Nobody enjoys being pushed to their limit. But after serving as essential personnel during the height of the pandemic, healthcare administrative teams everywhere are waving the white flag.
Pre-COVID, the MGMA reported a combined 30% turnover rate specifically among front office and operational staff – the highest of any other healthcare career category. Introduce a public health emergency, and burnout among administrative staff becomes an overwhelming problem.
New pressures for administrative staff have emerged surrounding patient and employee safety. Rapidly shifting procedures require adapting quickly to new and continuously changing protocols. Administrative leaders are also managing a team working from home, which comes with an entirely new set of responsibilities. Compounded by stress, exhaustion, and uncertainty, it’s no surprise that administrative tasks could bottleneck, as operational teams approach burnout.
As an engaged leader, you should already have a baseline understanding of employee morale. But it’s hard to prevent burnout if you don’t know the warning signs. We’ve compiled a few of the most common symptoms of employee burnout. When evaluating your team, keep an eye out for changes in behavior.
Employee burnout warning signs
- Easily angered or frustrated
- Lack of focus
If you start to notice your team displaying characteristics that are out of the ordinary, it’s worth digging deeper. Red flags include high achievers suddenly becoming unproductive, positive attitudes devolving into cynicism, and encouragement suddenly replaced by complaints. At first glance, it might appear that providing additional motivation is the answer. But if your administrative team is experiencing burnout, no amount of pep-talking is going to change it.
Your staff is likely overworked and unsure how to improve the situation, contributing to a cycle of exhaustion and discouragement common to those facing burnout. As a manager, it’s your job to pay attention to your employees, help assess the situation, and develop strategies to help your employees recharge, refocus, and destress.
With a greater number of administrative staff working remotely, operational teams face an entirely new set of workplace challenges. Many are caring for children – juggling the intricacies of distance learning and managing their usual workloads. Plus, many workers don’t have a designated working space in their home and may find themselves without access to appropriate office equipment.
Too much to do in too little time with too few resources can lead to stressed, desperate, and unhappy teams. Here’s what you can do to combat burnout.
Burnout prevention and redirection
1.Uncover the root cause
A team member that was once the definition of optimism now grumbles under his or her breath. Or your top performer demonstrates a noticeable decrease in productivity. Tasks are slipping through the cracks, and there’s an air of discontent during team calls. It’s become obvious your staff is experiencing some difficulties. It’s time for you to exercise your leadership skills and find out why.
What factors are behind these changes in behavior? Ask a potentially burnt-out employee questions that make it easier to broach the subject of burnout, like “How do you feel about your workload?” or “What would you change about your responsibilities?”
Perhaps issues have arisen at home that have crept into work life; maybe they’re dealing with illness. Any number of possibilities could affect their attitude at work, so it’s best not to guess.
Set aside time to have an open, gentle conversation with your employee, sooner rather than later, to uncover the root cause behind any changes in demeanor. Clear communication is an effective anxiety-reducer, so having a safe space to speak freely can be just what your employee needs.
The root cause might not be a work issue, but if it is, that means you can help.
2. Talk about Boundaries
The lines between professional and personal time can blur with employees now working from home. Distractions from children or spouses, in addition to a lack of routine, may only make things worse.
If someone on your team feels as though they’re falling behind, they may think that working longer hours is the solution to getting back on track. Starting work earlier, working through lunch, and continuing into evening hours or weekends may seem the fastest way to alleviate an overwhelming workload. But this technique often has the opposite effect, depleting what little energy they have left and speeding up the burnout process.
When you notice employees struggling with burnout symptoms, step in and help come up with strategies for setting boundaries. For example, you could work with an employee who struggles to ‘turn off’ to have a set time each evening to turn off the work computer and phone. Encourage them to take lunch breaks and set work aside on the weekends. It may not change the behavior right away, but making expectations clear will help lessen some of the pressure a burnt-out employee may feel.
3. Redistribute workloads
Another way to prevent burnout is by redistributing workloads. Understandably, you may assign your senior associates the most challenging tasks. But if they’re facing burnout because of it, it’s time to tack. Switch things up every once in a while by giving a more complex assignment to someone less experienced. Your senior associate will get a reprieve, and the less experienced employee will be challenged to grow in their role. Just make sure you explain to employees that you are lightening their workload for their benefit. The last thing you want is a disgruntled employee feeling like their work was taken from them due to underperformance.
You can also try introducing more task variety. For example, if you have a team member who solely researches patient benefits, why not have them work on prior authorizations (if he or she is qualified). Of course, maintain open communication with your team members about these restructures. The goal is to help reenergize your employees with new goals they’re excited to tackle, not add the pressure of more responsibilities beyond their scope or comfort zone.
4. Leverage support through tech solutions
Expanding or streamline your technology stack can help mitigate administrative burnout. More productive EHR software, for instance, helps staff work smarter instead of harder. Ensure the transition process goes smoothly by ensuring your professional teams can quickly learn and adapt to the new technology. Soon, you’ll notice that time-saving features in an effective EHR application enable employees to spend less time on each task, allowing them to take a breath between duties and avoid working themselves to the bone.
Streamlining employee workflows, while improving patient outcomes, must also stand to offer a reasonable return on investment. As an administrator, you’ll want to keep your organizational budget in mind. Ensure you choose software with the best functionality for your teams, at the highest value and best overall cost. Practice performance solutions offering all of these benefits are more accessible and affordable than ever, making it an easy decision to integrate new technology that better supports your administrative team.
Burnout among healthcare administrative staff was an issue long before the pandemic and has only been compounded by its impact. Employees may not even realize they’re in the midst of overwhelm. To escape the mounting pressure to perform well, they may end up making short-term sacrifices that lead them to further exhaustion.
That’s where exceptional leadership comes in. Management should provide a safe environment where communication, collaboration, and productivity-boosting strategies are encouraged. Holding discussions about healthy work boundaries and securing the right technology solutions are just a few of the ways that engaged administrators are preventing burnout and helping their teams perform at their best.