Welcome to the #SeptemberSeries Part 1/4!
When you think of someone that’s experiencing burnout, does an image of an overworked, stressed out employee with their head down on their desk, hopelessly surrounded by piles of papers come to mind? Or a healthcare professional feeling overwhelmed with a list of 20 patients to see before lunchtime? Perhaps this may seem a bit exaggerated, but you know this isn’t too far from the truth and it may hit close to home.
Yes, feeling exhausted, overworked, stressed out, and overwhelmed due to high workload and unrealistic demands is just one way to feel the burn, but did you know that there are a total of six areas of work that can lead to burnout? Researchers Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter (1999) described these burnout as occurring in these six areas: workload, control, rewards, community, fairness, and values. This is an ongoing, dynamic process and dialogue within an organization.
Let’s take a look at each of those areas to gain a better understanding of what leads to healthcare professional burnout so you can keep it at bay, be happier at work, support your co-workers more and understand what they need, and have an overall welcoming and responsive community at work. When you are equipped with knowledge, you can do something about it and make a difference (PS- there’s a great little surprise in here for you!).
Let’s start with the most obvious one. If you don’t have sufficient time to recover from the demands at work, you lend yourself to chronic exhaustion. Living in 2018, we know that work is no longer distinct from non-work in any aspect. Employees are working on their free time to keep up with job demands, creating this sense of “telepressure.” It can be all too easy to check work emails in bed at midnight or answer to problems at work while you’re on vacation for the sake of staying competitive. Having worked in outpatient pediatrics, it was all too common to find me whipping out evaluations and notes during my free time on most nights. Long working hours and spillover of work to non-work hours may seriously interfere with one’s ability to self-regulate and recover. If replenishment does not take place (including quality sleep), that lack of recovery can lead to a downward spiral, negatively affecting your mental and physical health. Interestingly enough, Maslach and Leiter (1999) attribute burnout regarding workload not to be necessarily the amount or even the type of work demand, but rather an inherent mismatch between the person and work.
There are various studies I have come across over this past year examining burnout in the healthcare field that indicate low levels of control at work lead to increased stress and decreased work satisfaction. When you pair high demands and low levels of control, you’re looking at negative work outcomes such as high turnover, increased absenteeism, and decreased productivity. What can stem from control? Role conflicts and role ambiguity, which is associated with greater burnout because there is simply no direction or motivation at work. Role conflict prevents a productive course of action. Just as peanut butter is to jelly, work autonomy is to high levels of accomplishment. A mismatch and insufficient perceived control at work denies you of that autonomy. No bueno.
Have you ever left a job despite the pay being perfect on paper because you weren’t happy? Or someone you know? *Raises hand* Feeling valued and appreciated at work can carry more weight than a paycheck. We think of financial rewards as the only type of reward worth caring about. We must also take into consideration status-related and socio-emotional rewards. The status-related rewards include job security and movin’ on up in your company’s ranks. Socio-emotional rewards like feeling recognized at work contributes to increased a sense of increased personal accomplishment and efficacy. Appreciation has its own currency, and it’s worth noting. We usually like to show our appreciation in the way we wish to receive them. Getting clear on your appreciation language will help you and those you work with to feel greater alignment and satisfaction. Find out what your appreciation language is learn what the one single-handed tip is that buffers exhaustion at work.
A lively, responsive, positive community and this sense of community at work is viewed as incompatible with burnout. Whatcha know about that?! Having a broken, unsupportive work community leads to awkward politics, fake conversations with undertones of passive aggression, or even worse. This tragic story of a nurse that recently committed suicide stemmed from bullying in the workplace. Community holds an esteemed place in the burnout equation because burnout is thought to be more of a social phenomenon. It’s contagious. So that’s a sign that maybe the community is unsupportive, indifferent, or toxic. Lack of supervisor support is associated with the exhaustion component and lack of coworker support is associated with a sense of accomplishment and efficacy. Along with finding your appreciation language at work, and learning what buffers again exhaustion, also learn my favorite tip on how YOU (no matter if you’re in a leadership position or not) can build community at work!
Fairness overlaps with community and reward to some degree. In community, distribution of rewards, recognition, etc. should be done fairly. Fairness is about respect and showing consideration for one another. Fair leadership entails leaders making FAIR DECISIONS, doing so in everyone’s best interest. Unfair decision making and treatment of workers at any time can alienate workers. Is one department receiving all the new equipment and your department is getting the short end of the stick? Is the office manager putting all the new evaluations on your schedule whereas the other therapist gets more breaks? Look at what the scenario is and look at it from all angles. Sometimes unfair decisions can be done so unknowingly because perhaps you have never voiced your opinion before.
Having a match between your values and that of your organization is what connects you to your workplace. With that being said, if you are working in an organization and their priorities and values do not align with you, that creates a huge disconnect. Essentially the more your values and the values of the organization overlap, the more ideal the situation because you see yourself going places within that organization. You have found your purpose. When there lies any incongruence between values, you may find work irrelevant which develops into strain. That strain begins to deplete you of your personal energy, reduces your involvement, and undermines your personal efficacy. That can cause distress. A key ingredient here is finding meaning in your work. Having meaningless work is associated with all three aspects of burnout.
Join in on the #September Series and get a weekly email with your free little gift so you can take steps to de-stress using evidence-based techniques, communicate more effectively at work, cultivate community, and assess and implement strategies to fix work energy imbalances in order to be happier both personally and professionally. Let’s do this!
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. (1999) Six areas of worklife, a model of the organizational context of burnout. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 472-489.