The high-stakes and critical nature of biotech and healthcare mean employees are more prone to overworking and emotional exhaustion, putting them at high risk of burnout. In fact, more than half of physicians, nurses, and hospital staff say they have experienced it.
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized burnout as a “syndrome” caused by mismanagement of workplace stress. With its characteristics of increased exhaustion, alienation from one’s job, and a decrease in “professional efficacy,” burnout is a telling sign of unhealthy work situations. This can eventually lead to high turnover rates and talent shortage, not to mention the threats to patient safety as well as clinical risks.
An increasing trend in all industries, burnout is significantly prevalent in the medical industry. It’s up to HR leaders and management to curb the worrying trend. How are other hospitals doing it?
1. Stellar support system
The Ohio State health system’s Stress, Trauma, and Resilience (STAR) Program focuses on providing a mental and psychological support system for their workforce. Hospital staff are trained through STAR’s Brief Emotional Support Team (BEST) program to lend emotional support to their colleagues and provide them with a framework to address grief and trauma among themselves.
According to their website, the program “arms groups with tools and skills to develop and nurture a culture of built-in support among peers in the workplace.”
2. A quiet place
Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) fashioned a “reset room” out of vacant office space for staff that need a quick moment of peace during their busy day. Decorated with LED lights, flameless candles, plants, and chairs, clinicians can flip on an “in use” sign and steal a few minutes from their schedule to breathe, cool down, or take an important phone call.
The “reset room” was one of HCMC’s wellness initiatives for its staff that came after the Office of Professional Worklife was formed. Mark Linzer, HCMC’s Director of the Division of General Medicine, believes that initiatives like these “result in more energy for patient care, better recruitment and retention, more loyalty to the organization, and better morale among clinicians and staff.”
3. Crafting creative outlets
Clinicians at Washington D.C.’s MedStar Georgetown University Hospital relieve their stress through art and live music. The staff are encouraged to engage in artistic projects like bracelet making, creative writing, music, and dance. The hospital’s Lombardi Arts & Humanities Program also invites yoga instructors for five-minute sessions with doctors, nurses, and workers all over the hospital.
“What we provide with visual art, music, and dance are moments that can take their attention away from the stress,” said Julia Langley, the hospital’s program director.
4. Streamlining against stress
The Kirkland Medical Center tackles both patient care and workflow improvement with the Virginia Mason Production System, a combination of the “basic tenets of the Toyota Production System (TPS), and elements from the philosophies of kaizen and lean.”
This means that routine workload is streamlined, allowing clinicians more time for patient care – their primary source of satisfaction in work – and that employee engagement is consistent through the system’s learning philosophies.
5. Record-keeping redesign
Cleveland Clinic is putting the same effort on streamlining the workflow for physicians. Dr. Sumitra Khatri of the clinic’s Pathobiology Department said she is working with a panel of physicians in the effort to redesign the electronic medical records (EMR) system.
According to her, physicians are spending more time on EMRs compared to providing care to their patients, limiting the time they spend doing the work they love.
The panel aims to update the workflow to involve assistants taking a bigger role in the EMR logging, as well as the development of software customized for the work.
“It’s something that never ends,” Khatri said. “It’s like quicksand: you can go in and never leave. And for people who are perfectionists and want to finish tasks and do their best, that can be a source of anxiety. So this campaign is part of making IT disappear and become part of the fabric of our work.”
From novel engagement methods to redesigned workflows, the call to pay more attention to clinician wellness is getting louder. And for good reason: an engaged staff is critical to both patient satisfaction ratings and the organization’s financial performance. How do you keep your workforce from burning out?