How to Reduce Burnout for Physicians and Healthcare Staff

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and, for physicians and healthcare staff, work-life balance has a tremendous impact on mental health. Prior to the pandemic, 8 in 10 physicians reported feeling somewhat happy or very happy outside of work, according to a Medscape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report. Currently, only 6 in 10 physicians say they are “somewhat happy” or “very happy” outside of work. Additionally, only 33% of physicians said they “always” or “most of the time” spend enough time on their own health and wellness.

Burnout among healthcare workers was already approaching concerning levels before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, after almost two and a half years on the frontlines, healthcare workers are experiencing burnout at almost epidemic proportions.

The 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The three dimensions of burnout include:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy

In a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey of over 1,300 front-line workers, 55% of respondents reported burnout. The youngest healthcare workers, 18-29 year olds, reported the highest rates (69%) of burnout. They also reported the highest negative impact of the pandemic on their mental health (75%). Nearly a third of all healthcare workers (62%) reported that the pandemic had affected their mental health. 

Burnout can affect workers’ mental and physical health if they do not manage it. If healthcare employees do not feel mentally or physically well, it can affect their workforce performance and their ability to care for their patients. Fortunately, burnout can be reduced—even prevented—with appropriate interventions and strategies. Here are five ways employers can help reduce burnout. 

#1 Offer employee wellness services

Workplace wellness programs became more common during the pandemic. A wellness program can help: 

  • Lower healthcare costs 
  • Reduce absenteeism 
  • Improve morale
  • Improve productivity 

There are many types of workplace wellness programs, such as stress reduction and weight loss. Which ones an organization offers will depend on a number of factors, including employee interest, leadership buy-in, and budget. It is important to communicate about the program(s) to ensure participation, and to measure the success of the programs regularly. To encourage employee and community health, Hoag produces Mindful Monday videos on YouTube, as well as livestream classes around wellness, fitness, and more.

#2 Reduce stigma around mental health and burnout

Any effort to reduce or avoid burnout must first address the stigma around mental health. It is important to recognize that mental health is health. Employees must feel comfortable discussing their struggles. That can only happen in a safe and supportive work environment. Address burnout and its consequences while providing opportunities for staff to share their concerns. Some staff may not want to open up because they are ashamed or afraid of the consequences. Remove any real or perceived barriers that might prevent staff from seeking help and be there for your coworkers. 

#3 Reduce administrative burden 

Healthcare visits generate a lot of paperwork, straining staff that is already stretched thin. Numerous surveys report paperwork as physicians’ number one complaints. EHRs often make the problem worse. An Annals of Internal Medicine study found that physicians spend over 16 minutes using EHRs per patient encounter. Doctors also spent 11% of the time on EHRs after hours. 

One way to reduce the administrative burden on physicians and their staff is to automate tasks such as scheduling and appointment reminders. Digital forms can replace paper intake forms and reduce the need for manual data entry. Find out where your staff’s pain points are in terms of administrative tasks. Research solutions that can help automate or digitize those tasks.

#4 Offer flexible work arrangements

Physicians and other healthcare staff often feel powerless when it comes to their schedule. One study found that lack of control and autonomy was the single most important predictor of burnout. Physicians’ perceived ability to manage their workload seemed to affect their happiness more than the workload itself.

Offering staff flexibility with their schedule can help reduce burnout. They should be able to make scheduling requests and receive the necessary accommodations.Determine if admin time should be 1 day or spread out through the week. Implement policies around the call schedule, sick leave, and vacation time. 

#5 Invest in leadership development

The quality of leadership can have a huge impact on healthcare staff’s job satisfaction and stress levels. Mayo Clinic found that a one-point increase in the leadership score of a physician’s immediate supervisor was associated with a 3.3 percent decrease in the likelihood of burnout. 

Leadership should be able to identify and implement strategies that will increase morale. They should also be able to recognize staff members’ unique strengths to boost motivation. Some ideas include; lunches, after hours events, retreats, sports teams, community service activities etc. 

Reducing burnout is essential for your staff’s mental and physical health. Ensure that employees have the tools and support they need to get through hard times. 
At Hoag, we help care for our people so they can focus on our mission of caring for our patients and our community. We invest in our employees and their loved ones with a wide range of benefits in areas including health, family, finance, community and vacation to support and improve their quality of life. To explore our current physician opportunities, please visit our career site.

About Hoag

Hoag Hospital is the highest-ranked hospital in Orange County in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 best hospital rankings. Since 1952, Hoag has served the local communities and continues its mission to provide the highest quality health care services through the core strategies of quality and service, people, physician partnerships, strategic growth, financial stewardship, community benefit and philanthropy.

Hoag is a nonprofit regional health care delivery network in Orange County, California, consisting of two acute-care hospitals, 13 urgent care centers, nine health centers and a network of more than 1,700 physicians, 100 allied health members, 7,000 employees and 2,000 volunteers. More than 30,000 inpatients and 450,000 outpatients choose Hoag each year.