3 ways to stop the spread of burnout

As medical providers, you know how rapidly germs can spread and cause illness. You know the sneaky ways they tag along on even the uninfected to ensure proliferation of disease--as well as simple but effective strategies for keeping them contained. But these pathogens aren't the only contagion in your office. The equally grave conditions of burnout and pessimism, as FiercePracticeManagement reported last week, have now consumed nearly half of the U.S. physician workforce.

It's not just physicians who are afflicted with these dangerous symptoms such as loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Other clinicians and administrative employees are suffering, too.

But unlike bacteria and viruses, you can't wash away burnout. And even if you could attempt a quarantine, isolation only exacerbates the problem. So how do you stop the wildfire?

Obviously, if a complete answer existed, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Much of the prevailing advice focuses on addressing individuals in distress. While this outreach is critical, I think practices need to make a conscious effort to bolster their defenses against infectious negativity as a whole. Consider, for example, how your practice might adopt the following measures:

Support your leaders. It stands to reason that the individuals carrying the most responsibility for making your practice succeed would be among the most susceptible to being overcome by stress--and that pressure will inevitably boil over and trickle down. Yet many business cultures support a captain-goes-down-with-the-ship mentality. Fairness and work-life balance shouldn't apply to everyone except owners and executives. If you're in one of these roles, resist the temptation to martyr yourself more than necessary. No matter how long or intense the hours of your day, build into them a commitment to keep yourself mentally and physically restored.

Create community. As prevalent as burnout has become, victims tend to feel very alone in their ordeal. It might not be feasible to squeeze much social time into a typical office day, but there are productive ways to connect while caring for patients. One multitasker that comes to mind is the Walk with a Doc program, in which a physician leads a neighborhood walk with patients and chats with them about preventive health issues along the way. There's no reason everyone from a receptionist to an administrator can't be involved in this or a similar activity, too. It could not only give staffers the opportunity to engage (and get in some physical activity) in a more casual setting, but also to interact with patients when they're likely more relaxed than they may seem in the office. It's a chance to feel a sense of accomplishment without working exceptionally hard. And if employees do view sharing 45 minutes of a Saturday with colleagues and patients as work time, give them one day during the week to leave a little early or offer a small token of appreciation, such as a gift card for coffee or even a hand-written thank you.

Celebrate accomplishments. Practice experts frequently recommend morning huddles, but there's no set prescription for how you conduct them. These quickie meetings don't have to follow the same pattern every morning, nor do they have to take place at any set time of day. Experiment. Maybe it makes sense to touch base right before you close the office for the day. Or perhaps take two minutes for positivity mid-afternoon when your collective energy is starting to fade. Bring up just one thing your team has accomplished, even if it seems small. Even if all it seems you've done so far that day is survive, acknowledge that you did it. Appreciate that you will have many little and big moments to celebrate the next day and the next. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)