Workplace Stress

Healthcare and Other Frontline Workers

Healthcare workers, nursing home staff, and other frontline workers, such as Police, Fire and EMS personnel, morticians, and others are facing severe stress, exhaustion, and compassion fatigue. They may work grueling hours, and be struggling with grief and a feeling of despair. Employers can do the following to help reduce some of that stress:

  • Have reasonable expectations. Healthcare workers are performing a crucial role and doing the best they can with the limited resources available. Encourage employees to make self-care a priority, keeping consistent daily routines when possible (e.g., try to get adequate sleep, make time for eating healthy meals, and take breaks during work shifts to rest, stretch, or check in with supportive colleagues, coworkers, friends, and family).
  • Know the signs and symptoms of stress. Experiencing or witnessing life threatening or traumatic events impacts everyone differently. In some circumstances, the stress can be managed successfully to reduce associated negative health and behavioral outcomes. In other cases, some people may experience clinically significant distress or impairment, such as acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or secondary traumatic stress (also known as vicarious traumatization). Compassion fatigue and burnout may also result from chronic workplace stress and exposure to traumatic events. Workers feeling stressed may have trouble concentrating, sleeping, and have a general lack of motivation. Other symptoms may include irritation, anger, sadness, depression, decreased energy, and nervousness/anxiety, and new or increased substance use. Ask employees to identify factors that cause stress and work together to identify solutions.
  • Know where employees can get help. Provide or share information about coping, resiliency, and mental health resources. See the getting started guides for frontline supervisors and senior managers for tips and resources.
  • Resources Specific to Healthcare Workers:
  • NIOSH Resources for healthcare leaders:
    • NIOSH Impact Wellbeing Campaign: gives hospital leaders evidence-informed solutions to reduce healthcare worker burnout, sustain wellbeing, and build a system where healthcare workers thrive.
    • NIOSH Worker Well-Being Questionnaire (WellBQ): Understand how your workforce is doing and identify ways to improve healthcare worker wellbeing.
    • Leadership Storytelling Guide: Help hospital leaders talk publicly about getting help for their own mental health concerns and encourage staff to do the same, using this guide from the Health Action Alliance.
    • Total Worker Health® Strategies: Train front-line supervisors to help their staff balance their work responsibilities using supportive supervision.
  • Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation Toolkit: Learn three simple steps hospital leaders can follow to remove intrusive mental health questions from their credentialing applications and make it safe for staff to seek the mental health care they might need.
  • American Hospital Association's Suicide Prevention Guide: Explore a curated list of 12 evidence-informed interventions that hospitals and health systems can implement to reduce the risk of suicide among healthcare workers.
  • CDC NIOSH Science Blog - Supportive supervision: Learn more about training front-line supervisors in supportive supervision so they can help their staff balance their work responsibilities.