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Marketing can contribute to addressing the healthcare burnout crisis

Last week the Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sounded the alarm on healthcare worker burnout and resignation with a 76-page official advisory that highlights concerns and offers potential solutions.





No one working in healthcare or as a healthcare business associate, like our team, was the slightest bit surprised. Years of posts on my LinkedIn feed highlight the extent of the problem, including a staggering 400 percent higher risk of dying by suicide among women physicians, compared to the general population.


Writing in Harvard Business Review, Tammie Chang, MD, says:

"The data is unsettling: 76% of physicians report moderate to severe burnout, with the risk for burnout significantly higher among female than male physicians. Physicians have the highest rate of suicide of any profession — one in five has considered it — and women physicians are at a 400% higher risk of dying by suicide than women in the general population."

There's a new physician coach popping up every day because they left their field and want to instead help other physicians deal with burnout. And I have a big pool of former RNs turned copywriters to choose from whenever I'm hiring a writer.


The Surgeon General highlights several sources of the healthcare burnout and resignation crisis:

  • Societal and Cultural

  • Health Care System

  • Organizational

  • Workplace and Learning Environment

While the external forces are not easily corrected, addressing internal weakness will go a long way toward caring for our healthcare heroes. The need is urgent.


Nikole DeVries, MBA, MSN, RN writes in this post earlier this week:

"One year ago today I resigned from a company that I had thrived at and genuinely loved for seven years. I left because the culture had become toxic. People with 'Chief' and 'Director' titles had forgotten what it truly means to be a leader. Grown women had reverted back to high school behaviors and could be likened to an adult version of the 2004 film 'Mean Girls.' The most influential people in the organization had stopped listening to the most engaged members of their team."

These days, stories like this exist in workspaces everywhere among those brave enough to share them. In the healthcare space, though, these stories become all of our problem. Toxic culture in a healthcare industry that forces employees to quit is a public health crisis.

Ann Richardson, a consultant in the healthcare space, says in this post,

"Start with the Executive Leadership and the Board to determine the root cause(s) of the health worker burnout and moral injury."

This is not a simple fix, but we have tools to correct it and leaders to guide that process (Ann is one of them!). I can't pretend to be an expert in organizational management or improving culture. But I do know that marketing can help support the process of correcting and building a better workplace environment.


I've seen the evidence myself countless times.


Marketing can help support a more positive workplace culture

At the heart of every healthy workplace is strong communication. Feeling heard and understood goes a long way in any relationship. Hearing that others are responding to feedback and working toward better outcomes goes even further.


This is where marketing comes in to support a more positive workplace culture in healthcare. Following are four ways companies can start right now to improve internal and external marketing efforts, while also contributing to a more positive work environment.


1. Celebrate employees

Sharing stories about employees and highlighting their successes go a long way to make a person feel appreciated. This can occur in external and internal communications strategically through an employee of the week or month program.


Tech solutions like Wambi let colleagues and patients recognize staff for all the moments of kindness and excellence in a day that usually go unnoticed.


These stories can become blogs and social media posts that make employees at every level feel more appreciated. Learning about one another by reading stories also supports better collaboration and communications.


I've written hundreds of profiles featuring healthcare heroes over my decade in healthcare copywriting. The gratitude interviewees express is genuine. Here's feedback from one client after my team featured her:

"Our housekeeper, Staci B., just stopped by and said how thrilled she was to be contacted by you, Wendy. Thank you SO much! I wish you were in the buildings so you could see the positive impact your posts and recognition have on staff morale."

2. Showcase culture building programs

Part of every culture building program should include a marketing plan to go with it. This is especially true in large organizations where most programs take place within smaller teams. Unless you share the story of the program, the intentions behind it, the plan for more like it, no one but the participants will know it happened. Showcasing the team building efforts in an organization can go a long way in making employees feel appreciated, while also supporting recruitment.


Of course this implies that your organization is creating meaningful culture building opportunities in the first place.


3. Strengthen internal communication

Marcom teams always face the challenge of addressing multiple stakeholders. One group that most often gets lumped into the rest is employees. This is typically because of time and money, but it means that employees are often the last to know about what's happening at the organization.


Especially in healthcare, where patients often seek out a facility for its reputation, having an informed team is essential for operations and for maintaining a healthy culture.


Every organization of 25 or more employees or so should have a solid internal communication strategy. This can be on its own platform, on email, on a Slack channel or in a social media group. The important thing is that it happens in a space where employees are most likely to use it.


4. Respond to criticism and reviews with transparency

A lot of healthcare organizations are experiencing turmoil for many reasons these past few years. Others are experiencing growing pains, as the healthcare space and needs shifted dramatically in the pandemic.


Key to successfully dealing with the frustration that comes with change is transparent communication. This starts by identifying problems and creating a plan for solutions. Not everything can be implemented at once, but most of it can be communicated up front with transparency. People are more willing to deal with some chaos when they know it's getting resolved.


This happens again, in strong internal communications. It also happens in responding to criticism. Open the channels for criticism with a suggestion box and an open door policy so that employees don't have to use online reviews to vent. And when they do vent online, respond with transparency about how you're addressing the problem.


5. Use marketing to support hiring

Human resources and marketing should closely collaborate to communicate effectively. I've asked HR representatives, who didn't know the details of their benefits or voluntary benefits. If HR doesn't know what benefits the company offers, no one does. Is therapy covered? Does the company offer telehealth benefits? Can employees take PTO during the day for healthcare appointments, no questions asked? This should all be communicated in internal marketing.


Highlighting benefits and positive workplace culture also go a long way so support hiring in a time when it's harder than ever. Creating a place where employees want to stay becomes a place where prospective employees want to work. When this happens, marketing can be a crucial part of recruitment. Better recruitment also helps improve employee retention by lightening everyone's load.


Of course, marketing open jobs in all the social media spaces prospective employees are hanging out goes without saying. Making applying super simple is helpful as well. Hopin is testing out some interesting ideas for virtual job fairs that's worth checking out.


We need to do better

For over a decade I've interviewed hundreds of healthcare workers for articles and blogs.

Healthcare employees, work tirelessly on behalf of helping people. They spent years studying and went into debt to pursue their dream jobs. And they put their lives on the line for us in this pandemic.


Nearly all of them tell me their job today was one they decided to pursue as a child. All of them find profound meaning in their work. But in the last two years, they're also sharing more stories of exhaustion.


Better marketing certainly can't fix the healthcare crises. But it can be one part of the road to improvement.


We call our healthcare workers heroes because they are. It's time we start supporting them with the culture they deserve.


Want help with your internal or external marcoms? Let's talk!

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