Pandemic-era news about frontline healthcare workers raised public awareness about the physical risks that medical professionals take in their jobs every day. However,  less attention tends to be paid to the non-fatal risks of working in healthcare, such as stress, anxiety, burnout, and substance abuse, though they still cause problems for employers.  

These have been long-standing problems, but have skyrocketed in prominence over the last years as healthcare workers have coped with understaffing and lean budgets, high mortality rates, the demands of telemedicine, and other rapid changes. 

These difficulties are leading many healthcare professionals to consider or actively seek different jobs, a trend akin to other industries where workers change their priorities amid a fast-changing employment landscape, which leaves employers scrambling to turn the tide. 

A burnout epidemic

The majority of Canadian physicians reported sharp declines in their mental health since the pandemic. Not surprisingly, nearly half said their social wellbeing is low and burnout is high. Fatigue, anxiety, and stress are also on the rise among healthcare workers. 

These mental health challenges aren’t just impacting on-the-job engagement and performance – they’re driving professionals away from healthcare work.  A recent global market research commission by Indeed revealed that virtually all Canadian healthcare workers are, minimally, considering changing jobs, with many citing the desire for a less risky role.1

Like the rest of us, healthcare workers live in a quickly changing landscape for workers, and a proliferation of technology that enables working in new ways. Many employees are frustrated with their current conditions and interested in cultivating wellbeing, flexibility, and work-life balance in their careers. 

Women and younger workers are stressed and looking for something better

Since the sector is female-dominated, women are particularly affected by the increased stress. This is also true among younger workers who, more than the rest of the healthcare population, are looking for flexibility, belonging, appreciation, and transparency. This list conspicuously lacks some core aspects that have historically made healthcare careers attractive, such as the ability to help others, high levels of responsibility, and opportunities for advancement.2

How can employers react to this crisis

To help lessen the burden, healthcare organizations can focus on helping workers feel safer on the job. That can include: 

  • Shifting day-to-day responsibilities, so healthcare workers can alternate between COVID-19 patients and non-COVID cases; since society is in a post-pandemic period, though there are still cases,  those consistently working with COVID-19 cases are more likely to report “fair” or “poor” mental health.
  • Ensuring adequate access to PPE; those with unrestricted access report better mental health and lower levels of stress than those with restrictions
  • Providing easy, free or low-cost access to mental health services; healthcare workers sought out more mental health care for themselves during the pandemic. Supporting them in their journeys can have a positive impact on employees, employers, and patients.
  • Offering flexible work arrangements for non-patient-related tasks.
  • Lessening other high-stress engagements such as technological burdens and other non-clinical responsibilities. 
  • Integrating professional growth opportunities that will enable workers to move into lower-stress, high-demand speciality roles with the organization.
  • Revisiting compensation packages, with an eye on increasing pay, in light of the long hours paired with overarching professional risks.3 For half of healthcare workers, that’s a top priority, followed by enhanced benefits, which can have a particularly positive impact on retaining more senior nurses and other clinicians. 

Targeting talent pools where they are 

Doing some groundwork in medical schools, at medical associations and conferences needs to be part of employer’s recruitment strategies. It’s also essential to engage healthcare professionals when and where they’re actively seeking career opportunities – and ensuring you’re promoting specific benefits, opportunities, and employee-focused perks. Sponsored jobs, for example, enable HR and recruitment leaders to engage target talent. Paired with targeted ads, it’s easier than ever to connect directly with healthcare workers ready to make a move.

In a labour market in which employees can increasingly make demands for benefits and accommodations that improve their and their families’ lives, many embattled healthcare workers — stressed out, burned out, and tired of taking risks with their physical and mental health — are looking for greener pastures. The onus is on the employers to convince them their wellbeing will be a priority in their place of work.

1. "Understanding job seeking behaviour in UK, US, Canada & France" commissioned research by Curious Industries for Indeed, June 2022.
2. "Understanding job seeking behaviour in UK, US, Canada & France" commissioned research by Curious Industries for Indeed, June 2022.
3. "Understanding job seeking behaviour in UK, US, Canada & France"commissioned research by Curious Industries for Indeed, June 2022.