Burnout is becoming increasingly recognized as a widespread problem among healthcare professionals. In fact, one out of every three rehab professionals describe themselves as burnt out, with high patient loads and long work hours being two of the top contributing factors.1
How do we combat this problem? While there are bigger, systemic issues that are harder to address as individual clinicians, there are some very obtainable solutions you can implement in your own clinic to help prevent burnout in yourself and your staff.
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What is Burnout?
Burnout is considered a stress syndrome with three distinct characteristics: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment.2 Signs and symptoms of burnout are similar to those of depression, including extreme fatigue, loss of passion, cynicism, and negativity.3
Burnout occurs when “the demands of a job outstrip a person’s ability to cope with the stress.”3 Dr. Christina Maslach, one of the most well-known researchers on burnout, identified six fundamental factors in the workplace that contribute to burnout: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. Things like lack of support, large workloads, and time pressure all fall into these categories.4,5 When there is an imbalance in these factors, burnout can emerge.3
How Burnout Can Affect Your Clinic
Burnout is dangerous because it can directly affect someone’s ability to care for patients—it often leads to poor patient interactions and can even cause impaired attention, memory, and executive function.3 It can also affect personal health, increasing a person’s risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and even substance use and misuse.2
Burnout can also impact your clinic financially. Researchers believe burnout-related turnover can cost between $2.6 to $6.3 billion annually for physicians.2
5 Ways to Help Prevent Burnout
While there are some systemic issues at play that can contribute to burnout, such as corporate or federal policies, there are certain things you can do for yourself and your staff that can help prevent burnout.
1. Help Staff Find Meaning in Their Work
Employees who can connect with their work or their company’s purpose in a way that makes their job feel important are significantly less likely to experience burnout.6 Thus, helping staff find meaning in the work they do can have a huge impact on their risk of burning out. Research has shown having a sense of meaning can decrease stress while increasing motivation, employee engagement, empowerment, and job satisfaction.7
To help staff find meaning in their work, managers can frequently remind employees how important their work is and how they help their organization fulfill its mission.6 Prioritize making staff feel their work is valued and appreciated.
2. Check in on Your Staff’s Wellbeing
Because burnout has such detrimental effects mentally and sometimes physically, it’s good to check in on your staff’s wellbeing so you can catch any warning signs of burnout. Invite open communication with your staff so you can be aware of any challenges they are facing and thus proactively address those challenges. Understanding their needs is the first step in preventing the onset of burnout. A report by Gallup suggests employees who feel supported by their manager are 70% less likely to experience burnout regularly.6
Wherever possible, make staff wellbeing a priority. Do what you can to implement policies and interventions to promote wellbeing, such as ensuring adequate wages, sick leave, and access to health insurance.4 Also strive to make mental health resources available to all staff. Gallup states, “When an organization makes wellbeing a priority of its culture and provides resources for employees to live healthier lives, they take better care of themselves.”6 And when staff can take care of themselves, they’re able to do their jobs well.
3. Encourage Teamwork and Teambuilding
Studies have shown building connections with colleagues and having positive interactions with them can lead to highly beneficial results.8 Good relationships within the workplace can help with lowering stress levels, strengthening teamwork, and creating a positive work environment, all of which are factors that can decrease the risk of burnout. Try organizing fun team-building activities to allow your staff to build connections with each other and develop a sense of camaraderie to make it easier to work through more challenging times.
4. Help Map Career Paths and Goals
The 2022 WebPT State of Rehab Therapy report found a lack of career growth opportunities was the fourth highest reason for rehab therapy professionals leaving a job.1 To combat this concern, consider offering more opportunities for mentorships and career growth. Whether that’s providing an incentive for experienced staff members to mentor new staff or increasing educational opportunities, it’s important to ensure your colleagues have channels to develop their career. Communicate with employees to understand their goals, and work with them to make those goals manageable and achievable.
5. Mandate Staffing Ratios
The top cited contributor to burnout was high patient loads, according to the WebPT State of Rehab Therapy report.1 Not only can a high patient-to-clinician ratio cause your staff to burn out, but it also presents dangers to patient care, as mentioned earlier. Mandating staffing ratios can allow your team more time to properly care for their patients, as well as reduce feelings of work overload. Ensure the workload is balanced and fair across your staff so everyone can fulfill their roles to the best of their ability.
To prevent burnout, the biggest rule of thumb is to communicate with your staff so you can meet their needs. Support them professionally, recognize their limits, and create a healthy work environment that prioritizes wellbeing. Remember—taking care of your staff can be just as important as taking care of your patients.
- (2022). The State of Rehab Therapy. WebPT. https://bit.ly/3FyBYY5
- Murthy, Vivek H. (2022). Addressing Health Worker Burnout: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce. Office of the Surgeon General. https://bit.ly/3HaOiil
- Michel, Alexandra. (2016, January 29). Burnout and the Brain. Association for Psychological Science. https://bit.ly/2rc8Qz6
- Murthy, Vivek H. Confronting Health Worker Burnout and Wellbeing. The New England Journal of Medicine. https://bit.ly/3BimxR5
- (2017, July). Physician Burnout. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. https://bit.ly/3UFssqa
- How to Prevent Employee Burnout. Gallup. https://bit.ly/3P7jMb5
- (2013, December). Weir, Kirsten. More than job satisfaction. American Psychological Association. https://bit.ly/3VIUId6
- (2018, August 6). Thomas, Ivelices. Four Ways To Re-Energize A Stressed-Out, Burnt-Out Team Forbes. https://bit.ly/3VDhQcD
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