Healthcare Worker Burnout


caregiver supportHealthcare workers experience high levels of daily stress and anxiety that result in caregiver burnout. Women healthcare workers, in addition to holding down a job, are often caregivers for children, aging parents, and sometimes spouses.

Healthcare worker burnout from emotional and physical exhaustion are factors that influence the ability of employees to focus on caregiving responsibilities while at work.

According to the Journal of Gerontology, (1) Women healthcare workers who care for aging parents experience greater stress and more work conflicts than non-family caregiving peers. These caregivers report higher stress levels. While healthcare workers have a better understanding of medical conditions, they also feel guilty, powerless, and helpless when they feel uncertain about decision-making for an aging parent or spouse.

Mental distraction resulting from personal worries and anxiety cross over into the healthcare workplace. The consequences of personal problems in the healthcare workplace are poor attention to detail, mistakes, incomplete work, poor teamwork, and poor client care. Even the most dedicated healthcare workers have difficulty maintaining composure and focus when personal problems feel overwhelming and healthcare worker burnout occurs.

Healthcare Workers Take on a Higher Degree of Family Caregiving Responsibilities

Holding a position in healthcare does not mean that one is more or less qualified to be a family caregiver. It means that one has a position in healthcare with a specialization or focus in a single area.

healthcare worker burnoutHolding a healthcare position in a medical office, hospital, care community, or another setting is similar to being a college professor who biology.  A teaching specialization in biology does not mean that the teacher is an expert on the entire human body or in the subject matter of all college courses.

Expecting a healthcare worker to be an expert in all things medical is impractical. Yet sometimes family caregivers cross this boundary by asking for advice from a CNA, front desk office clerk or others.

The healthcare needs of aging parents spill over into many other areas of life. Family caregivers perform a full list of tasks that include coordinating and overseeing medical care, day-to-day care including evening, nighttime, and weekend emergencies, special diets, medication management, personal care, household projects and repairs, grocery shopping, managing finances, and responding to last-minute requests.

Healthcare Workers Have Specific Expertise

A perfect example of working in healthcare and not being an expert on all caregiving issues happened in my own family. At the time my mother’s health declined, my sister, who was a nurse working at the hospital, was the main family caregiver.

My sister carried the burden of being the only local adult child caregiver. My siblings and I moved out of state. We called and visited when possible.

My sister, with her own husband, children, and career was left with the major responsibility of caring for our parents. There is no doubt that she occasionally experienced healthcare worker burnout.

We as siblings assumed, as the research confirms, that my sister knew everything related to care services outside of hospital situations. We were like other family members today who assume that since a family member works in an industry they must be an expert in everything related to the industry.

The challenge was that my sister, wanting to be helpful, did not correct our mistaken beliefs. She was qualified and dedicated to her position as a hospital unit nurse secretary on the cardiac unit.

She did not have experience in the areas of oncology, the benefits of rehabilitation in a nursing home, home care nursing services, and a long list of other types of assistance that my mother needed. And we didn’t know any different.

Without my sister’s commitment to the care and well-being of my aging parents, they would have declined more quickly. She visited to take care of issues as they arose.

Her good nature and desire to help were commendable and appreciated. I don’t remember a single complaint during all the years of caregiving support she provided to mom and dad.

At the time both parents passed away, I suspect there had to be a sense of freedom from the constant worry and anxiety related to being constantly on call to be the caregiver for my parents. Family caregivers have an ongoing hypersensitivity to the reality that something will occur and they are ready to act. My sister was no different.

Female healthcare workers find themselves in similar situations. Wanting to be helpful, they rarely object to family beliefs about their skills or abilities. They continue to accept additional responsibilities until the point of reaching healthcare worker burnout and fail to ask for help

Caregivers experience anxiety about never having enough time in the day. “Seventy-one percent report not having enough time for their children, 63% report not having enough time for their spouse or partner, and 63% report not having enough time for themselves. (2) As a caregiving advocate responsible for large numbers of clients I felt the same way. Emergencies cropped up daily taking the time I thought I had available for other efforts.

Healthcare Worker Burnout Solutions

Research and surveys confirm that caregivers from all backgrounds, whether professionals working in healthcare or family caregivers desire more support and information. The obvious challenge is finding time to seek out, participate in, and use available information.

After a long day at work who wants another project? Yet healthcare worker burnout benefits from solutions that include education, training and ongoing support.

When a healthcare worker or family caregiver works 40 hours a week and completes caregiving responsibilities for another 20 or 30 hours, where does one find time for children, spouses, and self? There is no time and burnout occurs. The work and family balancing act is an ongoing challenge.

