Protecting the Mental Well-Being of Employees Working in the Senior Living Industry
Working within the health care field, such as providing care to residents within a senior living community, is a naturally stressful environment. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has only elevated the level of daily workplace tension and created unique challenges for employees. For instance, some are forced to handle increased workload demands due to staff shortages and/or caring for numerous ill residents and many face the enhanced risk of contracting and/or spreading the highly contagious virus. Moreover, they must learn about and implement the proper utilization of unfamiliar personal protective equipment and infection prevention and control protocols.
Common signs of distress
To quickly take the appropriate actions to protect their mental well-being, workers should be advised to monitor themselves for symptoms of extreme anxiety throughout this pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the common signs of distress that employees should be made aware of include:
- Feelings of shock, numbness or disbelief.
- Changes in energy or activity levels.
- Difficulty in concentrating.
- Changes in appetite.
- Sleeping problems or nightmares.
- Feeling anxious, fearful or angry.
- Headaches, body pain or skin rashes.
- Worsened chronic health problems.
- Increased usage of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
Stress reducing actions
It is important to minimize the stress levels of employees during the pandemic to curtail the potential of resident care-related errors, workplace injuries and absenteeism. This objective can be best achieved via a two-fold approach encompassing workplace assistance and self-care strategies.
For management personnel, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests they execute the subsequent measures:
- Implement the practice of job rotation so workers move from higher-stress to lower-stress tasks as well as offer flexible scheduling for staff members personally impacted by the pandemic (if possible and within applicable state regulations).
- Educate employees regarding the availability of psychosocial support services (e.g., Employee Assistance Programs, applicable helplines, etc.) and facilitate their access.
- Ensure workers take their allotted breaks and encourage them to establish a rapport with their peers to serve as another support option.
- Pair a novice staff member with an experienced counterpart to serve as a resource and to reinforce established safety-related protocols.
- Communicate accurate updates to all employees.
Recognize the personal sacrifices workers have made to adequately care for residents. Senior living leadership should not rely on the public to recognize their dedication. Expressions of gratitude may involve providing hazard pay or emergency funds to cover unexpected expenses (e.g., child care, car repairs, etc.), catering on-site nutritious meals and snacks, furnishing scarce household/cleaning products, arranging for discounts or covering the subscription fees for relaxation/meditation app services, awarding gift cards, and/or hand-writing and distributing thank you messages.
- Lastly, management personnel should highly encourage staff members to employ the following self-care strategies (as outlined by the CDC) when they are not working:
- Taking care of one’s body through eating healthy well-balanced meals, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest and refraining from using tobacco and illegal drugs or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Relying on an individual’s personal support system to openly express concerns and feelings about the pandemic.
- Making time to unwind by engaging in favorite hobbies or activities such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Staying informed through trusted sources regarding pandemic developments but balancing one’s exposure to news broadcasts with relaxing activities.
- Seeking professional help if stress is impacting their completion of activities of daily living.
For additional resources pertaining to positively dealing with stress created by the COVID-19 pandemic, reference the websites listed below: