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3 Industry Approaches to Improving Work-Life Balance in Healthcare

Aging populations, longer lifespans, and the prevalence of chronic conditions will create 4 million healthcare jobs in the United States through 2026. Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations will increase by 15.2% alone.1 However, there is a lurking problem: healthcare professionals are burning out.  

In 2018, 39% of physicians reported feeling burned out as a result of too much time spent at work.2 While this statistic may shock some, research indicates this is not surprising. In a field where a lack of work-life balance is heralded, healthcare workers often prioritize work commitments over their personal lives, a major contributing factor to burnout.3  

Burnout in healthcare is a costly problem. A May 2018 report indicates that burnout related turnover costs hospitals and health systems $17 billion annually.4

Much like the anticipated job growth in the healthcare industry, burnout and job dissatisfaction among professionals is also on the rise. The industry is taking notice and creating organizations like the National Academy of Medicine’s (NAM) Action Collaborative on Clinician Well Being and Resilience. The group has begun to call on healthcare organizations to hire chief wellness officers (CWOs) to implement policies and procedures that can help mitigate the issue.5

The following explores 3 key issues.

  • The impact of a lack of work-life balance in healthcare
  • Who is likely to be impacted by burnout
  • Several ways the industry is working to improve the lives of healthcare professionals

The Impacts of Burnout on Healthcare

 The Association of American Medical Colleges defines burnout as a “pervasive healthcare problem characterized by a loss of emotional, mental, and physical energy due to continued job-related stress.”

Burnout may cause widespread repercussions such as increased medical errors, lower patient satisfaction and compliance, increased rates of substance abuse and depression, and a desire to leave the medical industry.6

Who is Most Likely to Be Impacted

While a lack of work-life balance and burnout is problematic across the healthcare industry, certain sectors and demographics seem to be more susceptible to burnout than others.  

According to Medscape's 2015 Physician Lifestyle Report, at least half of critical care, emergency, family and internal medicine physicians reported feeling burned out. In total, 49% of all healthcare professionals reported problems.

More women reported burnout than men, but the study mentions this could be a result of how the two genders characterize their symptoms. Men tend to characterize burnout by depersonalization whereas women describe emotional exhaustion. 7

Signs A Healthcare Professional’s Work-Life Balance is Off

 The 2018 study in BMJ Quality and Safety7 identifies factors that signal a healthcare professional’s work-life balance needs some attention: 2 

  • Skipping meals
  • Working without breaks
  • Skipping personal plans because of work
  • Arriving home late from work frequently
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sleeping less than 5 hours a night
  • Feeling frustrated by technology

What Can Be Done to Improve Work-Life Balance in Healthcare?

As research indicates, burnout is a rising problem in the healthcare industry. Industry leaders have begun to take notice, seeking ways healthcare professionals can improve their work-life balance. Here are three approaches medical facilities can take to reduce burnout:

1) Lead by example: The 2018 BMJ study referenced previously indicates that healthcare workers feel more comfortable prioritizing personal needs when those around them demonstrate the same commitment.2

This means a collaborative effort is needed to make sure healthcare professionals prioritize their needs, avoid time-wasters, cultivate strong personal and professional relationships and practice self-care. 

2) Onboard Chief Wellness Officers: In 2011, Ohio State University hired Bernadette M. MeInyk Ph.D. RN as their first CWO. Her role and the role of others like her is “advocate to prioritize, protect, and promote the well-being of all clinicians with the authority and ability to significantly influence the culture.” 

Wellness programs may already be in existence in many healthcare organizations but this role gives this initiative legitimacy, financial support, and a platform for executive collaboration.7 

3) Explore New Care Delivery Models: One of the most common complaints among healthcare professionals is due to bureaucracy and red tape, they spend less time focused on the patients and more time on less meaningful work.8

Healthcare professionals in all fields have begun to explore new ways of treating patients with house calls and telehealth visits. It allows the practitioners to focus solely on the patient while improving their work-life balance.8