ACHE 2017: 6 evidence-based actions to cut staff burnout

CHICAGO—There’s some good news for healthcare organizations that want a magic pill to cure physician and staff burnout.

“There’s no reason we have to wait for this magic pill to arrive,” said Stephen J. Swenson, M.D., medical director for leadership and organization development at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

There are six validated and evidence-based actions that organizations can take now to reduce burnout—which is estimated to impact 54% of doctors—and increase physician engagement, said Swenson, who outlined those steps last week for an audience at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress in Chicago.

The six actions to help return the joy in work for physicians and other healthcare workers require:

Leadership support. Your leaders must take care of the people who work on their teams. Good managers build camaraderie and demonstrate five behaviors, including showing appreciation and listening to concerns, that staff say makes a difference in the work environment.

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Organizational design. Select leaders who allow staff to participate in decisions rather than take a two-down approach. “If staff feel like construction workers instead of architects that has huge implications,” Swenson said. Research, he said, has found the most meaningful driver of happiness across numerous countries was having meaningful work.

Commensality. Just as firefighters cook and share meals together, Mayo Clinic encourages groups of doctors to get together and will pay for meals, which builds camaraderie, he said. Human beings are set up for distrusting people who don’t look like them, he said, so it’s important for people to get to know and trust each other.

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Drivers. Address the drivers that give people their greatest work headaches. “What are the pebbles in your shoes?” he asks. Leaders and staff can work out problems together. Ask whether your organization is requiring doctors to do activities that cause them headaches because of patient safety or regulatory reasons. “If not, stop doing it,” he said.

Staff support. A nurse who made a mistake that led to the death of an eight-month-old child, later committed suicide. With 435 physician suicides last year, healthcare must take care of second victims. Just as healthcare organizations support patients, families and friends, they need to support their staff members, he said.

Resilience. Organizations must focus on social, physical and mental resources for staff. Wide-ranging factors such as Mediterranean diets, gratitude, sunlight, movement, meditation and sleep can help protect against burnout, he said.