You can’t open a business magazine or scroll through LinkedIn these days without running across an article about burnout. It’s a topic on a lot of people’s minds. A quick Google search of the word “burnout” brought up over 104 million results in 0.53 seconds. Wow! Narrowing that down to “burnout in healthcare leadership” dropped it to slightly less than 3 million.
In 2019, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” Specifically, they said, “burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
There has been a lot of attention given to physician burnout in recent years and rightly so. The suicide rate among physicians is alarming and burnout is often pointed to as a contributing factor. Health systems are making efforts to address burnout by pursuing initiatives that focus on physician wellness and engagement, reduce “pajama” time, and addressing the bureaucratic challenges that electronic medical records have placed on physicians by doing such things as adding scribes. All of these are important to help combat the burnout that our physician partners are experiencing and they should continue.
However, burnout in the healthcare industry isn’t exclusively experienced by physicians. It’s happening in many positions – nursing and others. According to a 2017 white paper published by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement titled IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work, “If burnout in health care were described in clinical or public health terms, it might well be called an epidemic.”
What most health systems are neglecting to address is the burnout that the rest of their employees are experiencing. I see it in the most extreme and with the least attention given in the area of leadership. Burned out leaders responsible for units that are operational 24/7, such as nursing leaders, are being hit particularly hard, but even leadership over areas such as Information Systems and Human Resources are reporting burnout.
In a 2017 study by Witt Kieffer called The Impact of Burnout on Healthcare Executives, 79% of study participants indicated that burnout was negatively impacting their organization and 79% of participants didn’t feel that their organization was doing enough to reduce or prevent executive burnout. The report indicates that “respondents at all levels report experiencing feelings of burnout during the previous six months with directors, CIOs and CFOs reporting the highest rates.” 100% of directors participating in the study indicated experiencing some level of burnout. That is staggering.
The study also indicated, “An alarming 71% of survey respondents indicate they are concerned that burnout will affect their own careers in healthcare management.” Most disturbingly, “three-quarters of healthcare executives know a colleague who left the industry altogether due to career burnout.”
This is a crisis in the healthcare industry that we must start talking about more openly and addressing. If we don't, the talent shortages that already exist in an industry that is already experiencing pressures is only going to get worse. Talent is leaving the industry at a time when we need their expertise.
Laurie is an experienced Human Resources executive who is passionate about organizational culture, creating great workplaces and employee engagement.