By Amy Green, CPO, of Kindred Optics at Maitland Vision in Maitland, Florida
Physician burnout has become a widespread phenomenon in the healthcare field and is considered a hidden healthcare crisis. Those claims do not account for burnout amongst all forms of healthcare professionals, however. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the term “burnout” will be classified as a diagnosis in the latest International Classifications of Disease, or ICD-11, going into effect in 2022. With all the different aspects that need to be tended to in running and managing a high-volume optometry practice, it is easy for both physicians and staff to feel overwhelmed. This can affect the quality of work being produced and in turn, transfer to patient care. Prevention starts with identifying the signs and symptoms of potential burnout.
Burnout does not occur overnight, it is characterized by the gradual onset of subtle changes in overall emotional, physical and behavioral well-being. Emotional symptoms one may experience include feelings of self-doubt, helplessness or detachment with a loss of motivation. Physical signs can manifest themselves as fatigue, frequent illness, headaches and changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Behavioral signs include withdrawal, procrastination, and projecting one’s frustrations onto others. It can manifest itself as a dependency on food, drugs and/or alcohol as a means of coping. The overall concept of burnout can be masked by stress, but ultimately it is a sensation of hopelessness, characterized by disengagement. The ultimate price of burnout is one’s happiness or autonomy.
The consequences of burnout go beyond an individual’s psyche and welfare. Burnout can affect work ethic, cause decreased productivity, reduce workplace morale and lead to poor communication. A person’s negative attitude and isolated behavior can easily be transferred to others and disrupt the workplace as well as patient care. The resulting worry and perceived overload can cause an employee to quit, affecting a practice’s retention and turnover rate.
A proactive approach needs to be taken in order to create a transparent culture that fosters positivity. It is an employer’s job to provide employees access to tools and aids that will help them establish a work/life balance. Before symptoms of burnout take over, intervention can help with prevention. In the appropriate situations, considering the implementation of a low-cost wellness initiative may foster healthier healthy habits and promote improved teamwork.
Morale boosting is a positive way to show compassion. Holding regular staff meetings will remind employees of the organization's mission, reinforce purpose and instill passion. Praise justifies that an employee’s work does not go unnoticed. An optometric employer can show their appreciation by celebrating the little things, such as National Administrative Professional Day or Paraoptometric Week. In addition, out of the office activities and participating in charity or community events can create means for collaboration and develop teamworking skills.
Feedback is crucial for better understanding employees. Offering assessments and surveys can help identify issues in the work setting and allow employees to become a part of the decision-making process. With an open-door policy, employees have the freedom to discuss issues that may be plaguing them in a confidential, non-hostile environment. Reiterating a person’s role with consistent performance reviews is useful to keep staff focused on the tasks at hand. To develop strong leadership skills, it is critical to stay up to date with current trends via trade magazines, national conferences and leadership books. The strongest leaders lead by example and manage emotions, not people.
Health proposals should be introduced as part of a company’s mission. These applications can support team building, create bonds of trust and allow individuals to face any fears of rejection. Mental health days promote work/life balance and allow for flexibility, something most employees crave. Healthy snacks in the office can boost vitality. Holding walking meetings outside where the fresh air is plentiful gets the constructive juices flowing and refocuses energy. No time for in office exercises? Support employees to be productive outside of the workplace by researching group discounts on local gym memberships. Practicing mindfulness and staying active can instill a positive attitude.
Music in the workplace has the power to boost productivity by enhancing dopamine levels and increases one’s feelings of joy which contributes to planning, organizing and work enhancement. Consideration of a song or genre that can direct an employee into a good mood can have the benefit of being passed on to the patients.
Employee Assistance Programs can help connect staff with outside resources that they may not know are available. These resources, often referred to as EAP, might include stress-relief workshops or therapy sessions, helping individuals manage and cope with their work-related anxiety and increase overall mental health awareness.
Challenges such as financial cost may arise as unique initiatives are created; however, the power of a leader’s voice is priceless. Instances of burnout must be addressed before they arise and the most effective way to do that is by opening the conversation to include mental health. Establishing a committee can ensure proper implementation of a wellness program within an organization. In the end, consistency is key, and kindness is free. The return on investment will be evident in an employee’s loyalty and support. While there is no “one size fits all” approach to implementing a wellness strategy, it is necessary to embrace the chaos.