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  • Writer's pictureBruce Cummings

The McKinsey Health Institute Study: Addressing Employee Burnout

Anyone concerned about the health and wellbeing of America’s beleagured healthcare workforce — and, especially, senior leaders of hospitals, health systems and group practices — would do well to read an important study recently released by the McKinsey Health Institute.

As my colleague, Paul DeChant, MD, MBA, succinctly characterizes the genesis of burnout: the problem is not the worker but the workplace. In other words, problematic workflow, work practices, and conditions in the work environment are what give rise to burnout — not a lack of resilience on the part of frontline staff. And yet as the McKinsey report makes clear in its global analysis spanning 15,000 employees and 1,000 HR decision-makers across 15 countries, leaders in most industries including healthcare continue to place an inordinate emphasis on providing expanded individual wellbeing benefits and services (eg, yoga, meditation, gym memberships, time management courses) rather than tackling systemic issues in the organization:

“As laudable as these efforts are, we have found that many employers focus on individual-level interventions that remediate symptoms, rather than resolve the causes of employee burnout. Employing these types of interventions may lead employers to overestimate the impact of their wellness programs and benefits and to underestimate the critical role of the workplace in reducing burnout and supporting employee mental health and well-being.”

Healthcare Leadership Practices and Burnout

Leaders who truly are committed to addressing burnout must appreciate the problem through a different lens. To cure burnout — and reduce its companion phenomena excessive staff turnover and diminished operational performance — the focus needs to be on examining leadership practices, not workers’ “resilience”.

Leaders can make their company a preferred employer and an exemplar of effective, meaningful burnout remediation by —

  • directly engaging with front-line staff through job shadowing;

  • creating, deploying, and hardwiring a daily management system;

  • eliminating outdated policies and practices [(ie getting rid of stupid stuff (GROSS)]; and,

  • assiduously applying one or more improvement sciences (eg, Lean, operations research, six sigma, agile, design thinking) in consultation with — and securing the direct involvement of front-line staff — to eliminate or at least markedly reduce inefficient, burdensome workflows.

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