Thanks for subscribing!
You will now receive future content from Lyra Health.
There’s an epidemic hitting health care workers. It’s not a new virus or bacteria—it’s health care burnout. And it’s serious enough that United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently declared it a crisis.
More than half of doctors surveyed said they’re feeling burned out, an 11% jump in just one year. Sixty-six percent of nurses are considering resigning due to burnout. And 53% of health care workers have reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Left untreated, health care burnout can have severe impacts on both your employees and your organization.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as a work-related stress syndrome resulting from chronic exposure to job stress. It’s characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion, feelings of disconnection, dread, negativity, or cynicism, as well as feeling unable to make a desired impact at work.
Long hours, incredibly stressful working conditions, and the high death toll during the pandemic significantly increased health care worker burnout. But medical burnout was on the rise before 2020.
For example, in 2019 the National Academy of Medicine found high rates of nurse burnout (up to 54% of nurses). That’s because they, along with other health workers, are regularly in situations that create severe moral distress, emotional exhaustion, and mental health issues. Some of the more challenging situations include:
Burnout in health care has serious implications for individuals and entire organizations. It’s often associated with mental health issues like insomnia, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders, and suicide.
Unfortunately, suicide rates for health care workers far exceed those of the general population. Physician suicide rates, for example, are alarmingly high—rates among male doctors are up to 40% higher and female doctors are as much as 130% higher than non-medical professionals. Nurse suicide rates are also high—double that of the general population and 70% higher than female physicians.
In addition to the harmful consequences for individual workers and the obvious human toll, health care burnout can also have a negative impact throughout organizations. Signs of this include:
Of the 25% of U.S. clinicians considering switching careers, 89% cited burnout as the reason. This will only exacerbate the existing health care worker shortage.
Stigma around mental health keeps many health care professionals from seeking treatment. They may view the need for support as a sign of weakness or fear that asking for help will provoke professional consequences. For example, doctors often forgo getting help because medical licensing boards and health care systems ask questions about mental health issues that they fear could limit their careers.
Privacy is another barrier. Lacking access to mental health care outside of their own hospitals or networks can also keep people from getting the care they need.
But there are steps you can take to overcome these barriers and combat health care burnout.
Seven in 10 health care workers say they don’t feel valued for the work they do, so it’s important to meet regularly with employees to hear their concerns. Be responsive to their needs and include them when designing better processes. When employees feel valued and engaged, they’re not only more productive, they’re also half as likely to leave.
To guard against health care burnout, it’s essential to provide fast and easy access to mental health providers who deliver evidence-based, culturally responsive, and specialized care. The best programs offer in-person and virtual visits to accommodate busy schedules, as well as a robust network of providers from diverse backgrounds and identities.
Consider investments in technology and personnel to offload administrative burdens such as entering patient data into EHRs, tracking forms, and sending faxes. This will give health care workers more meaningful time with patients and reduce work hours. Championing a culture of inclusion, equity, and respect boosts employee morale, and can ease the burden many health care professionals feel. And expanding flexibility and autonomy gives employees a sense of control—even in times of high patient volume and undue stress.
A psychologically safe environment and work culture that normalizes mental health care helps reduce stigma and leads to more people getting care. You can achieve this by talking openly about mental health, health care burnout, and the struggles many clinicians face. Let them know care is easily available and strongly encouraged. It can also be helpful to encourage leaders to discuss their own mental health and emphasize the importance of self-care practices.
Assessments can help you determine how your workforce is doing, and ongoing training can educate employees about mental health and encourage them to seek help. It’s important to include on-demand learning and workshops, as well as education on ways to relieve stress, such as mindfulness and breathing techniques.
Health care workers are healers. They spend their days and nights caring for others—yet often don’t get the care they need themselves. With the right resources and support, you can alleviate burnout in health care, bolster employee well-being, and attract and retain the best talent.