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Turning the Lever Down on Burnout and Turning Up Resilience, Well-Being and Joy (Part 2)

What organizations can do to help build well-being in healthcare

As mentioned in part 1 of this series, it’s important to distinguish between what you can do as an individual and what organizations can do to help mitigate burnout and enhance thriving.

Doctors and nurses discuss difficult decisions with patients, often give bad news, and provide support for family members and fellow caregivers daily. In addition, as care complexity and external regulations have increased over the past decade, many unintended consequences have fallen on the shoulders of healthcare providers. For many healthcare professionals, including 50 percent of doctors and 26 percent of ER nurses in the U.S., striving to maintain top levels of performance can lead to burnout.

Patrick Kneeland, M.D., a member of the National Taskforce for Humanity of Healthcare (NTH), a faculty member at IHE and the Executive Medical Director for Patient and Provider Experience at University of Colorado Health (UCHealth), dedicates a good part of his time to finding solutions to the problem of burnout.

“For organizations to be able to tackle burnout collectively, it’s important to acknowledge that there is a stigma and a tendency to blame the individual,” says Dr. Kneeland.

“It’s almost like saying, if you’re not resilient you must be doing something wrong. It becomes a Catch-22 for caregivers when we blame the victim,” Dr. Kneeland points out.

The bulk of the work needed in avoiding burnout lies within leadership. The entire organization needs to combat the stigma that “if you’re not thriving, you’re weak or you’re not cut out for this type of work.” Most team members are highly resilient. The system is designed in a way that overwhelms resilience.

The need to optimize culture and give leaders the skills they need to create and nurture a healthy workforce is critical in all industries, including healthcare.

Workplace surveys consistently show that team dynamics significantly contribute to stress levels. Twenty-eight percent of workers cite “people issues” as a main source of stress.

A strategy used by some physician groups at UCHealth is to start including resilience questions in the annual review process. “We found that people were doing reviews as something to just check off a list. But here’s an example of a leadership skill that can be taught. Instead of checking the box, pause and truly check in with people,” says Dr. Kneeland.

In the hospital medicine group at UCHealth, the questions are open ended: In what ways are you thriving? What would it take to help you thrive more? What can we do to help you thrive? This opens the door for professionals to discuss burnout openly and without stigma.

“When we started doing this four years ago, we identified the domains of high performance culture. We want to encourage people to expand to obtain the results they desire personally and as a team. The idea is to reach a place where caregivers are achieving the results they desire in multiple domains (connect with purpose, professional development, collegial work environment and others),” says Dr. Kneeland. “As we committed to this approach and built strategies to foster such a culture, our burnout rates dropped even as trends such as patient volumes and care complexity continued to increase.”

This organizational approach contributes to preventing burnout before it takes hold. The Institute for Healthcare Excellence (IHE), working with the National Taskforce, has identified specific skills that can be learned and nurtured to effectively prevent burnout.

“Giving leaders, physicians and nurses the skills and tools to build resilience and well-being is a must for organizations,” says Jennifer Krippner, NTH member and Chief Experience Officer at IHE. “Resilience, well-being and joy enable the ability to thrive – enhancing the experience for caregivers, patients and families.”

Key Take-Aways

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