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Study: Health Systems Can Do Better to Support Employees' Pandemic Needs


A survey of employees of the University of Utah Health System found that more than one-fifth of respondents considered leaving the system workforce and slightly less than one third wanted to cut their work hours.

That's due to the stressors of COVID-19, says an April 2021 study in JAMA Network Open that sought to determine associations between the pandemic with career development, while assessing culture and childcare needs of employees and trainees.

A total of 27,700 University of Utah Health System faculty, staff, and trainees got invitations from the CEO and SVP to participate in the survey, with results analyzed between August and November 2020. Of those, 5,030 completed the entire survey, with a mean age of 40 years, and a composition of 75% women, predominantly White or European American.

Just under half had clinical responsibilities and at least one child 18 or younger.

Parenting and Educating Make Stress

"Nearly one-half of parents reported that parenting and managing virtual education for children were stressors," wrote the 10 authors from the University of Utah. They also noted that, "To our knowledge, no previous studies have examined the work-life needs of both the clinical and nonclinical staff of a medical center." 

Study participants were asked if the pandemic had caused them to consider leaving the workforce or reducing hours, or if their productivity had been reduced and their careers impacted. Secondary outcomes were the types of work culture adaptations they'd like during the pandemic.

Additionally, 27% of participants reported increased productivity, while 39% reported a decrease. Another 47% said they were moderately or seriously worried about COVID-19 impacting their career development—64% were highly concerned. 

"It's sobering to learn that, during a time of economic recession, at least one-fifth of our workforce were considering leaving their jobs because of the severe levels of stress they were experiencing," said Angela Fagerlin, PhD, senior author of the study and professor and chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at the university's School of Medicine, in a news release. 

"Many of these are people who have spent five to ten years of their adult lives training to do this kind of work," she said. "Yet, it's so overwhelming and burdensome that they were potentially thinking about giving it all up." 

Support Leads to Retention

Those thoughts about quitting or cutting back were worse for employees in clinical care, or with kids at home, for women, and people of color—particularly so if they were among an underrepresented racial or ethnic group at work, the study said. Female faculty and trainees and those with nonclinical job roles appeared to be the most impacted.

As to what employees want, their requests are reasonable at any time, it seems: continued work schedule flexibility and schedules at least a month in advance. And those with kids younger than 18 wanted temporary childcare settings, but more often, help with home childcare, tutoring in person or virtually, or the ability to connect with like-minded parents to form pods.

It's all about retention, the study suggests, and it can be done: "Health systems must develop effective strategies to ensure that the workplace acknowledges and supports employees during this unprecedented time."

Article Originally Published on ACOG Career Connection