How Your Healthcare Organization Can Recognize and Prevent Burnout

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Furthermore, WHO breaks burnout down into three dimensions:

1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
2. Increased mental distance from one’s job (feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job)
3. Reduced professional efficacy

What Causes Burnout?

It’s important to note that burnout is not an issue with one single individual – rather, it’s a combination of complexities that occur at the organizational level. Common causes of burnout amongst nurses and healthcare workers include:

  • High-stress environment
  • Distrust amongst team members
  • Unrealistic job expectations
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Lack of work/life balance - Long hours, feeling unable to take time off, lack of quality sleep

The Cost of Burnout

Burnout and compassion fatigue often work together to create disengaged employees. Unfortunately, this not only leads to a decline in patient care – it can also be detrimental to a company’s bottom line.

Between lost productivity, employee disengagement, and high turnover, burnout can cost organizations billions of dollars each year.

Jane Muir, ER nurse and medical author, noted that more than half of Registered Nurses (RNs) in the United States reported burnout, and that making investments to prevent burnout and turnover makes sound economic sense.

Muir compiled results from over 20 studies and found that “hospitals with burnout reduction initiatives spent $11,592 per nurse per year employed on burnout-related costs – about 30% less than hospitals without such programs, which spent, on average, $16,736 per nurse per year employed.”

Burnout in healthcare negatively impacts patient outcomes and can expose organizations to legal liability arising from increased medical errors. As a result, burnout can contribute to poor patience experiences, which can lead to patients choose to seek care somewhere else. 

Preventing Burnout Within Your Organization

1. Acknowledge the issues that exist
Though it may be difficult to admit, there is always room for improvement across all levels of a company, especially in healthcare. Like individuals, organizations have their strengths and weaknesses. And if you’re a leader, you may not be familiar with the day-to-day struggles that healthcare workers are experiencing on the units (and these constant struggles could be the anchors that are holding them down).

The best way to uncover issues is to talk with your employees. However, for employees to be willing to come forth with problems, you’ll need to consider something deeper – company culture.

2. Examine the culture
Ask yourself: “Do my employees feel safe or comfortable coming to management with problems?” If your staff doesn’t feel comfortable stepping forward and voicing concerns, then it may be time to examine if your company culture is disconnected. If employees are afraid of being honest for fear of retaliation or being ignored, then it’s time to pinpoint even deeper issues within the organization, from the top down.

3. Work Together to Find Solutions

Gather a team of people to identify and discuss issues that are highly correlated with employee burnout, such as unfair treatment, overwhelming workloads, and transparent communication.

Full-time employees should have access to benefits, including an EAP, or Employee Assistance Program. It is common that EAPs include the option for in-person or virtual therapy sessions at no cost to the employee.

If you haven’t already done so, consider implementing company-wide wellness initiatives that focus on physical wellness as well as healthy coping mechanisms, meditation, stress management, and emotional well-being.

You have the power to prevent and reverse burnout by changing how you manage and lead employees. It is crucial to address the root causes of employee burnout in your organization in order to empower employees to feel and perform their best.

To learn more about strategies to prevent burnout, check out this article.

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LeaderStat specializes in direct care staff, interim leadership, executive recruitment, travel nursing and consulting for healthcare organizations nationwide.