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  • Writer's pictureBruce Cummings

Treat the Causes of Burnout, Not the Symptoms

Updated: May 13

One of the most important articles written in the last 5 years about burnout was not from a clinician, researcher, or other burnout subject matter expert. It was written by Olga Khazan, a general staff writer for The Atlantic, and entitled "Only Your Boss Can Cure Your Burnout" (March 2021). Here's an excerpt that aptly summarizes the thrust of this deeply researched and well written article: "...(a)t its core, burnout is a work problem. Though wellness influencers might suggest various life hacks to help push through pandemic torpor, actual burnout experts say that tips and tricks are not the best way to treat the condition. Instead, they say, burnout is a problem created by the workplace, and changes to the workplace are the best way to fix it."

Khazan goes on to illustrate how employers -- before, during, and no doubt post-pandemic -- have missed the mark by proffering expanded wellness or personal resilience services out of concern for their beleaguered staff versus changing conditions in the work environment and work processes; in brief, treating the symptoms, not the causes of burnout.

Healthcare Leaders and Workplace Practices

To paraphrase the article's title, only leaders are in a position to change problematic workplace policies and practices. Only leaders can direct resources toward eliminating or at least markedly reducing inefficient workflows or to make sure their knowledge workers -- in healthcare, typified by clinicians of all stripes -- are able to apply the full measure of their skills and training (vs. getting bogged down entering data into the EHR or attending to non-clinical, non-value-added demands). Only leaders can inflect the management culture of an organization to make it people- rather than task/output-centric.

Ready to transform your workplace?

Curious? My colleague, Paul DeChant, MD, MBA, and I can help senior leadership teams identify and implement the changes that will actually result in meaningful reductions in burnout.

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