Arla Day, PhD, Saint Mary’s University; Meghan Donohoe, MSc, Saint Mary’s University; Yannick Provencher, MSc, University of Guelph; Karen Turner, MASHR, Saint Mary’s University; Haya Bakour, BA, University of Calgary; Chris Mahar, MSc, Saint Mary’s University; Hana Hicks, BA, Saint Mary’s University

We examined healthcare workers before and during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to understand whether resources that workers had prior to the pandemic would buffer the negative impact of Covid stressors on worker health.

Burnout has been a major concern for all workers, but it may be particularly concerning and prevalent in healthcare due to the relational and emotional nature of this work (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993). Burnout is associated with worker health and wellbeing, as well as with important patient outcomes such as with poor quality of patient care and more medical errors, and dysfunctional relationships with colleagues and higher turnover intentions (Maslach & Leiter, 2017). The Covid-19 pandemic has increased demands on health-care workers, and reduced the resources available to them. Some of the recent work on the initial impact of Covid on worker health has suggested that healthcare workers are facing substantial psychosocial and mental health problems during the pandemic (Kinman et al., 2020). However, we don’t have a clear idea of how healthcare professionals are doing one year into the pandemic, and we don’t know whether their mental health and resources prior to the pandemic may buffer any negative effects from Covid-related demands.

A sample of 112 Canadian healthcare physicians, nurses, and social workers working in two emergency departments participated in longitudinal study assessing burnout and wellbeing in health-care workers pre-Covid (2018-2019). We then had an opportunity to survey them at another time after they had been facing the pandemic for approximately 15 months (2021). Participants completed surveys relating to workplace wellbeing outcomes including burnout (Maslach et al., 1996), areas of worklife scale (e.g., workload, control, and civility; Leiter & Maslach, 2003), turnover intentions, and work resources. We examined the correlations among the study variables, and we are conducting moderated regressions to examine the direct effects of resources (e.g., control, relationships) and their buffering effects on the relationship between Covid-related work demands and worker health.

We have analyzed all data prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and will analyze the data collected during the pandemic shortly. Prior to the pandemic, having less job control and a lower sense of work community was associated with more emotional exhaustion, which was also related to reporting more stress. Overall, healthcare workers identified job security and positive working relationships as key resources. We are now examining whether these resources, as well as control over one’s environment and hours and freedom to make clinical decisions, being treated with respect, and good work-life balance will moderate the relationship between job demands (e.g., workload, Covid-related stressors, Covid contact concerns, etc.) and worker outcomes (e.g., burnout, health, and commitment).

Our work contributes to the knowledge and understanding of how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the already challenging work demands that healthcare workers are facing daily. There are several strengths of the current study including the longitudinal design, and examining Covid-related demands. Although we collected data across several times prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, few of the healthcare workers responded at all times, and thus, our pre-Covid data comparison data comes from different time points. There is a possibility that the data from the various times may be affected by organizational events and annual cycles of workload increases in the emergency departments, and thus may create different benchmarks to compare the Covid-period data. Also, we capitalized on having this data set to explore their Covid-related demands and outcomes a year into the pandemic, and as such, we had to rely on self-reports and on the scales we previously used.

This work provides a strong initial overview of burnout in health-care professionals and identifies the Covid-related demands as well as the resources that may help support workers during times of wide-spread pandemics, or even during other challenging times, such as personal trauma and demands. This work can provide information for organizations looking to help support workers during this current pandemic, and any other future pandemics and/or work-related challenges and demands that workers may face. Future research should develop and validate interventions aimed at developing organizational and individual resources to support workers during challenging times.

Tags: Applied research, COVID-19, Emerging Issues, Empirical study, Health care and social assistance, Organization- and Job-Level Environments and Practices, Organizational Practices, Social and Organizational Environment, Theoretical and Conceptual Issues in Job Stress, Traumatic Stress and Resilience, Work Scheduling and Flexibility, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery