Transform organizational cultures to reduce physician burnout

October 19, 2020
Lisa Hannum
Lisa Hannum

Lisa Hannum is the founder and CEO of Beehive Strategic Communication. She is a purpose-driven leader who believes in the power of communication to build better businesses for a better world. Lisa has more than 30 years of experience in change management, culture transformation, crisis and issues management, marketing and public relations.

The cost of physician burnout is escalating as COVID-19 and the demand on our healthcare systems skyrockets. It is more important than ever for leaders to prioritize taking care of those who take care of their communities.

Physician burnout costs the healthcare industry $4.6 billion each year, and that was before the global pandemic. Implementing strategies to combat physician burnout is essential to the health and wellness of the organization and those it serves. Typical incentives like snacks and workout classes can help; however, these don’t address the most important element of the solution: the need to transform negative organizational cultures to re-energize, support and motivate physicians now and into the future.

The demand for healthy workplace cultures isn’t a passing trend. Millennials and Gen Z employees are driving a fundamental shift in workplace expectations. Employees expect to work for organizations that prioritize well-being, flexibility, professional development, and diversity and inclusion. Smart healthcare organizations—from hospital systems to independent practice groups—respond to these rising expectations by championing the necessary resources to create and maintain workplace cultures that not only prioritize the health of its patients, but also its employees.

By fundamentally transforming workplace culture, leaders can engage employees, build trust and empower growth. Here’s an approach any healthcare organization can take to get started.

Start with mission and values

Healthcare leaders are in a unique position to align their workplace cultures with their organizations’ mission and values because care providers often share a common sense of purpose: to help and heal. This can be a clear and guiding force to develop a culture specifically designed to meet a shared goal.

Consider a healthcare organization dedicated to serving suburban communities. The culture should attract employees who are committed to wellness and understand suburban lifestyles.

Organizations that shape workplace culture around mission and values are well-equipped to:

  • Attract and retain employees who believe in the purpose or mission
  • Engage and motivate employees
  • Differentiate themselves from competitors
  • Provide clarity on employee expectations
  • Deliver an authentic and differentiating employee and patient experience

Evaluate existing culture

Next, leaders must understand current organizational strengths and weaknesses to identify areas for improvement. There are a variety of ways to do this. Digging into cross-functional metrics like absenteeism, PTO, and sick time usage, realization reporting, and recruitment and retention is important. These numbers can help identify issues often caused by unhealthy organizational cultures, including burnout, low engagement, high turnover rates in parts or the organization and difficulty filling open positions.

Healthcare organizations can better understand how employees are feeling and how to support them by asking questions and listening. Consider a variety of survey methods like engagement studies and pulse surveys. Pulse surveys are especially important during times of prolonged stress.

Employee-review websites, such as Glassdoor and Indeed, give former and current employees a platform to share honest feedback about organizations. These can be powerful sources of information to uncover insights about the culture that employee reviews or exit interviews don’t reveal.

Align leadership and communication

Traditional workplace cultures relied on top-down, hierarchical leadership and indirect communication. Today’s cultures require collaboration and transparency. Care providers and healthcare employees want and need accessible and authentic leadership that asks for their feedback, listens to their input and considers it during business decisions.

Two-way communication between employees and leadership encourages connection and engagement. Employees feel trusted when they’re asked to contribute and are more likely to participate when leadership listens. Engaged teams are more invested in the organization’s success and are inspired to do their part to help the organization achieve it.

Organizations that effectively leverage two-way communication channels create a feedback loop between employees and leadership to build trust, improve employee experience, increase engagement and strengthen workplace culture.

Engage employees

Healthcare organizations play a significant role in shaping workplace culture, but physicians, care providers, and employees are ultimately responsible for bringing culture to life. Engaging all employees in improving workplace culture increases the likelihood of success. Informal feedback can uncover insights about the culture that formal methods can’t. Be sure to demonstrate how your organization is incorporating insights and responding to issues in its decision-making.

Recognition also is an effective way to reward those who embody the key elements of workplace culture. This acknowledgment reinforces the desired behaviors and signals to everyone how seriously the organization is taking the workplace culture initiative.

Measure and plan for future initiatives

Ongoing measurement and benchmarking are essential in nurturing long-term, healthy workplace cultures. Remember, workplace cultures continually evolve as employees and their expectations change, which means culture isn’t a one-time initiative. Workplace culture is built and nurtured over time with clear, consistent communication and leadership.

Culture initiatives are significant and complex. Healthcare organizations that prioritize culture can see rewards like:

  • Attracting and retaining top talent
  • Improving employee engagement and wellness
  • Improving productivity, profitability and driving business growth
  • Providing a compelling physician and patient experience
  • Inspiring creativity and innovation

Defining and nurturing a strong organizational culture is a valuable long-term investment. It’s more important than ever to care for those who care for us.