Banish Burnout in the Lab

A new survey reports that over 40% of endocrinologists are suffering from burnout. Endocrine News looks at the causes and offers some potential solutions to help ease this stress and focus on the “joy in work.”

The past year was tough for everyone, most especially for those in healthcare. Endocrine News has chronicled endocrinologists around the globe who immediately switched from providing normal care to treating COVID-19 patients, or offering virtual e-visits from home, or pausing critical laboratory research. Did all of these uncertain changes take a toll? How are endocrinologists fairing on feelings of burnout?

In the Medscape Endocrinologists Lifestyle, Happiness and Burnout Report 2021, 43% of respondents reported being burned out, depressed, or both — and the number is climbing. About seven in 10 who were burned out thought it was severe enough to have at least a moderate impact on their lives. And a surprising 15% said burnout was so severe that they are considering leaving medicine for good.

What’s Bothering You?

Employee burnout happens when a person’s physical, emotional, and mental resources are spent. The leading causes of endocrinologist burnout, according to the Medscape survey were:

  • Too many bureaucratic tasks: 69%
  • Too little compensation or reimbursement: 51%
  • Spending too many hours at work: 31%
  • Increasing computerization of practice: 31%

Burnout, of course, can lead to many negative consequences such as decreased patient satisfaction, increased errors, and high turnover. The personal risks of burnout of stress and depression are also staggering.

When Medscape asked what endocrinologists are doing most to cope with burnout, exercise and talking with family and friends topped the list. But in the workplace, there are many initiatives managers can initiate to support their employees and help alleviate overwhelming feelings of burnout

Managers Can Bring the Joy

“The primary advice I give managers dealing with employees who express feelings of being overwhelmed or burned out is to first ask what the employee thinks he or she needs to feel less stressed,” advises Nikki Rogers, owner of NBenét HR Consulting. “This may be different by individual.”

“For example, it could be the ability to take a “real” uninterrupted vacation, adjust their work schedule, or perhaps gaining clarified objectives to help them prioritize the most critical work and eliminate non-value-added tasks,” Rogers continues. “The manager should seek to understand what each employee needs and be as flexible as they can to accommodate.”

In a 2020 perspective article in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism the authors offered that by focusing on “joy in work,” managers can also reduce burnout among endocrinologists.  They framed joy in work by four key principles: meaning, camaraderie, choice, and equity:

  • Meaning: Spend some hours (20% of work duties is advised) focusing on a project, interest, or activity that you find meaningful, such as community outreach, leading educational initiatives, becoming a mentor, or caring for a specific demographic of patients.
  • Camaraderie: Are team members engaged with each other? Eating together is cited as special time that allows employees to share details about work or home life and ease stress. Allow for and plan time for shared team meals.
  • Equity: When employees feel the rules of an organization are fair and unbiased, they suffer less burnout. Meetings with an open forum to address perceived inequities can help bring change.
  • Choice: Having a say in providing solutions to the organization or team gives staff a feeling their voice has power. Managers can allow for choice by openly asking employees for their opinions and feedback. Use newsletters or bulletin boards to showcase ongoing efforts that arise from staff input.

Find Stress Relievers

The bottom line to alleviate some of the workplace burnout is to engage in efforts that are known to relieve employee stress. More tips from human resources experts include:

  • Hold short “walk-and-talk” outdoor meetings twice a month for a change of scenery.
  • Try work-from-home Wednesdays. One thing the pandemic shutdown proved is that there is plenty of tasks that can be completed at home. Let team members rotate a different Wednesday at home to decompress.
  • Ask for honest feedback on your management skills. Managers can be the biggest factor in employee stress. If your people skills need a tune-up, request time from your organization’s leadership to attend management training.

Athansisos Bikas, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and one of the Society’s 2021 Early Investigator Award winners, says these stress reliver tips definitely resonate him.

“Leaving work physically can be a huge relief,” he says. “I really like the idea of the ‘walk-and-talk’ outdoors meetings. Another potential solution would be a picnic with music every Thursday or Friday just so people can socialize with each other and get their minds off of work. I cannot stress enough how important uninterrupted vacation time is for clinicians, with time away from [electronic medical records].”

Fauntleroy Shaw is a freelance writer based in Carmel, Ind. She writes the monthly Lab Notes department.

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