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Increased exhaustion in maternal and neonatal care during pandemic


During the COVID-19 pandemic, 18% of maternal and neonatal care staff reported exhaustion, an early sign of burnout. This is shown in a University of Gothenburg study, based on questionnaire responses from both medical and administrative staff members. 

The pandemic has resulted in major challenges to the health care system in Sweden. Employees in maternal and neonatal care have been severely affected by changed work routines and staff shortages.  

The COPE Staff cohort study on working conditions for maternal and neonatal healthcare workers examines self-rated job satisfaction, work-life conflicts, stress, and burnout among maternal and neonatal care staff in Sweden. 957 responses were collected through digital questionnaires between January and April 2021. 

Loud warning bells 

The results show that, during the pandemic, roughly 80% of employees experienced a heavy workload: About 50% of the respondents stated that it had increased. Of the study population, 18% exceeded the clinical threshold for exhaustion, an early sign of burnout. In the studied group, 4 percentage points were so high on the rating scales that they exceeded the clinical cutoff for burnout. 

“The percentage of workers exceeding the clinical threshold for burnout is not alarming. However, there is a need for action. There are loud warning bells indicating that health care workers are at risk of suffering from burnout if their workload isn’t regulated,” says Karolina Lindén, midwife and research fellow (docent) at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg. 

Karolina Lindén, Institute of Health and Care Sciences, and Magnus Åkerström, Institute of Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.
Photo: Elin Lindström, Turid Oom

“The staff who work in maternal and neonatal care were already under a heavy workload before the pandemic, and those whose workload became even heavier during it were especially vulnerable. If this persists, we can expect effects in the form of greater mental distancing, cognitive impairment and emotional impairment in the future, leading to burnout”, says Magnus Åkerström, research fellow (docent) at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg and senior developer at the Institute of Stress Medicine, Region Västra Götaland. 

Women and young people more affected 

Women reported significantly elevated stress and exhaustion levels, as did young study participants. Young people’s job satisfaction was also relatively low compared to more experienced staff. 

The COPE Staff study was designed to explore employees’ working environment and health during the pandemic, and to continue monitoring them for up to five years. The aim is to identify possible preventive measures at an organizational level. 

The results will be presented in several upcoming academic publications. This is the first scientific article from the study material, published in The International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics.

Title: The COPE Staff study: study description and initial report regarding job satisfaction, work-life conflicts, stress and burnout among Swedish maternal and neonatal healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic