Johannesburg, 16 September 21: Many people in jobs with a high degree of human interaction are at risk for job burnout, particularly those in the healthcare sector. The stress of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year and a half has increased this risk even further. Staff and carers working in the senior living care sector, particularly assisted living, are as susceptible to burnout as other healthcare workers. It has become more important than ever for individuals and organisations to find ways of mitigating this risk, even as COVID-19 continues to sweep the globe.
Studies show that healthcare workers have experienced an increase in work stress, anxiety and depression since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of this can increase the risk of burnout. This issue is top of mind for Auria Senior Living, a specialist developer and manager of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) in South Africa. “Our mission is to ensure that our residents enjoy their best quality of life, every single day, and to do that we need to ensure that our staff are able to perform at their best,” says Barry Kaganson, CEO of Auria.
What exactly is burnout?
In 2019 the World Health Organization included burnout in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. It is described as one of the reasons for which people contact health services, but which is not classed as an illness or health condition in itself.
Burnout is characterised by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Addressing carer burnout
Burnout in the healthcare sector is sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue, especially among healthcare workers and emergency service workers who often deal with emotional demands, trauma and even grief in their line of work. Danielle Oswald, Care Manager at San Sereno in Johannesburg, has seen how the highly emotional nature of working in a care environment can sometimes become challenging. San Sereno, Auria’s flagship Senior Living community, has around 150 staff, approximately 75 of whom are carers. “These are people in passion-driven roles, who make caring for others their priority. What is different for them is that unlike those who only see patients periodically for treatment, carers interact daily with the same set of residents. This puts a certain amount of pressure on them to achieve consistency in their interactions and perform at the same high level all the time,” says Oswald.
“Carers form connections with the residents – they become a part of their lives and are invested in their wellbeing,” says Oswald. While this is exactly the kind of commitment that one wants in a senior living community, it also means that when a resident becomes ill or passes away, there is an inevitable emotional impact on the care team. This is in the normal course of work. Add factors like increased risk and possibly deaths from COVID-19, together with all the safety protocols and extra vigilance required on an extended basis, and physical and emotional overload can quickly develop.
Auria Senior Living places as much importance on being a desirable place to work as it does on having happy, thriving residents in its communities. When it comes to preventing and managing burnout, that means providing a well-structured work environment with clear job expectations, where employees are empowered, feel valued and supported. “We want residents in our communities to live their best lives, and we enable that to happen by listening to and addressing the needs of the care staff who are in close contact with them,” says Oswald.
She shares several insights which are helpful to any employer, but particularly those in healthcare. These action points, implemented by Auria, have had a measurable impact on staff performance during the pandemic.
- Give staff the means to access professional help. Auria has social workers within all its communities to provide support to residents and staff, and to refer people to the right professionals to assist them with any emotional difficulties.
- Physical rest time is critical. Staff need adequate time to rest and recharge, and to have no interruptions in that time. This is one of the reasons why shift work is so common in healthcare roles.
- Make people feel safe. The current COVID-19 pandemic has made many people anxious about their safety and the safety of their families. Do whatever you need to do to make them feel safe, protected and cared for in the workplace and beyond. Auria has had weekly COVID-19 testing in place for all staff, and has also provided sanitiser and masks for those who have been concerned about family members being exposed to the virus.
- Communicate and care for each other. Regular debriefings and group discussions about concerns during a pandemic or following a traumatic event help bring issues to light so that they can be addressed. They can also play an educational role.
With no real end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few other things that Auria has in its toolbox to keep supporting staff through these trying times. “Not everyone realises that they may be heading for, or suffering from, burnout,” says Oswald. “We feel that having regular group debriefing and sharing sessions may help staff to keep an eye on each other and notice if someone else is struggling.”
All this goes back to Auria’s deep-seated values about treating people as human beings first and foremost – whether they be residents or staff. “We pride ourselves on offering our residents an exceptional quality of life. We also value our staff and their contributions deeply, so we aim to maintain an environment of openness and supportiveness where that appreciation shows,” says Barry Kaganson, Auria’s CEO.
About Auria Senior Living
Auria Senior Living (Auria) develops, owns and manages portfolio of senior living communities throughout South Africa. Auria is setting a new benchmark in continuing-care community living for the over-70s, providing for the intellectual, emotional, social and physical needs of its residents, in attractive and well-located environments.
The company’s flagship is San Sereno in Bryanston, and it has just upgraded Melrose Manor in Melrose North. Its latest project, Royal View, is a 122-apartment senior living development on the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington golf course, due to open in 2022. Woodside Village, Auria’s first senior living environment in the Western Cape, is currently being refurbished and is expected to be completed by May 2022. Further Auria communities are planned across the country.
For more information on Auria Senior Living, visit: www.auria.co.za, or contact 087 654 8833.
 An article published in May this year in in The Lancet open-access journal EClinicalMedicine, explored the findings of the American Medical Association’s Coping with COVID-19 for Caregivers Survey, in which 42 healthcare organisations across the US assessed their workers’ stress during the period between the end of May 2020 and the beginning of October 2020. It stated: “The survey of 20,947 physicians and other workers found that 61% of those surveyed felt high fear of exposing themselves or their families to COVID-19 while 38% self-reported experiencing anxiety or depression. Another 43% suffered from work overload and 49% had burnout. [The] odds of burnout were 40% lower in those who felt valued by their organizations, which was 46% of respondents.” (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(21)00159-0/fulltext
“Prevalence and correlates of stress and burnout among U.S. healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: A national cross-sectional survey study,” was co-written by researchers from the AMA and Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis and published in The Lancet open-access journal EClinicalMedicine.)