Understanding and Preventing Burnout in Health Professionals

If you're in the health profession, the odds are good that you feel very passionate about what you do and have very strong ideals about helping others. When that idealism hits up against a rigid, bureaucratic workplace, though, it can get torn to pieces better known as burnout. The main workplace triggers of burnout are lack of freedom, lack of voice, lack of potential for growth, and dysfunctional work relationships.

Lack of Freedom

When you do not have final say over how you do your work, it can take away your joy in helping your clients – and leave you with a sense of futility and frustration. Over time, that can progress to burnout. This often shows up in the area of scheduling. People need to have power over their own work days. The less you have, the more likely you are to find yourself resenting where you work – and burning out. Lack of freedom can also directly impact client care. This can be due to office policy but oftentimes occurs from a conflict with insurance requirements. For instance, you may not be permitted to do the therapies you feel are most appropriate, or you may not be able to continue the treatment for as long as you feel is clinically necessary.

Lack of Voice

As a health professional, you are well-educated and used to problem-solving on your own. To work in an environment that doesn't respect your opinion can be exasperating. You need, first and foremost, to feel you have a say in your client's care. Moreover, you likely have skills beyond what you were hired to do. If your opinion in those areas is never given weight, you may feel that you are not being taken seriously. This can erode your sense of commitment to your place of work and lead to an increasing sense of irritation in the office.

Lack of Potential for Growth

Health professionals are people with drive, you worked hard to get where you are, and you likely enjoy the process of learning. Work environments that don't allow you room to develop, personally and professionally, will find you outgrow them. In addition to the requirements of continuing education, you may, at some point, want to pursue another degree or get certified in a new methodology. A workplace that doesn't allow for that possibility and seeks to keep you stuck at one level, is going to increase your chances of burning out.

Dysfunctional Work Relationships

It is extremely hard for anyone to work around cliquish or abusive behavior without burning out. Office environments that turn a blind eye to such behavior among their staff, or who do not provide adequate protections for staff from clients, will find their staff rapidly burning out.

What You Can Do to Prevent Yourself from Burning Out

  • Make sure your time off really is time off - no one can work 24/7 without paying for it.
  • Pay attention to your dreams and goals - and take the steps you need to achieve them.
  • Take care of yourself – that means enough rest, eating healthfully, drinking plenty of water, and giving yourself downtime.
  • Keep perspective – weigh how much good you feel you are doing against how much time you spend battling bureaucracy.
  • Speak to your supervisor immediately when a personal crisis occurs.
  • Watch for these signs of burnout:
    • Emotional changes: if you are normally emotionally expressive, you may find yourself feeling quite numb. If you normally take things in stride, you may find yourself blowing up at people or bursting into tears.
    • Alterations in sleep patterns: This can range from insomnia to needing to sleep all the time.
    • Change in eating habits, from overeating to eating lots of junk food, to total loss of appetite.
    • Increase in addictive behaviors, such as smoking or drinking.

What Your Office Can Do to Prevent Burnout in the Staff

  • Review long-standing rules and determine which are still useful and which need to be let go. If some rules are being perceived as archaic or unnecessary, hold a meeting to discuss it. If the rule must stand, explain why so people know the reasoning behind it. Be on special alert for anything that is done simply because that's the way we've always done things.”
  • Openly discuss insurance rulings that frequently cause conflict. Let your staff members know you support them but your hands are tied (if they are).
  • Consider talking with the insurance companies to learn more about appeals procedures and exceptions.
  • Make sure suggestions and ideas from the staff are welcome. Even when they are not implemented, it should be clear that everyone benefits when new ideas are presented.
  • Have a no-tolerance policy regarding cliquish or abusive behavior.
  • Be aware of work schedules and see that no one is being overstretched.
  • During staff conflicts, always hear both sides of the story.
  • Adapt vacation and scheduling policies to allow staff flexibility to pursue their education, spend time with their loved ones, and enjoy their hobbies.
  • Be creative in supporting staff during personal crises, such as illness and family transitions.

About the Author:

Jennifer Michelle's specialty is helping health and fitness professionals maintain their passion, prevent burnout, and expand their clientele. She received her MPH from Tulane University, which, combined with her background in stress management, dance, and business consulting give her a unique perspective on the needs of those in the health and wellness field.

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