Connections Prevent Burnout
Connections matter. Connecting to our purpose, to our mission, to what we find meaningful in life, serves as protection against burnout.
When we are disconnected, our risk of burnout increases.
There are three key connections we can foster to reduce the risk of burnout – connections to self and colleagues, connections to patients, and connections to our organizational leaders. Fortuitously, these three connections align with the three components of the Stanford WellMD professional fulfillment model:
· Personal resilience aligns with connections to self and colleagues
· Efficiency of practice aligns with connections to our patients
· Culture of wellness aligns with connections to our organizational leaders
Stick with me here and I’ll explain.
Personal Resilience and Connections to self and colleagues
Clinicians are by nature highly resilient. The root cause of clinician burnout is not inadequate resilience. As Maslach and Leiter say, “Burnout is a sign of major dysfunction within an organization and says more about the workplace than it does about the employees.”
That said, we have a long way to go to fix the dysfunction in our healthcare organizations, and this will take time. While we are fixing things, we need to enhance our personal resilience. Taking care of ourselves and each other is vital. Self care includes basic human needs like eating, hydrating, using the bathroom, getting enough sleep, and yoga/meditation. Caring for each other includes formal activities like a wellness group and informal activities like just hanging out, both of which provide the opportunity to share our stories, our fears, our successes, and our joys.
All of these are harder to do in the throes of the pandemic, yet this is the time we need them more than ever. As individual clinicians, and as the managers and leaders whose job it is to support them, we should not de-emphasize support for clinician resilience in these challenging times.
Efficiency of Practice and Connections to Patients
The term “Efficiency of Practice” can be a hot button for some clinicians who hear this and think, “They want me to do EVEN MORE when I’m already stretched too thin!”
I think of it differently. I think of improving efficiency as removing inefficiency. Think of all the barriers and frustrations that keep clinicians from connecting to a patient:
The data-entry burden
Manually entering passwords
The worthless prior authorizations
The meaningless best practice pop-ups
Trips to the printer when it’s out of paper
Searching for a supply that was not in the place it’s supposed to be
I could go on . . .
These eat away at valuable time that should be spent directly connecting with our patient. They take away 50% or more of the time a clinician could be face-to-face with their patient in a 15 – 20 minute appointment. By removing those barriers and frustrations, we increase the meaningful time during which we connect with our patients and decrease pajama time - word done after the work day is over.
Most organizations are overflowing with opportunities to change workflows and remove those barriers and frustrations. During these challenging times, we should be emphasizing opportunities to remove waste and increase the capacity for clinicians to connect to patients. This reduces the work overload that drives burnout.
Culture of wellness aligns with connections to our organizational leaders
Leadership matters. Better leadership reduces burnout in those they lead. That said, leadership is hard, especially in these challenging times. Just at the time people need more communication, clarity, and support, leaders are stretched thin with less time to communicate, uncertain about conditions and recommendations that are rapidly changing, and are stressed personally themselves.
Many leaders feel as though they need to have all the answers when there are far more questions, and today’s answer may change tomorrow, raising the risk of appearing insincere or uninformed.
It’s actually OK to not have the answers when there are none. What matters is honesty. Clinicians are sophisticated, intelligent, and mature. (We may not always act like it when under stress, but trust me on this one.)
Clinicians appreciate leaders who are honest about uncertainty, and if leaders approach clinicians as respected colleagues, clinicians will become allies in dealing with challenges and solving problems. It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they have to have all the answers. They don’t. Leaders connect with their front line clinicians when they work together, creating a culture of trust and wellness that reduces cynicism and burnout.
We can reduce burnout and enhance professional fulfillment when we focus on improving connections:
· Connections with ourselves and our colleagues
· Connections with our patients
· Connections between front line clinicians and organizational leaders
Our lives are meaningful. Enhancing these connections deepens the meaning in our lives and reduces the suffering of burnout. I encourage you to pursue these connections in your work.