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Three Organizational Strategies to Reduce Burnout and Build Engagement in Health Care

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 16, 2017

Leaders should focus on both organizational and individual factors that contribute to burnout.

by Paula Davis Laack, JD, MAPP


It is a challenging time to be working in health care. There are new care delivery models being developed, declining reimbursements due to price competition and narrowing of insurance networks, and medical practices are consolidating. Meanwhile, use of electronic health record technology has dramatically increased the clerical burden for providers, and staffing is increasingly difficult with national shortages of physicians and nurses in certain specialties. Furthermore, there is constant pressure for health care organizations to implement new quality metrics and requirements for public reporting, along with the ever-present competition to maintain high patient satisfaction scores. (See Shanfelt and Noseworthy 2017.)

Burnout contributes to decreased well-being,
lower retention rates, higher staff turnover,
low morale, and a lack of cohesiveness in the
organization as a whole. 

Successfully navigating these challenges requires engaged and resilient leaders and providers who are able to effectively handle both the business aspects and the stress associated with this level of change. Burnout is a key factor impacting the engagement of health care providers across specialty areas:

  • Approximately 54% of doctors are burned out to some degree, which is an increase from 33-40% of doctors reporting such symptoms just a few years ago.
  • Half of critical care nurses report feeling emotionally exhausted, 60% have difficulty sleeping, and 20% are clinically depressed.
  • Burnout rates for physician assistants, administrative staff, and medical technicians are at 62%, 36.1% and 31.9%, respectively.

There is a strong business case for reducing burnout and increasing engagement in health care. Burnout contributes to decreased well-being, lower retention rates, higher staff turnover, low morale, and a lack of cohesiveness in the organization as a whole. Physician burnout has been shown to influence patient care, patient satisfaction and patient safety, and burnout is positively correlated with a physician self-reporting suboptimal care.


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One study showed that even just a one-point increase in the exhaustion and cynicism components of burnout resulted in a respective 5% and 11% increase in likelihood of reporting an error. Conversely, hospitals in which burnout was reduced by just 30% had a total of 6,239 fewer infections for an annual cost savings of up to $68 million.

Leaders should focus on both organizational and individual factors, with a recent meta-analysis suggesting that the benefits derived from individual programs would get a boost by also adopting organizational-directed approaches. Three organizational-directed approaches that have been shown to build engagement and reduce burnout are as follows:


Build More Job Resources

Job resources are the motivational aspects of a person’s job that energize. Leaders should focus in these five areas:

  1. Increase autonomy
  2. Foster high-quality connections with colleagues
  3. Create opportunities for excellence (people want to be both challenged and part of something meaningful)
  4. Offer FAST feedback that is frequent, accurate, specific, and timely
  5. Maximize leader support

Minimize Job Demands

Job demands are the aspects of your work that take sustained effort and energy. Not all job demands are created equal, and research points to three specific ones to be minimized because they accelerate burnout and kill engagement:

  1. Role conflict (“I have received conflicting requests from two or more people”)
  2. Role ambiguity (“My duties and work objectives are unclear to me”)
  3. Organizational constraints/unfairness (“I had to go through many hassles to get projects/assignments done”)

Foster Personal Resources

An important personal resource for leaders and their constituents to develop is resilience. Resilience can be taught, and it is built through a set of core competencies that enable mental toughness and mental strength, optimal performance, strong leadership, and tenacity (resilient people give up less frequently when they experience setbacks).


Given the strong connection to patient safety, patient care, and patient satisfaction, it makes good business sense for health care organizations to implement strategies to reduce burnout and build engagement. The time to take action is now.

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Do you know of an organization that is taking steps to reduce burnout among health care professionals? Comment on this post below. Note: to post a comment you must be logged in. Register or log in.


Paula Davis Laack, JD, MAPP, is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert who works with healthcare organizations and individuals to implement strategies that reduce burnout and build stress resilience. You can connect with Paula at

Tags:  burnout 

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