Burnout is one of the largest challenges facing the healthcare industry, affecting healthcare providers at every level. While the pandemic was a major factor in compounding the problem, burnout rates have continued to remain high across provider demographics, ranging from 56 percent for nurses to 46 percent for nonclinical staff.1
Many healthcare providers state that they plan to leave their jobs within the next two years,2 setting up the potential for an even bigger problem down the road in settings that are already dealing with clinical capacity and access issues. In addition to this concern, providers experiencing burnout are more likely to make dangerous mistakes, putting patients and organizations at risk.
Here are six main factors that contribute to healthcare staff burnout and what you can do to mitigate it at the organizational level.
1. Problem: Work Overload
In healthcare, productivity standards are generally defined by how quickly patients are moving through the door. When these standards are too high at the expense of other productivity goals, providers can experience burnout and even an increase in observed unethical behavior.3
Strategies for Addressing Work Overload
- Emphasize ethical and evidence-based practices.
- Survey employees anonymously about the ethical climate and organizational behavior, and create actionable plans based on employee feedback.
- Don’t solely measure productivity based on billable units; instead, include other measures such as patient satisfaction and professional growth.
- Involve clinicians in developing productivity goals related to leadership, clinic growth, patient outcomes, attitude, and continuing education.
2. Problem: Lack of Control
When providers have low control over the structure and schedule of their jobs, this can lead to a sense of powerlessness and burnout, especially when a high level of stress is already present.
Strategies for Addressing Lack of Control
- Promote active participation in organizational decision-making to encourage greater levels of efficacy.
- Allow greater flexibility with scheduling and managing caseload.
- Practice job crafting, which allows employees to make self-initiated changes in the design of their job to better allow for their individual strengths, needs, and working preferences. You can learn more about job crafting in the course Burnout in Health Care: Causes, Impact, and Solutions.
3. Problem: Insufficient Reward
When we think of job-related rewards, we often think of financial returns, but there are two other important types of rewards as well: status-related (such as job security and the opportunity for a promotion) and socioemotional, in the form of high esteem and recognition. Without appropriate and sufficient status-related and socioemotional rewards, employees can quickly lose motivation.
Strategies for Addressing Insufficient Reward
- Ensure that expectations are clear and explicit.
- Provide the materials, equipment, and other tools necessary for job success.
- Enable and empower employees to do their best, learn, and grow.
- Consistently give employees recognition and praise for doing good work.
- Foster a culture of mentorship in which employees feel that supervisors care about them as individuals and encourage their career and personal development.
- Listen to and consider employee feedback.
4. Problem: Breakdown of Community
The single most important factor in team success or failure is the quality of relationships on the team. When this suffers, employees are much more likely to develop cynicism, low morale, and burnout.
Strategies for Addressing Breakdown of Community
- Appreciation languages help employees feel an ongoing sense of social support. They might include words of affirmation, acts of service, gift giving, or quality time together, such as shared coffee or lunch breaks.
- Help cultivate a positive work culture where concrete appreciation languages among co-workers can take root.
- Consider having employees take a personality test such as the MedBridge Clinician Type Quiz as a way to improve mutual understanding and communication. When co-workers have insight into their own traits and those of others, they’re better equipped to navigate differences, compromise, and help each other.
5. Problem: Unfairness and Injustice
Fairness in the workplace refers to the extent to which decisions at work are perceived as being fair and people are treated with respect. Mutual respect is central to a shared sense of community at work. In an unfair work environment, employees might experience inequity of workload or pay, cheating on the part of other employees, inappropriately handled evaluations and promotions, dispute resolutions where neither party has a voice, and even workplace bullying. Situations like these can lead to lowered work engagement, high absenteeism, high turnover, lowered performance, and increased errors.
Strategies for Addressing Lack of Fairness
- Foster a culture of positivity and collaboration to reduce interpersonal misconduct.
- Practice effective conflict management.
- Develop and clearly communicate a policy prohibiting any manifestation of bullying.
- Implement conflict mediation and coaching for staff and managers.
- Create a feedback system between staff and management.
- Include self evaluations in annual performance reviews.
- Promote job autonomy and self-efficacy to help employees feel empowered.
6. Problem: Significant Value Conflicts
As Stephen Hawking said, “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” Meaning is the ultimate employee retention strategy: When employees are able to work toward a meaningful personal goal that also aligns with their organization’s mission, there is high value congruence. On the flip side, value conflicts can arise when there’s a discrepancy between the work an employee wants to do and the work they have to do. If employees experience this type of conflict, they can lose energy, motivation, and focus.
Strategies for Addressing Value Conflicts
- Define and discuss explicit and implicit expectations with new hires, and revisit the discussion regularly.
- Allow for job crafting, the practice of allowing employees to better tailor their roles to their individual needs and strengths.
- Bring back former patients to share testimonials so that clinicians have greater visibility into how much of a difference they make in the lives of their patients.
- Develop and encourage a culture of positivity, good communication, individual autonomy, collaboration, and mutual respect.
Want to find out more? Continue learning about the six causes of burnout and how to implement these solutions in my comprehensive eBook and in my course Team and Organizational Interventions for Burnout in Health Care.
How MedBridge Helps
MedBridge provides a comprehensive digital platform for helping organizations prevent and mitigate staff burnout. Our targeted, proven approach helps engage and retain staff with targeted clinical education, soft skill and leadership training, and advanced specialty programs.
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Designed for healthcare leaders and clinicians, our expert-led courses on healthcare staff burnout help participants gain a strong understanding of how burnout develops and the wide-ranging consequences it can have, while providing actionable, step-by-step methods for preventing and reducing it.
1. U.S. News: Burnout Levels High Among U.S. Health Care Workers. April, 2023.
2. Forbes: New Survey Shows That Up to 47% of U.S. Healthcare Workers Plan to Leave Their Positions by 2025. April, 2022.
3. Allen, B., Brismée, J., O’Connell, J., Tammany, J. Are Productivity Goals in Rehabilitation Practice Associated With Unethical Behaviors? Archives of Rehabilitation Research and Clinical Translation. 2019 Jun.