By Mystie Johnson-Foote, MD, MBA

A colleague and I were recently invited to lead an emotional intelligence discussion as part of an organizational leadership development program for physicians. The group had connected through a few virtual events, but this was the first time they had been together in person in several months. Sessions like these can be unpredictable as people can be at different places. Even before COVID, there were broad reports of workforce burnout across industries. Leadership and team-building events could be seen as a platform to air grievances while others accomplished their goals.

In this case, the group was highly engaged. These participants were collegial, and appreciative and demonstrated love for each other as human beings. I observed in them a deep sense of belonging. During a break, I spoke with several individuals, asking questions and hearing their stories. I heard them say they worked hard and enjoyed their work. Their tone, body language, and general behaviors aligned with what they said. Surprisingly, no one mentioned feeling burnt out.

Around the same time, the results of another survey focusing on physician burnout was published. Nothing was surprising there either. Burnout is still rampant due to the same factors previously reported – bureaucratic tasks, long work hours, and lack of respect from operational/administrative partners. These top three factors represent areas that are seemingly out of an individual’s direct control, although one could argue the respect point is a two-way street. Most physicians reported that their employers were unaware that burnout was a problem, and 30% believed that talking about it with their peers could help.

Here’s where organizations can make a shift. This shift is not specific to physicians, it would apply to any group trying to tackle burnout. It’s all about control, not the organization’s control but the individual’s control. Listen to what your team members have to say and respond in ways that improve the work environment and make it easier for them to do the right thing. Make adjustments, listen more, then keep responding, and keep listening. 

Taking concrete steps to address and combat burnout within your organization will require a multidimensional, adaptable approach. Here are some tips for organizations to help reduce the risk of burnout:

  • Promote work-life balance: Set clear boundaries regarding after-work emails and calls, and actively discourage overtime unless absolutely necessary.
  • Provide flexible work arrangements: Offer remote work, flextime, or compressed workweeks if possible. 
  • Facilitate open communication: Foster a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable discussing their workload, concerns, and challenges. Encourage managers to have regular check-ins with their team members to offer support and address any issues early on.
  • Manage workload: Ensure that workloads are distributed evenly among team members. Provide adequate resources and support to help employees manage their tasks effectively.
  • Promote self-care: Educate employees about the importance of self-care and stress management techniques. Provide resources such as access to mental health professionals, mindfulness programs, or wellness initiatives.
  • Establish recognition and appreciation programs: Recognize and appreciate employees’ efforts and accomplishments regularly. Celebrate achievements, milestones, and contributions to boost morale and motivation.
  • Provide training and development: Invest in training and development opportunities to help employees build skills, enhance job satisfaction, and prevent stagnation. 
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities: Ensure that employees have a clear understanding of their roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
  • Encourage breaks and time off: Encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the workday to rest and recharge. 
  • Lead by example: Leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone for the organizational culture. Leaders should prioritize their own well-being and demonstrate healthy work habits to inspire others.
  • Monitor workload and stress levels: Implement mechanisms to monitor workload and stress levels within the organization. Regularly assess employee satisfaction, engagement, and burnout risk factors through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one discussions.
  • Create a supportive environment: Foster a supportive and inclusive work environment where employees feel valued, respected, and supported. Encourage teamwork, collaboration, and empathy among colleagues.

Tackling a culture of burnout requires persistence, endurance, and resilience from leaders. By implementing proactive strategies, organizations can create a healthier work environment that helps to reduce the risk of burnout and promotes employee well-being and productivity.

Additionally, professionals who specialize in organizational effectiveness have tools and programs geared toward helping individuals, teams, and leaders build resilience and develop strategies to manage burnout and other situations that may arise. 

At Innovative Connections, we know our world promises nothing more than continual, rapid change, and we know that change is hard. We would love to be part of your journey as you navigate the successes and challenges that lie ahead. If you’d like a free consultation to talk about how professional coaching, leadership development training, or strategy planning sessions can help you or your organization, we’d love to talk. Contact us for a no-obligation, free consultation by clicking this link: Innovative Connections or calling us at 970-279-3330.

Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.