July 1 is the traditional start of the medical academic year. The hallways are bustling with eager, young (and getting younger each year) physicians with seemingly limitless enthusiasm. Yet by the end of the year, surveys show that at least half of them will have some signs of burnout. This is not unique to health care. A 2013 Gallup study found that just 30% of American workers are engaged at work. This is remarkably consistent across sectors of the economy (health care is actually at the higher end, with 34% of physicians and 33% of nurses engaged), and is a figure that compares favorably with the global average of 13%.
The usual leading suspect is lack of work-life balance. But that is only a part of the picture. Research shows that there are four core needs that, if met, contribute to a feeling of satisfaction and engagement (or burnout, when these needs are not met):
- Physical – opportunities to regularly refresh and renew at work (e.g., taking breaks) and away from work
- (work-life balance)
- Emotional – feeling valued and appreciated for one’s contributions
- Mental – ability to focus in an absorbed way on the most important tasks, and determining when, where, and how to get the work done
- Spiritual – doing what you do best and enjoy most, and feeling connected to a higher purpose at work
A survey of over 12,000 workers (95% of them “white collar”) showed that of these, it was the ability to focus and to think creatively that was most often felt to be missing. A sense of meaning or significance to one’s work, and doing what is most enjoyed, were also lacking. I suspect that part of why health care professionals are somewhat more engaged than others is the strong sense of mission we have and share with the organization as a whole. We all want to feel that what we do is important, enjoyable, and appreciated. I am very fortunate that, for most of my career, I have been in jobs that are exactly that.
Satisfaction is more a function of the organization than of the industry. A common thread among those organizations with a highly engaged and satisfied workforce is certain characteristics of leaders: personal energy level, showing appreciation, and leading by example when it comes to creating focus and renewal.
Hoping to cast a positive shadow of leadership, I am getting ready to renew myself physically and mentally on a family vacation. No email, no work reading, and no blog next week.