Burnout Needs Big Picture Thinking

 

In her 2017 comprehensive paper, “Finding Solutions To The Problem Of Burnout“, early and preeminent researcher Christina Maslach clearly articulates the importance of looking at all aspects of the burnout epidemic in order to address how to solve it. Importantly, she reiterates expanding the focus from trying to fix the people, to shining a light on the value of fixing the job and particularly the job-person fit. Although, these solutions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, there is a reductive fallacy in predominately focusing on the individual, when the issues often lie within the very structure of the organization. Not only does this not solve the problem, but it can create an extra burden for the individual, who may feel that burnout is a sign of personal weakness and inadequacy, rather than a rational response to a toxic situation. In particular, the areas-of-work-life (AW) model reframes the burnout question from “person or the job to person and the job”. The six key areas that are identified are:

  • Workload – Chronic qualitative and quantitative overload, along with limited periods for rest and recovery.
  • Control – Lack of control and autonomy. Well recognized as contributors to stress and burnout. 
  • Reward – Inadequate recognition-social, financial or institutional- leads to a sense of not being appreciated and devalued, contributing significantly to feelings of inefficacy.
  • Community – Lack of support, trust and simmering conflict augments with other people in the workplace augments risk of burnout.
  • Fairness – Perceived arbitrary and unfair decision-making increases feelings of disrespect leading to cynicism, anger and hostility. 
  • Values – Discordance between core personal and professional values and those manifested by the organization increases stress, internal conflict and greater risk of burnout.

This broadened view of burnout that encompasses individual, job and job-person factors, provides an opportunity to organizations to explore solutions beyond those confined to improving the resilience and coping skills of the individual to ones that look to solve the core issues of culture and leadership that are contributing to burnout. Failure to do so, leaves organizations at the mercy of increasing burnout and a steady erosion of employee health, morale and ultimately performance.

As importantly, this comprehensive view of burnout not only provides a heads up to organizations, but it offers a different lens through which individuals can view burnout. Allowing themselves to step back and consider all three domains can shift the conversation from one that is largely focused on their personal responsibility to self-improve, to one that can constructively analyze the impact of the diverse cultural and organizational factors that may be factors in the production of burnout. Becoming cognizant of this bigger picture can ratchet down the individual’s emotional thermostat regarding their situation and mitigate the feelings of guilt or self-blame that often contribute to the downward, negative spiral of burnout. Loosening the constraints of self-judgment allows for a more thoughtful and worthwhile analysis of their current situation. This process encourages  better understanding  and respect for themselves. Although, this may still mean that a job change is in their future, their decision-making can come from a place of self-respect and confidence based on their personal understanding of the ingredients that they need to find happiness and productivity in their desired job and workplace.

This comprehensive overview serves as a template for researching solutions that are based on truthful and realistic assessments of the core factors that are fueling the unsustainable levels of burnout exploding in both healthcare and in the workforce in general. 

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