Personal relationships key to physician happiness

April 15, 2019

One antidote to physician burnout is to focus on increasing happiness and work satisfaction.

Physicians are happy. That may seem like a simple statement, but in the era of physician burnout, it’s quite meaningful.

We recently conducted a joint study with the American Academy of Family Physicians. Together, we surveyed more than 5,000 physicians across the country from most specialties. Somewhat shockingly,

we found that physicians are generally happy with their work and their lives: 71 percent reported they were happy and 59 percent stated they were satisfied with their lives.

Focus on others

For me, the most interesting finding was that happiness was most strongly tied to the personal relationships with family and friends. Seventy-four percent of physicians ranked those relationships as the primary source of their happiness, followed by work satisfaction/fulfillment reported at 20 percent.

Strong professional relationships also play an important role in a physician’s happiness. Seventy percent of physicians who indicated having “many friends” at work also indicated high life satisfaction. Only 39 percent of physicians who reported having “no friends” at work said they have high life satisfaction.

Similar to friendships at work, the survey also found that mentors played a large role in physicians’ lives. Slightly more than half of respondents said mentors were important to their careers, and 73 percent have served as mentors to others.

It’s worth noting that happiness doesn’t indicate an absence of stress. Physicians’ lives are inherently stressful, as their work directly impacts others in such a meaningful way. Not surprisingly, the survey found only 35 percent of physicians have more happiness than stress, but stress doesn’t necessarily translate into unhappiness or poor life satisfaction. Rather, it is just part of the job.

Build personal relationships at work

Positive relationships aren’t just limited to family and friends. Having good relationships with patients and colleagues also contributes to physician happiness. Eighty-eight percent of physicians reported having positive relationships with patients, 84 percent with their fellow physicians, and 87 percent with other staff. All of these high numbers reinforce the benefits of positive relationships. However, only half of physicians reported having positive relationships with administrators.

The fact that only half of physicians reported having good relationships with administrators also hits close to home. As the leader of my company - and an administrator of sorts - it made me wonder how my own employees would answer these survey questions. Would they say they have a positive relationship with me? That our interactions are meaningful? That they can trust me? I hope so, but realize I need to move beyond hope, step up, and focus on my relationships with my people.

Strengthen your relationships

I have the benefit of working at a company that solicits frequent feedback from our employees. We survey employee engagement annually, schedule regular one-on-one meetings, and conduct focus groups. Do you have methods for receiving feedback or knowing if your employees are happy? If not, these may be a good place to start.

It’s also important to pay attention to the relationships your staff may have with each other. If you find there is someone who doesn’t seem to have many friends, it may be worth finding ways to strengthen the relationships on your teams. Planning an off-site outing or regularly buying staff lunch may be a good way to invite staff to sit down and get to know each other better.

The survey also made me reflect on how often I think about the happiness of my employees. I’m not talking about their job functions or what we need them to do each day, but their actual happiness with life. Everyone wants to be happy. If we can do something in our organizations that will improve employees’ happiness, it is worth the effort.

To learn more of what else the survey revealed, check out the full report here.

Lisa Grabl is president of CompHealth, the nation’s largest provider of locum tenens physicians and founder of the traveling physician industry. Lisa joined CompHealth in 2001 as a sales consultant and excelled in a variety of management roles prior to being named president in 2017. Lisa is passionate about building lasting relationships and helping her team members reach their highest potential.