Shot of a group of young doctors joining hands in solidarity in a modern hospital
(Credit: Dean Mitchell / Getty Images)

The first duty of love is to listen.

During a Wednesday LeadingAge membership call, Gregg Levoy, an author and speaker about mental health, acknowledged that long-term care providers are facing a workforce crisis of epic proportions, with pandemic-related burnout exacerbating the problem.

A great challenge in any relationship, he said, is to listen and not try to problem-solve. Supervisors can start by asking their employees how they are doing, how they feel about work and what they need from their employer.

Listening, he said, takes time. And one of the features of burnout is that it’s often not recognized until someone reaches the edge of meltdown. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., recently published an advisory making confronting the drivers of burnout among health workers a top national priority.

“Listening and being heard can help lower the temperature before you reach that boiling point,” Levoy said. “One of the classic prescriptions for burnout and compassion fatigue is taking care of the caregiver.”

One of the main reasons people give for leaving their jobs, Levoy said, is their immediate supervisor. Helping supervisors increase their communication and active listening skills, therefore, he said, can go a long way in employee retention and satisfaction.

Burnout in the service industry

The aging services field, he said, is just that — service.

“Service is a mindset, a way you live your life — ideally a continual responsiveness to all the small daily calls to care for the world and those in it,” Levoy said, adding that one of life’s tough lessons is loving and letting go.

“It’s not grasping, not being attached to the outcome of my work,” he said. “There’s a big difference between people who are called and people who are driven — people who work from passion and not just mission.”

Levoy suggested exploring during the recruitment process whether prospective employees tend toward healthy or unhealthy passion for their work. Healthy passion, he said, is a flexible persistence toward goals — more of a flow state. Unhealthy passion, by comparison, is persistence at any cost.

“In terms of just straight up workforce wellness, healthy passion will create healthier employees,” he said. “Part of the process of discernment is asking questions about people’s deepest passions — what they want to contribute to the world.”

Levoy said inquiring about someone’s work habits could be helpful in identifying potential employees with healthy passion.