How to avoid organisational factors resulting in healthcare employee burnout

Healthcare worker stressed at work

Employee burnout has become a point of discussion within workplaces over the last few years, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring burnout an “occupational phenomenon” in 2019. Research suggests that healthcare workers have always been more susceptible to burnout due to the nature of their work, however this appears to have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

A survey of more than 10,000 Australian healthcare workers in October last year, found that more than half are feeling burnt out by the demands of the pandemic, 51 percent are experiencing anxiety and many plan to leave the workforce due to concerns about their mental health.

Burnout has typically been thought of as an individual’s issue to self-manage, however there is mounting evidence to suggest that applying personal, band-aid solutions to this rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon may be harmful. What’s most effective for combatting burnout is a “top down” approach, with the responsibility for managing the issue shifting away from the individual and towards the organisation.

A study conducted by Gallup of 7500 employees confirmed the top five causes of burnout as unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from their manager, and unreasonable time pressure. This data shows that rather than being personal issues, they are actually organisational factors that could be averted if the relevant prevention strategies are implemented.

What’s more, is that employee burnout doesn’t just negatively impact individuals, but organisations at large. Burnt out employees are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day and burnout factors are estimated to cost the global workforce $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Most worryingly, suicide rates among healthcare workers are dramatically higher than that of the general public — 40% higher for men and 130% higher for women.

Understanding how burnout effects healthcare employees is the first step in implementing strategies to help reduce its occurrence. Here are some considerations for building a burnout prevention strategy.


Noticing signs of employee burnout

The first step to addressing employee burnout is to notice how and where it manifests within an organisation. According to the WHO, signs of burnout at work include people feeling depleted or exhausted, mentally distant from their job or negative feelings or cynicism about their job, and reduced professional efficacy.

All of this depletes an employee’s desire to grow, develop and thrive within the workplace, which not only hinders their own professional development, but leaves healthcare employers with a disengaged workforce who are less likely to aid in future organisational growth and innovation.


Ask questions and communicate

One of the main issues for employee burnout was identified as “lack of communication and support” from managers. In this way, it will be important for healthcare managers to have open discussions with their workforce regarding which burnout factors are most pervasive.

Though it seems like a simple first step, the Gallup study found that employees whose manager is always willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62 percent percent less likely to be burned out. Employees need to believe that their manager will address their problems, and they need to feel like their manager genuinely cares about them as people. This is particularly true when performing often emotionally taxing roles within the healthcare industry. The best managers demonstrate that they care by investing in employees through awareness, time and attention.


Build wellbeing into organisational culture

Establishing wellbeing initiatives and providing employees with access to mental health resources not only helps workforces, but has also been shown to positively impact business imperatives, including sickness absence, presenteeism, talent retention, morale, employee engagement and productivity.

However, if an organisation’s culture promotes working excessively long hours, working during personal time and generally putting work ahead of family, those burnout-inducing habits are going to be difficult to break by offering a few mental health programs.

If companies want to truly reduce burnout and see positive ROI from improving employee health, workplace culture must be the foundation for these initiatives. It is culture that will be the determining factor of whether there is uptake of such wellbeing programs, or if they lie untouched and undervalued.

Fostering an organisational culture of wellbeing has been shown to boost trust and employee participation, increase teamwork that contributes to better mental wellbeing, and better business outcomes.


Alter company environments to reduce stress

Based on the top five causes of burnout, it appears that demands placed on employees and the spaces and structures which they work within do not currently support their wellbeing and increase their risk of burnout.

With healthcare already providing a stressful environment due to the subject matter of the work, it will be particularly important for employers to consider providing physical environments where their workforce can switch off and feel safe.

Furthermore, understanding any potential pitfalls in the rostering systems that result in understaffing will help in reducing instances of being overwhelmed and an “unmanageable workload”, which was identified as a top contributing factor to burnout.


Assess performance systems and expectations

Employees who strongly agree their performance metrics are within their control are 55 percent less likely to experience burnout frequently. Conversely, when employees feel their work is being evaluated using metrics they can’t control, anxiety and frustration result. In this way, it is important for employees to understand how they are being assessed and feel as though they have the ability to improve their performance and career trajectory.


If you are looking for healthcare professionals to join your team, partner with a brand that understands the industry and contact Austra Health today.

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