It’s no secret that many long-term care staffers are grappling with feelings of stress and burnout following their pandemic experiences. Burnout affects workers on a personal level, and it can also impact the functioning of teams.
Researchers distinguish between “brittle” and “resilient” teams. Brittle teams have drained tangible or emotional resources after a crisis, with lingering problems or discontent and difficulty responding effectively to new challenges. Resilient teams, on the other hand, can adapt quickly to new stressors in a manner that supports team functioning and allows them to maintain viability.
Industrial-organizational psychologists studying hospital-based teams have found that pandemic-related burnout can impair team decision-making, increase errors and heighten irritability and conflict. Their suggestions for hospital staff can be applied to nursing home teams, many of whom have encountered similar stressors.
One way to build team resilience and help staff overcome the demoralization common after the sudden and extreme losses from COVID-19 is to focus on team triumphs.
Acknowledging workers for a discharge well-handled, successfully treating a medically complex case in-house or calmly diffusing a tense conflict between residents can remind teams of their effectiveness, purpose and value to the organization.
Acknowledgment can take many forms, including a compliment from a supervisor, a note to add to an employee’s file or a unit-wide pizza party.
A second technique is to increase role clarity, or the understanding of who is supposed to take care of specific work functions and under what circumstances. Role clarity is more likely to become muddled when new workers join the team and organizational knowledge is lost, a situation common to long-term care, especially when old-timers have departed.