Almost anyone you speak with concerning job related burnout will acknowledge it is a big problem which is getting demonstrably worse. Entire professional gatherings, seminars, and symposia have been devoted to this issue of late. All in attendance will agree job burnout is real, that it is getting worse, and something needs to be done about it quickly. Then, everyone goes home and little changes.
Worse still, the sole focus for reducing or eliminating burnout from the workplace is most often the individual employee. Wellness and resilience seminars will endorse and teach stress reduction, time management, meditation, mindfulness, thankfulness, and even yoga as beneficial at reducing burnout.
While these strategies are not without benefit in temporarily reducing the symptoms of burnout, they do not address the underlying major job-employee mismatches which cause job burnout. Even if an individual employee is able to successfully reduce the symptoms of burnout, inserting them right back into a toxic work environment will just burn them out all over again.
Only 10% of employees burn themselves out. It is the work environment which burns out the remaining 90% of employees. Burnout reduction initiatives targeting individual employees may help the 10% who burn themselves out but not help the 90% who were burned out by their work environment.
The six major job-employee mismatches which cause job related burnout are well documented. Yet, the mismatches which are responsible for burnout are rarely the focus of burnout alleviation, mitigation, elimination and prevention efforts. This is a set-up for failure.
Here are reasons why burnout initiatives targeting individual employees fail 90% of the time:
- When efforts to eliminate burnout are focused on the individual rather than the work environment the subtle message becomes, “You are the problem. You are broken. We broke you, but we are going to give you some tools so you can go fix yourself.”
- Employees are being stretched to the maximum in terms of work load, time pressure, and lack of control. Already feeling overworked, there is no additional time to devote to self-help measures, even if the employee had the energy to do them. When burned out, they don’t.
- Programs which do not address the underlying causes of burnout will not succeed. Since the employee is not responsible for causing the job-employee mismatches, they are in no position to change or eliminate them.
- Job related burnout is often misidentified as an overabundance of stress. Stress and burnout are decidedly different even though they may coincide. I say may because if you are burned out I can say with 100% assurance you are stressed but you can be stressed without being burned out. Burnout causes stress. Stress does not cause burnout. The approach to each should be decidedly different. Strategies aimed at stress reduction will not eliminate burnout because the underlying causes of job burnout will not be addressed strictly with stress management instruction.
- Wellness and resilience are not just qualities possessed by individuals. Just like any other desirable value, they are qualities available to organizations as well. Organizations can never be “well” if they are burning employees out. As long as organizations focus all burnout reduction and elimination efforts on the individual employees, burnout rates are unlikely to improve. To foster engagement, resilience, and wellness in the workplace, the workplace must dynamically change.
The last sentence describes the 800-pound gorilla large employers and administrators aren’t anxious to discuss. Yet, if the growing and rapidly accelerating trend of job burnout is to change, they must become active participants in changing the character and culture of their work environments. If not, their businesses will continue to suffer and they will be left behind by more advanced thinkers.
Large employers and organizations would do well to adopt large scale efforts in reducing the mismatches which cause burnout while fostering an atmosphere conducive to engagement. The benefits are clear.
- Decrease employee turnover/Improve retention of needed talent
- Increase employee satisfaction/Decrease employee complaints
- Decrease employee absenteeism
- Improve customer satisfaction/Decrease customer complaints
- Increase the quality of products and services
- Eliminate work hostility and promote workplace harmony
- Decrease the threat of lawsuits
These benefits are lucrative for businesses in the long run and not just because of decreased bottom line spending. They are income generating.
Large employer groups and organizations should take the lead in changing their work environments in a dynamic fashion. They would prosper in doing so, as others have, by recruiting and retaining the best talent and producing superior goods and services.
Here are a number of ways cutting edge employers are defeating job burnout in the healthcare arena:
- Running clinics which start at 6 AM and close at 7 or 8 PM, because some doctors would gladly see patients at 6 AM if they could get off at 3 in the afternoon to go kayaking, golfing, running or watch their kid’s soccer game. Others would gladly begin clinic at 10 AM and get off at 7 PM because they like to take their kids to school each morning or simply because they aren’t morning people. Patients love it because they can be seen before or after their work hours. Alternatively, longer three or four-day work weeks with overlapping schedules are highly desirable for others.
- Providing in house day-care. This is a no brainer. In most instances it can be done for a fraction of what parents are paying elsewhere. Employers could offer to subsidize it as a benefit. Imagine how happy staff would be if they were able to have lunch with their kids because they are so close by, if they didn’t have to leave work if their child becomes sick, or if they could visit them whenever they had a free moment.
- Giving providers control over their own schedules, allowing them to set the pace of their day and paying them according to their output, not some one size must fit all production expectation. People work at different speeds.
- Getting rid of the notion of FTE’s (Full Time Equivalents) by hiring providers who want to work less than full time, even if it is just one day a week. There are competent providers sitting at home right now because they do not wish to work full-time and can’t find part-time positions. This is a tragic waste of talent.
- Giving providers a few hours of PTO time each month to go and work for their favorite charity such as Habitat for Humanity or the local soup kitchen.
- Contracting with providers who work under the DPC (Direct Primary Care) business model because they are the happiest physicians practicing. With very low overhead, a capped patient population, and a known, steady fixed income, they see half the number of patients in a day as most providers yet their incomes are comparable.
- Hiring staff to provide wellness activities and promote healthy behaviors. These staff members would more than pay for themselves as they continuously monitor, identify, and eliminate the job-employee mismatches which cause job burnout while fostering a work environment more conducive to engagement.
The modern-day work environment has changed rapidly and profoundly in a relatively short period of time. Not all of those changes have been good for those who provide the goods and services, those who do the work. Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in my profession, the practice of medicine.
The personal satisfaction and the tangible and intangible rewards obtained from an individual’s particular career and job choice are being eroded by toxic work environments causing job related burnout 90% of the time. Efforts solely devoted to changing the employee will continue to fail, 90% of the time.
It is the work environment which must change.