Concern exists about providing too much personal information to supervisors in the workplace about caring for aging parents. Healthcare workers are concerned that providing information about family concerns may place their work abilities in question, and they may be at risk of losing their jobs. Being able to take time off work to take an aging parent to a medical appointment is a worry.

Healthcare workers neglect their own needs. They show up for work, even when sick, because of concerns about lost income. The healthcare industry, unless one has an advanced degree or specialization, is typically a lower-paying field. Many healthcare workers are employed part-time. Few have healthcare benefits.

Supervisors have similar concerns. Supervisors want to express empathy for the personal family concerns of employees, but crossing the boundary from being a supervisor to a friend is worrisome.

Knowing too much about an employee’s personal problems can be uncomfortable. This knowledge can negatively affect workplace relationships. It is human nature to judge others for decisions and actions when information is known and worry exists about an employee’s personal problems interfering with work quality.

Supporting Healthcare Workers Who Are Caregivers in the Workplace

The most practical type of support is offered directly in the workplace. Support may be implemented in a variety of ways to avoid crossing supervisor and employee boundaries. This support can be facilitated by human resource managers or other staff. Support may include classes, discussions, online training, programming, or support groups.

This support may be offered to all healthcare staff as part of a company initiative to support caregiving in the workplace. This support also has the benefit of helping employees feel valued. Healthcare positions are stressful and other aspects, like workplace bullying, exist in the healthcare industry. Healthcare workers in lower positions are often treated poorly by physicians, nurses, and management.

Company leadership’s support of the importance of positive work environments has a positive effect on patient care. Reducing turnover should be a key effort. Collaboration between internal staff reduces workplace stress. Turnover also may be reduced by providing support and addressing feelings of overwhelm tied to being a workplace and a family caregiver.

The positive spillover of workplace programming is improved family caregiving skills and confidence to manage personal home situations. Increasing personal self-esteem and confidence translates back to the workplace. The responsibility of caring for patients is significant. Interactions with family members may be unpleasant. Training and support make healthcare workers feel valued.

Without training that supports interpersonal relationship skills, many healthcare workers make unintentional statements to patients or family members that must be smoothed over by management staff. A comment that “this is the way it is because the person is old,” may be viewed as inconsiderate. This is similar to a physician having a poor bedside manner.

While being honest is important, the method in which information is presented by the healthcare worker to family members makes a difference. Relating this back to workplace skills, a performance review can be positive or negative based on the presenter’s style. Making these types of comparisons may support learning in the workplace.

Ideas for Workplace Caregiver Training

  • Offer lunch and learn educational sessions about common caregiving topics. For example, a simple 30-minute course about managing emotions in the workplace or interacting with stressed-out family members.
  • Provide articles about a caregiving topic to support discussions. Ask healthcare staff and ask them to share and discuss experiences related to the topic.
  • Create an “I need a solution” box where employees can anonymously write about concerns in the workplace for discussion. Employees wishing to be known and present the request for a solution can do so. Those wishing to be anonymous are not penalized for not wanting to speak up.
  • Identify online classes or programming that can be offered during the lunch hour.
  • Supporting computer and Internet access by having an on-site workroom where computers can be used for workplace training – not personal use.
  • Encourage participation in online support groups

The goal of workplace training sessions is to make discussing caregiving responsibilities and workplace concerns more comfortable. The lunch and learn opportunities are not venting sessions or complaint sessions. They are solution sessions to build healthcare staff’s self-esteem and confidence in the ability to manage a variety of situations. Encouraging problem solving and positive thinking has value in the workplace and in personal life.

A side effect of workplace solution training sessions is building employee camaraderie to arrive at a better understanding of teammate responsibilities and behaviors. Supporting compassion and empathy within the team may be beneficial when an employee needs time off for a personal issue. A teammate may be more likely to volunteer to pick up a work shift or to help in another way if they know about the background of a co-worker.

Healthcare workers benefit from support and training. Many are burned out, experience absenteeism, and will walk out when situations at home become too overwhelming. Training and workplace support reduce turnover.

By providing workplace support, employers have a greater likelihood of retaining employees. Employees who feel confident and valued are better able to manage personal and caregiving problems in the home. These same employees will also provide better client care in the workplace.


(1) DePasquale, N. et. al. “Combining Formal and Informal Caregiving Roles: The Psychosocial Implications of Double-and Triple-Duty Care,” J. Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci, 2016, Vol. 72, No. 2, 201-211 doi:10:1093/geronb/bgui139

(2) Aumann, K. et. al., “The Elder Care Study: Everyday Realities and Wishes for Change.” Families and Work Institute supported by the IBM Corporation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 2008 p.3.

©2018, 2022 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

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