Reducing Stress for Nurses During Flu Season

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How to help your colleagues cope with a challenging time of year

The human toll of the 2017-2018 flu season can’t be overstated. The CDC received reports of some 180 pediatric deaths between October 2017–May 2018. Looking back over the past 15 years, 2017-2018 was the only season universally classified as a high severity flu season across all age groups, according to the CDC’s new methodology used to evaluate the impact of influenza.

Beyond the human toll of such a season, healthcare providers found themselves stretched to the limits both in terms of treating the illness and taking measures to avoid becoming sick themselves. Nurses in particular work endlessly administering vaccines, treating patients, and educating others as to methods of illness avoidance. Yet they have children and their own health to keep in mind all the while, creating a months-long high-stress situation.

The worst part? It’s back again. Right or wrong, many are preparing for the worst as we head into another flu season.

How can hospitals implement policies to reduce stress on their valued team members during the most trying time of the year? Answering this question correctly could be the difference between retaining top team members of suffering unusual turnover during the next several months.

“It’s about a three-pronged approach—execution, communication, and knowledge,” said Will Eadie, global vice president of sales and strategy for WorkJam, an employee engagement app used by healthcare organizations.

These strategies are provided by the real-life examples offered by customers as recently as last year. When areas as large and as populated as Dallas are affected so heavily, it’s a good news/bad news situation: millions of people are potentially affected, on one hand, but on the other hand the amount of data that emerges from such a predicament can be invaluable to future planning.

“You have to focus on giving the nursing community the necessary training to protect both themselves and their patients,” Eadie added. “From an operational standpoint, it comes down to communication. Many hospitals are still relying on paper trails, emails… there’s a lot of stress on nurses simply in terms of being able to access the proper information, or ability to communicate with other team members.”

Scheduling adds an additional layer of stress. How many shifts need to be picked up due to demand or due to callouts from sick team members? “If I don’t feel well, how do I call off in this situation?” asked Eadie.

Obviously, patient care is the first concern, but scheduling is also critical. Utilization of WorkJam allowed healthcare providers to not only access and view their schedules, but in case of their own illness they were able to offer the shift to their fellow team members. This created an ‘open-shift marketplace’ for nurses, in Eadie’s words.

“The two sides of not feeling well and needing rest, but not wanting to overtax your coworkers and the inability to afford not to work are all considerations,” said Eadie. “So with the open-shift marketplace, you’re giving the nurse the ability to feel good about finding someone to work in their place.”

What’s more, the existence of this marketplace allows the nurse to lessen the economic impact on their own income by ensuring that there will likely be shifts available for pickup in the near future when they’re feeling better and back on their feet. The end result? Patients receive quality care from healthier nurses, and the sick nurses are given the appropriate time to recuperate and removing the threat of infecting coworkers.

“You feel better getting your shift covered on Thursday,” Eadie offered as an example, “when you know you’ll be able to pick one up Sunday, and not put yourself at a disadvantage financially.”

From a management standpoint, the ease of delivering information reduces the stress of running 3-4 meetings per shift to address scheduling concerns and coverage issues for sick employees.

“Putting all three prongs to this approach together into one deliverable—that’s where we really feel you have that high level of execution.”

Eadie and WorkJam authored a white paper entitled “A Day in the Life of an Engaged Healthcare Employee” that takes the reader through how a typical day at work is eased by this method of communication, while taking occasional glimpses at the potential pitfalls avoided through this method of communication.

“It’s not just work—these (coworkers) lean on one another for support, and that work stress can bleed over into their home lives,” said Eadie. “If they can spend less time managing those concerns, they have an extra half-hour, an hour a day to spend at home with themselves, their families.”

Ultimately, an idea that arose as a solution to managing stress becomes a tool for training and engagement, as that extra time at work can now be used for training or even the development of tools for departmental consumption, ie. a paper or presentation entitled ‘Five Ways to Reduce Stress at Work.’

“We’re trying to engage these nurses,” summarized Eadie, “and impact the workplace experience. If we can give them a happier workplace experience, that alone greatly reduces stress.”

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Rob Senior
Rob Senior

Rob has 15 years of experience writing and editing for healthcare. He previously worked for ADVANCE from 2002 to 2012.

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