Judy Zola Boston Children's Hospital
Training & Learning

L&D for Wellbeing: How Boston Children’s Hospital Combats Burnout with Learning Opportunities

If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that L&D teams have a huge role to play in supporting organizations to manage stress, uncertainty, and burnout.  


But how can L&D teams working within healthcare organizations create programs that support the wellbeing of frontline workers? And how can they design these programs to combat the urgent challenges created by stress and burnout?


These questions are top of mind for many organizations. That’s why it was so exciting to speak to Judy Zola, Director of Learning and Development at Boston Children’s Hospital, about her learning strategy for helping frontline health workers cope with increased stress levels.


Read on to hear more about the great work Judy is leading!


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The pressures caused by frontline worker stress and burnout

Judy began our discussion by telling me about Boston Children’s Hospital, or BCH, and one of the challenges they’re facing in the frontline healthcare space.


“Boston Children’s Hospital is a 400-bed pediatric hospital in Boston, Massachusetts,” she says. “We’re really the place–specifically in New England, and the United States–where families come when they’re not getting the answers they need for their child.”


“We are very humble and proud to have been named the number one children’s hospital in the US for the last eight years by US News & World Report,” says Judy. “I’ve been in my current role for about six years, and I’m very proud to be there.”


As Judy explains, frontline worker stress and burnout has been top of mind for the L&D team at BCH, as it has for so many other organizations. “Because we are a pediatric hospital with a good number of frontline workers, we have lots of people who are experiencing stress and burnout, especially in the last two years.”


“I would say that stress and burnout are probably one of our biggest issues. We’re really focused on trying to make sure that we are being as caring, kind, and engaged with our employees as possible.”


So, how did Judy and her team develop learning programs to reflect this level of care and support? And what strategy did they deploy to combat stress and burnout within the organization?


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I would say that stress and burnout are probably one of our biggest issues. We’re really focused on trying to make sure that we are being as caring, kind, and engaged with our employees as possible.

BCH’s two-pronged learning strategy for employee wellbeing

As Judy explains, she and her team were able to help employees cope with increased stress levels and risks of burnout by developing a learning strategy specifically focused on employee wellbeing.


“I’m happy to talk about two different things,” says Judy. “First, I’ll talk about our strategy and second, I’ll talk about one specific program in terms of helping people have an opportunity to speak about their particular challenges.”


Judy’s very first step? Reevaluating BCH’s current learning curriculum.

1. Reevaluating BCH’s curriculum to focus on modular learning

At the outset of the pandemic, Judy and her team knew that it was going to be difficult to get employees away for an entire half-day or a full day. That meant evolving the design and development of their original courses to support modular learning. 


“We had to reevaluate how we look at learning, and examine what people have time to do, and what they really want to do,” says Judy. “We literally restructured every single curriculum that we offer. And so, all our courses are now focused on modular learning.”


As Judy explains, these modules are short and punchy, involving no more than a two-hour engagement where people can meet virtually and learn together. These bite-sized modules of content are much easier for people to digest and attend. 


“We’re focusing on modular learning with one particular topic at a time versus the entire topic,” says Judy. “People seem to be enjoying this learning a lot more. We’re using Zoom for all of its bells and whistles: polling, breakout rooms, whiteboard–we make it as interactive as possible. We’re hearing a lot of good feedback, and people are enjoying the format.”


Another interesting outcome for Judy and her team? This new approach democratized learning across their sites all over Massachusetts. “Everybody has an equal opportunity for learning now which I think is huge. I really feel that’s the way of the future not just for our organization, but for many organizations,” says Judy.


Related: How to Support Frontline Employees in Times of Crisis: An Expert Interview with WinCo Foods

Everybody has an equal opportunity for learning now which I think is huge. I really feel that’s the way of the future not just for our organization, but for many organizations.

2. Making room for employees to share their insights and experiences

Next, Judy highlights the importance of using a wellbeing lens in the strategy by describing BCH’s new collaborative program. 


“The other piece that was happening, and is still happening in the US and in other places, is the second pandemic around racism and all the other horrible things that were happening in the summer of 2020.”


“These social movements affected a lot of our employees very strongly, and so we set up a program called a Reflection Round,” says Judy. “These are sessions we have when we feel like there is a need for our employees to be able to speak their mind and be able to talk about what’s going on for them.”

Boston Children's Hospital Judy Zola

These Reflection Rounds were led by both Human Resources and Judy and her team as well as the Office of Health Equity and Inclusion and volunteers across the hospital.


“These were really great,” Judy says, “because they allowed anyone and everyone to come and talk about how they are feeling about what they are seeing on the news, or what they have personally experienced. Then, we could talk about what the organization could do to help our people. It was a way to deal with a stressful time.”


Judy also explains that the Reflection Rounds were the start of their efforts around equity, diversity, and inclusion. “I’m very proud to be Co-Chair of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council for the hospital. It’s something that’s really important to me, and is really important to the organization.”


BCH’s learning strategy focused on employee wellbeing highlights one big advantage of Collaborative Learning. By creating safe spaces in the organization for discussion, Judy and her team can facilitate people bringing ideas to the table where they can learn collaboratively, share their points of view, and find a way to manage stress.

Related: How to Develop Anti-Bias and Diversity Training That’s Truly Effective

Measuring the impact of BCH’s new learning strategy

So, that’s Judy’s strategy for learning through a wellbeing lens. But how does she know that they are moving the needle as they address the stress faced by their employees?


“We do an engagement survey every twelve to eighteen months,” she says. “We just completed one in December of 2021. So, we are able to look at what is really going on for our people and what are they concerned about. And surprise, surprise: stress is at the top of the list.”


“My team is involved in helping create action plans and helping managers have those conversations so that it's not just: ‘okay, I need to check off the box’. We’re helping people focus on what they can really do to help their teams feel better.”


Judy and her team are also creating a dashboard specifically around learning and asking the questions: who’s coming to courses? Is this democratizing working? And are we getting people from all parts of the organization? On top of this, Judy is engaging with other departments.


“We have an Office of Culture at BCH,” Judy says. “So there’s a partnership between Culture, Human Resources, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to make sure we’re really thinking about all the opportunities that we can give our employees to be able to be both psychologically and physically healthy, and are able to enjoy coming in if they need to.”


“I feel very fortunate that I’ve been working remotely for the last almost two years. Hopefully that’s going to change and in our future, and we’ll all be able to at least be hybrid–that’s what we’re looking towards doing.”


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We are able to look at what is really going on for our people and what are they concerned about. And surprise, surprise: stress is at the top of the list.

Thanks to Judy for taking the time to share her strategy and specific examples with us!

The L&D leaders in our healthcare series are taking real strides with exciting and actionable initiatives, such as Sarah Larson of the Stanford University School of Medicine by promoting diverse leadership growth within her organization, and Adam Shandler of the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group when welcoming new nurses with peer learning.

Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Sign up to become a member of the L&D Collective, and check out our other #CLOConnect interviews with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.