ACHE 2017: At Mayo Clinic, 5 management traits help reduce physician, staff burnout

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Managers can help reduce physician and staff burnout with five behaviors.

CHICAGO—There’s a secret sauce that can help reduce physician and healthcare staff burnout, says Stephen J. Swenson, M.D.

The Mayo Clinic, which has been studying and working to solve the problem of burnout, has found five behaviors managers exhibit that can actually reduce burnout in the doctors, nurses and other staff members in their departments. Swenson, the medical director for leadership and organization development at the Rochester, Minnesota-based organization, broke those traits down Wednesday for an audience at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress in Chicago.

Point-of-care care leaders have a huge impact on the joy that frontline staff find in their work, he said.


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The Mayo Clinic does one survey every October of its 64,000 staff members—including doctors, nurses and executives—in which they answer nine questions about their immediate manager, he said. For every point leaders go up on a scale that measures their desirable behaviors, there is an increase in staff satisfaction and a decrease in burnout.

The five behaviors of managers that staff said made such a big difference were:

  1. They show appreciation. They are not hesitant to tell staff that they appreciate their work and to say thank you
  2. They listen to their ideas. Instead of dictating how something will be done, the best managers ask: "What do you think we should do?"
  3. They communicate transparently. They do not pretend that they have all the answers
  4. They take an interest in people’s careers. Their attitude is: "let me see what I can do to help you meet your dreams," said Swenson. He recalled a doctor who was brought to tears when his surgical chair offered to spend a couple of hours with him on a Saturday morning to help him put together a plan to get him promoted
  5. They are inclusive of all staff members. Good managers can work with a diverse staff and make everyone feel included

Organizations need to ensure leaders are caring for their staff, Swenson said. At the Mayo Clinic, burnout rates of leaders are less than those of staff. If managers are living those five behaviors, they find joy in their own work, he said.

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