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Impact of COVID-19 on Burnout and Perceived Workplace Quality Among Addiction Treatment Providers

February 1, 2023
Meg Brunner, MLIS
Fentem A, et al. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on burnout and perceived workplace quality among addiction treatment providers. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice 2023;18:5.
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What’s the Question?

Addiction treatment providers offer counseling, medical care, and community supports for those struggling with substance use disorders (SUDs) and are often tasked with providing support for associated behavioral health conditions, like depression and anxiety, and environmental challenges, like loss of housing or transportation issues.

Working with clients who are struggling can be emotionally taxing. Add to that the fact that many addition treatment providers work under difficult conditions, with high rates of turnover, demanding workloads, low salaries, and limited opportunities for advancement, and it’s understandable why burnout is a major risk for the workforce.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid adaptations needed to ensure continued access to care has exacerbated this stress for addiction treatment providers. 

But how did the COVID-19 pandemic impact providers’ perceived enjoyment and quality of work, what are some of the current factors associated with their experiences of burnout now, and what can organizations do to help?

How Was This Study Conducted?stressed provider with laptop

For this study, 91 addiction treatment providers (therapists, physicians, community support specialists, administrative staff, etc.) recruited from both inpatient and outpatient facilities completed a survey about their views on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their work and personal life. Researchers examined their responses to assess self-reported burnout, sources of work-related stress, and perceived work quality during the pandemic. 

What Did Researchers Find Out?

A little over half of providers (51%) reported their quality of work had decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This perceived decrease in quality was associated with higher levels of emotional exhaustion and workplace stress, as well as decreased enjoyment of work and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment.

Also contributing to greater reports of stress and burnout for the workforce were increased hours, changes in work schedules, work-life balance challenges, difficulties with client communication, and increased client needs.

Providers who reported increased quality of work said they felt this was largely due to benefits from telehealth/telecommuting, resulting in more time to complete activities, fewer distractions, improved organization, fewer transitions, and shorter (or absent) commutes. 

What Are the Implications for the Workforce?

Unsurprisingly, many addiction treatment providers are experiencing high levels of burnout and workplace stress in the COVID-19 pandemic era. They also perceive a decrease in their quality of work during the pandemic as well.

Addiction treatment organizations should be aware of the factors contributing to burnout in their staff and work to address them, as high levels of stress affect not only the providers themselves, but also their clients. As the situation surrounding the pandemic continues to evolve, organizations should periodically check in with staff to learn what challenges they are facing and implement responsive changes to promote well-being.