In today’s society, people are often praised for the amount of time they put in at work. Those who do not eat or sleep are viewed as “dedicated” or “driven,” making these unhealthy habits seem like lofty goals for their peers aspiring to move up the clinical career ladder. On the other hand, people who do not put in this extreme level of effort may be accused of “doing the bare minimum” or being “lazy.” Unfortunately, more time at work does not always equate to higher levels of productivity — particularly in healthcare.
Healthcare employees who work too many hours without eating, sleeping, or taking time for themselves are more likely to face burnout and job dissatisfaction, leading to a decrease in the quality of care, positive patient outcomes, and ultimately financial losses for the organization. With a government mandate to improve clinical processes and the patient experience (an outcome that is arguably 100% dependent on employee behaviors) — and a potential 2% loss of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for organizations that fall short, the connection between employee actions, the patient experience, and financial results is evident.
So, how big of a problem is clinician job dissatisfaction and burnout? Well, research by Towers Watson shows that when healthcare organizations create an engaging and high-performance-oriented work environment, they not only improve employee engagement and patient satisfaction but also clinical outcomes. However, creating this near-utopian workplace environment in healthcare is a challenge, made evident by the fact that one in five hospital employees are disengaged or ambivalent about their jobs, and less than half (44%) of the healthcare workforce is highly engaged.
Consequences for Clinicians and Nurses
Nurses who work too hard and suffer from burnout are more likely to leave their jobs. In fact, a study of 40 different hospital units shows that more than 33% of nurses plan to quit their jobs within the next 12 months. The most common reasons cited for this decision is the lack of personal accomplishment and emotional exhaustion, both of which indicate nurse burnout. Also, a nationwide survey published in BMJ Quality and Safety shows that more than half of nurses worry that their jobs are affecting their health, and 35% would like to resign. This data indicates that healthcare professionals are not only chronically overworked, but are also suffering physical and emotional effects as a result.
Consequences for Patients
When a nurse works too many hours and has too many responsibilities, they are unable to devote the time and energy that each patient deserves — they are increasing the likelihood of errors and poor patient satisfaction. In fact, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, studies have shown that an insufficient nursing staff can lead to increased patient mortality and higher rates of hospital readmission. Conversely, research conducted by Health Affairs found that high levels of patient satisfaction correlate with a positive work environment for nurses.
When it comes to clinicians, the same principles apply. Feelings of burnout and job dissatisfaction among clinicians lead to poor quality care and lower patient satisfaction; while happy, fulfilled clinicians facilitate better outcomes and higher levels of patient satisfaction.
Consequences for Healthcare Organizations
Clinician and nurse burnout also has a significant impact on the productivity and financial health of the organization itself. Studies have shown that inefficient staffing ratios lead to higher rates of nurse turnover. Not only is this disruptive and costly to the organization, but it can be dangerous for patients. Likewise, when clinicians are dissatisfied with their jobs, they are more likely to make medical errors.
The Department of Health and Human Services currently bases 30% of Medicare reimbursements on the results of patient satisfaction surveys. When patients are dissatisfied because they receive insufficient care from exhausted clinicians and nurses, they are more likely to give negative responses on HCAHPS surveys, which reduces the facility’s reimbursement amount.
Preventing Clinician Job Dissatisfaction
It is clear that preventing job dissatisfaction and burnout is essential to the health and happiness of employees, the safety of patients, and the productivity of the entire healthcare organization. However, because of the growing nursing shortage, preventing burnout can be a challenge. To deal with a shortage, hospitals can either close beds or ask their current nurses to work more hours. Unfortunately, according to the American Journal of Medical Quality, heavy work schedules are one of the factors contributing to the shortage in the first place.
Perhaps the best way to prevent burnout, increase retention, and improve the bottom line is by focusing on the organization’s culture. Hospital employees who feel engaged and connected at work are less likely to leave their jobs and more likely to display a genuine, caring attitude toward patients. In fact, HCAHPS Overall Hospital Ratings increase by 0.33% for every 1% increase in employee engagement. To improve employee engagement and the overall culture of the workplace:
- Choose the right leaders: Use leadership assessments and customized training programs to develop strong, effective leaders.
- Select the right employees: Use behavioral assessments and peer interviews to identify candidates that fit well with your organization’s existing culture.
- Do what you can to reduce the workload for frontline staff: One way to lighten the load is to bring in additional staff members, either in the form of new hires or temporary staff.
- Recognize employees for their accomplishments: Reward employees for a job well done with verbal or written acknowledgments, celebrations or financial incentives.
- Provide opportunities for growth: Encourage employees to set goals, continue their education, and participate in professional development activities.
Exhaustion and job dissatisfaction is a major concern for healthcare professionals and institutions alike. It affects the physical condition and quality of life for employees as well as an institution’s reputation and profitability. By understanding the factors that lead to clinician job dissatisfaction and burnout, and taking steps to improve the workplace environment, healthcare organizations can improve employee engagement and combat a costly and critical issue.
Are you interested in learning about how you can improve employee engagement in your healthcare organization? Download our free how-to guide:
Build a Patient-Centered Workforce: How to Select, Align, Develop, and Continuously Retain Highly Engaged People