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December 2, 2022

Staff feeling burnt out? Here's how to ensure they feel valued.

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    With burnout among health care workers reaching "crisis levels," many employers are offering bonuses to attract and retain talent—but experts warn that employers should focus on creating a culture where workers feel valued and supported instead of relying on unsustainable monetary rewards, Katie Adams writes for MedCity News.

    Burnout among health care workers has reached 'crisis levels'

    In May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released an advisorywarning that burnout among health care workers has reached "crisis levels." As workers continue to struggle with burnout, estimates project that there will be a shortage of 3 million low-wage health care workers in the next five years and almost 140,000 fewer physicians by 2033.

    A recent survey from Bain and Company found that among clinicians thinking about leaving health care, 89% cited burnout as the primary reason. Other reasons included personal health and safety, the health and safety of family and friends, financial insecurity, and more.

    In a separate survey published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers found that over 60% of physicians experienced at least one symptom of burnout in 2021, and fewer physicians reported being satisfied with their careers compared to before the pandemic.

    The study findings demonstrate that burnout rates, which were already high before the pandemic, have now "risen to alarming levels," according to the New York Times.

    "This is the biggest increase of emotional exhaustion that I've ever seen, anywhere in the literature," said Bryan Sexton, director of Duke University's Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality, who was not involved in the study.

    Meanwhile, the Bain survey found that the five job criteria clinicians care most about are compensation, quality of patient care, workload, flexibility, and job responsibilities. However, roughly 40% of clinicians said they were not satisfied with their employers in most of these dimensions.

    Overall, addressing issues of burnout could lead to considerable cost savings for health care organizations since burnout-related physician turnover is estimated to cost roughly $5 billion a year. 

    Employers can't keep 'throwing money at the problem forever'

    To address burnout and staffing shortages among health care workers, many employers are currently focusing on money-centered perks, including hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, and student loan repayments, said Jennifer Clayton, program director for diagnostic imaging at Linn-Benton Community College

    However, most employers will not be able to continue "throwing money at the problem forever," Adams writes. Instead, Clayton said employers should focus on establishing a culture where workers are valued and supported.

    Employers can focus on more sustainable measures to mitigate burnout and workforce shortages by providing guaranteed breaks, covering gym memberships, holding regular one-on-one check-ins, and showing employees how to set boundaries for extra shifts. Clayton noted that the health care industry has not yet prioritized or rewarded these kinds of measures.

    "These types of efforts build a more comfortable and positive work environment — one that staff members feel more inspired to keep showing up to," Adams writes. According to Clayton, an organization's leaders are charged with creating a positive company culture from the top-down. In addition, leaders are responsible for taking steps to ensure their workers feel safe and appreciated.

    "Organizations need to support technologists when patients are verbally or physically abusive — we're seeing a big increase in this," Clayton said. "But if organizations step up to support technologists or imaging professionals and let patients know that that behavior is not tolerated, there is a direct link to better job satisfaction."

    In particular, leaders must incorporate kindness into their organization's culture. At Mayo Clinic, leaders are evaluated based on five factors related to kindness—including, informing, inquiring, developing, and recognizing.

    "There's been a lot of discussion around the idea that pizza doesn't fix burnout. And I would agree, but it also doesn't hurt. Don't overlook those small acts of kindness. Buying your staff lunch, treating them to extra things, recognizing them on tech week — these are essential ways to make your staff feel valued," Clayton said. (Adams, MedCity News, 11/30)

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