards a remote workforce during the pandemic. While organizations are putting together a plan to manage remote workforces, leaders must now build a new culture with new philosophies for managing teams remotely, highlighting burnout prevention.
Studies have shown that remote workers increase their average workday by 8.2%, equating to an additional 48.5 minutes daily. A survey by online employment platform Monster found that over 69% of employees experience burnout while working from home. Increased work hours, coupled with things like homeschooling of children, increases stress and adds to burnout risk. Here are some of the things healthcare CIOs can do to help alleviate employee burnout.
Remember that work is not a location
Work is not a place that employees go to, but rather an output of their effort to advance the organization. This has to be the new motto for CIOs—and it should be a motto that leaders can use to promote work-life balance. Healthcare technology teams include established professionals, and they should be trusted to complete their tasks without being in a particular location. If leaders do not trust their employees, then they probably should not have hired them.
Harris Health System’s IT department, which I lead, has allowed its team members to work remotely for the past few years, and the department’s working environment has not been affected by the pandemic. As the Texas-based health system embraces the new normal, leadership has exemplified a forward-thinking approach by extending either full time or hybrid telecommuting to the entire workforce so long as employees can successfully manage tasks remotely. Full-time telecommuting is not the norm for healthcare providers, so Harris Health System leads the way here.
Provide employees with more personalized feedback
When it comes to managing burnout, even small gestures can make a big difference. Some healthcare leaders are making a special effort to recognize outstanding performance, so employees know their efforts are valued. Small tokens of appreciation, such as personalized cards and gift baskets, can increase employee engagement. CommonSpirit Health Division CIO, Anna Turman, mails a personalized card with a small gift to 30 different employees and managers monthly. These modest signs of recognition help boost morale when the typical healthcare IT workforce works over 60 hours per week to support the clinicians fighting the pandemic. Her positive employee engagement score is testimony to the success of her efforts.
Create “virtual watercoolers” for sharing information
IT employees working remotely miss informal communication and watercooler chats. CIOs should utilize existing collaboration tools in their portfolios, such as Microsoft Teams, Webex Teams, and Facebook at Work, to create a watercooler group to drive employee discussions. Healthcare CIOs can learn from the City of Ashville CIO, Jonathan Feldman, and his virtual informal watercooler setup. Jonathan encourages non-work-related discussions in the watercooler group, setting the foundation for relationship building among remote team members.
At Harris Health, I have adopted bi-weekly town hall meetings to share updates and engage with all of the staff to discuss our strategy—but most important of all, it is a forum for leaders to listen. Seattle Children’s CIO Zafar Choudry also takes a similar approach, sending out weekly CIO messages that include words of motivation and learnings from recent books that he has read, incorporating personal challenges during COVID-19.
Monument Health CIO Stephanie Lahr utilizes social media platforms such as Facebook Live to showcase employees’ cooking skills with a virtual event. The team also shared content regularly on its IT Facebook page. Healthcare CIOs are learning to be even more social, designing online experiences that complement offline, in-person interactions.
Reduce video meeting times.
Video meetings add additional stress to employees. Having back-to-back video meetings for eight hours straight is draining for staff. Healthcare CIO’s should focus on cutting down meeting durations to allow for breaks and thinking time. Currently, many organizations have their video meetings set for 30- or 60-minute sessions. Tech leaders should establish a different expectation for video meetings to combat burnout. Health First CIO William Walders sets the expectation that video meetings will be only 20 or 50 minutes in duration, allowing for a gap in the meeting schedule.
The healthcare industry has traditionally frowned upon a remote workforce. Now many organizations are offering telecommuting work options, and that means CIOs urgently need to reflect more deeply on the risks of burnout. If tech leaders fail to act, then the health systems they work for might end up seeing more IT employees becoming their own patients by filing for worker’s compensation or working at a competing health system that offers the work-life balance.