The COVID-19 pandemic has put immense pressure on frontline and public health workers, exacerbating myriad mental health concerns, including stress, depression, and burnout.
As with COVID-19 itself, impacts have disproportionately affected certain populations more likely to hold frontline positions, including women, LatinX people, and people of color.
These challenges, compounded with broader issues affecting the workforce, undermine the capacities of frontline and public health workers to provide essential services. Key strategies for supporting frontline and public health workers include building a culture of caring across leadership and organizations, improving employment practices and working conditions, and fostering social support among workers.
- Workers are suffering: The physical and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline and public health workers are significant. Workers are experiencing increased stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), burnout, compassion fatigue, alcohol use and other unhealthy behaviors, harassment on the job, and physical impacts of stress like weight gain.
- Leadership can help: Leadership should focus on worker’s health and well-being needs, ensuring health and safety measures are in place, and fostering a compassionate workplace culture. Strategies include: resetting expectations about capacity; reducing workload; adapting work environments and providing flexibility at work and with paid time off; promoting self-care and use of employee assistance programs; fostering teamwork and camaraderie; and supporting employee’s professional growth.
- Support can abate turnover: There has been significant turnover among frontline and public health workers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many workers changing jobs or leaving the field, and many new entrants to the field. Turnover also takes a toll on workers. Supporting workers can advance recruitment and retention efforts, and abate turnover.
Equity & Systems
Supporting the health and well-being needs of workers is essential for developing and diversifying the public health workforce, and strengthening our public health system. Improving job quality and working conditions, and ensuring a living wage for frontline and public health workers which can address socioeconomic and health inequities that these workers face.
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Public Health Workforce Development and Diversity
The public health workforce plays an essential role in securing the vital conditions for health and well-being for all to thrive. A skilled, resourced, and robust public health workforce is needed to meet the demands of public health today and prepare for the needs of tomorrow. A diverse public health workforce is better equipped to address the needs of the most impacted and marginalized, and implement population health strategies. COVID-19 has shed light on challenges facing the public health workforce, while also exacerbating them. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need to skill up the workforce; support workers’ needs; center equity in workforce development efforts; and plan for the future.