How real time feedback can tackle healthcare staff burnout

By Steve Peltzman
Steve Peltzman, Chief Business Technology Officer at Forrester and Head of FeedbackNow tells us how real time feedback can tackle healthcare staff burnout

This time last year, the COVID-19 pandemic drove global healthcare frontline workers to near breakdowns, and now the Delta variant has brought a new wave of pressure to the system. In the UK, NHS staff with mental health concerns quadrupled during the pandemic as frontline health care workers across hospitals, hospices, care homes and more appeared to bear the brunt of the mental health impact of COVID-19. 

Despite life “returning to normal”, 33% of UK consumers remain worried about workplaces not taking enough health and safety precautions, according to Forrester’s data. Additionally, over a quarter of UK consumers (29%) remain worried about workplaces not protecting employees against potential healthcare risks. This shows that urgent action is needed to alleviate anxiety relating to the environments in which people work.

Of course, much attention is being paid to fighting the pandemic’s effects head-on by ratcheting up preventative measures, driving up vaccination rates, and adding resources. But what else can be done to ease the minds of worried healthcare staff and reduce work-related stress that contributes to burnout?  

Emotional exhaustion, cynicism and depersonalisation are three contributors to burnout, all of which include feelings relating to a lack of control and connection. One answer lies in connecting individuals – whether staff, visitors or patients – with their environment through in-the-moment, real-time feedback.  

“Do you feel like you took a quality break?”

The old way of operations management is to schedule recurring services and then react to problems when they arise. This approach was widely adopted across healthcare facilities, as well as shops, supermarkets, restaurants, airports and so on, but its major downside is that it creates inevitable periods of dissatisfaction, disruption and stress if services happen when scheduled, rather than when needed.

On the flip side, if more than enough resources are applied, there are periods of waste. The better alternative: extremely low-friction feedback opportunities – not surveys, but a simple half-second way to express that an experience is good, bad, or in-between.  

For example, a nurses’ staff room is an area where employees should be able to take a mental and physical break from the stresses of their job, yet many may remain anxious about cleanliness and hygiene.  A simple Smiley Box on the way out asks, “Do you feel like you took a quality break?” with the chance to vote green for 'yes', yellow for 'sort of', and red for 'no'. What can such a simple feedback tool accomplish?  The answer is, quite a lot.

For one thing, with the friction so low (just one question) and high footfall, the response rate is likely to be very high – even more so if staff understand what’s being done with their feedback to add a feeling of control. It’s also in-the-moment, capturing more accurate and emotionally driven responses. With so much data, curious patterns quickly emerge and opportunities to act reveal themselves.  

Consider a similarly simple pulse check in a cafeteria heavily used by the staff. “How was your dining experience today?” Perhaps the % of red votes typically rises a half hour prior to a regularly scheduled cleaning, and a simple adjustment to the work roster could mitigate that daily period of dissatisfaction.

Or maybe it is when break periods or shift changes coincide with peak visiting hours.
In wider applications, healthcare organisations might tailor the question to measure the success of staff initiatives targeting employee wellbeing, such as healthy eating options in the vending machine, training, staff rotas and routines, or new awareness and support initiatives. With responses and trends showing in real time, the impact of even quite small changes can be picked up quickly and initiatives tweaked for success.

Adding an environmental context

Let’s take it a step further – what if you looked beyond remedial opportunities and used real-time feedback to act predictively?  Let's say a feedback point in a staff area asks “How was your shift today?” with the simple green, yellow, or red responses.

At the same time, you’re collecting other real-time data, like weather, and it becomes clear that red votes always seem to accumulate at significantly higher rates after it has rained multiple days in a row. Why? Maybe it’s the additional mental toll that gloomy days add to anyone’s work routine, or maybe it’s an increase in accidents and workload that the rain is anticipated to cause. It may be hard to tell what’s causing the correlation but, going forward, you could decide to act predictively when multiple days of rain are forecast by shortening shift lengths, reducing overtime, or timing motivational initiatives. 

Similarly, it’s possible to analyse data alongside footfall in different areas to organise cleaning rotas and ensure that high footfall areas are cleaned more regularly at predicted peak times. A preeminent hospital in New York City is successfully using this approach to optimise when to clean employee and patient restrooms, and address issues in waiting areas and lobbies. 

Beyond the reactive and predictive operations that you can build using this approach, real-time feedback provides an opportunity to create an emotional connection with healthcare workers, as well as patients and visitors.

Forrester’s research shows that emotion has a bigger influence on loyalty to a brand than any other dimension.  By asking staff to help contribute to the daily operations of the healthcare facility and showing them how their feedback is being used, you are absolutely increasing their emotional connection – they feel more in control and more invested in the outcomes. 

Surveys still have their place in healthcare as in any business, but their shortcomings preclude them from being used daily. Survey-fatigue drives low response rates and responses are usually provided far after the experience has occurred.  

Real-time feedback operations help today’s patient, visitor, or staff member, leading directly to a better, more efficient overall experience.  As well, in these high anxiety times, feedback to improve experiences in real-time gives everyone more control and eases those feelings of apprehension that contribute to burnout.


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