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Quantifying Employee Burnout – What to Measure & When

Employee burnout has emerged as a significant strategic concern for healthcare executives, but it is a war that can be won. Read on for details.
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Employee burnout has emerged as a significant near-term strategic concern for healthcare executives. However, a third of responses also indicate they are not measuring burnout in their clinical community, and only a quarter are measuring it beyond their clinical employees.1 This data suggests that executives are aware of the level of burnout in their organizations and, therefore, don’t feel the need to investigate further. But “knowing” is not enough. Like any other syndrome, developing an effective treatment plan for burnout requires understanding its breadth, depth, and character.

Without specific measurements, burnout remains nebulous; it is spoken about in broad generalizations, dismissed, or inadequately addressed. Being aware of burnout may generate well-intentioned efforts to contain it, but to design truly effective responses, organizations must diagnose burnout with greater specificity. For example, instead of "Are my people burned out?" the relevant questions should be:

  1. What dimensions of burnout are impacting the well-being and productivity of my people?
  2. How are those dimensions disbursed throughout the functions and teams in the organization?

Once burnout is framed correctly, its negative financial impact can be significantly reduced. In addition to lost productivity and errors, burnout is associated with 20–50% of a multibillion-dollar turnover problem within the United States, which executives expect to be as much as 10% higher than industry benchmarks in 2021.2

Research shows that organizations can have a material impact on burnout.3 Proactively measuring and developing targeted interventions can improve both employee well-being and organizational health. To drive this type of impact, organizations should follow a straightforward three-step process.

Step One: Ask & Measure

Research on drivers behind the “Great Resignation” demonstrated that employees want to contribute to making their organizations better—organizations just need to ask. One such tool to open this type of dialogue is FORVIS’ Clari3ty® burnout diagnostic. Using 15 scientifically validated questions to assess the prevalence of the three dimensions of burnout, Clari3ty is a trusted and simple method of understanding the exact scope and scale of burnout within an organization and its measurable components. Unfortunately, while home-grown mechanisms can be directionally effective, the majority use generic questions that only serve to reinforce “knowing” burnout is present and make it difficult to develop targeted and efficient strategies and tactics to address its three dimensions.

Step Two: Analyze

The World Health Organization defines burnout through three dimensions: exhaustion, loss of efficacy, and cynicism.4 Practical analysis of burnout must consider these three dimensions, individually and collectively. Developed as a joint venture with change practitioners and behavioral scientists, Clari3ty utilizes qualitative analysis and artificial intelligence to analyze respondent answers and identify trends to illustrate the character of burnout within an organization. With that unique character in mind, these results illuminate the strategies and tactics that will go to the heart of burnout.

With actionable results in hand, organizations should gather leaders to review the results and further investigate areas of concern, learn from teams that have managed to contain burnout, and develop a practical and prioritized approach to addressing burnout. For our clients who utilize Clari3ty, we conduct focused workshops that blend interactive data visualization and group design to help develop a clear, reliable picture of the scale and prevalence of burnout for the entire organization and a prioritized plan to help address it within defined people groups. In this work, we have found several factors to consider when addressing burnout, including:

  1. Which dimension(s) heavily impact the organization – Since each dimension of burnout5 elicits unique physiological and behavioral challenges, each requires different strategies and tactics. Exhaustion, loss of efficacy, and cynicism progress in increasing severity and decrease the likelihood of “recovery.” Perhaps not surprisingly, their associated mitigation tactics scale proportionately in effort and expense.
  2. Culture and values – To be credible and effective, mitigation strategies must be scientifically based but aligned to an organization's culture and values. For example, suggesting interventions that feel out of character for a leader's personality or promoting programs without visible support will not encourage the adoption of burnout-reducing behaviors.
  3. External market factors – Local economic landscape, culture, and recent events will all impact the interventions chosen and the pace at which they must move. Organizations in highly competitive labor markets, for example, must act quickly and significantly to retain their talent base.

Step Three: Act

Research indicates that contrary to popular beliefs, survey fatigue is not exacerbating burnout—it’s inaction fatigue. To effectively push back burnout, organizations need to establish and execute a systematic program targeted at burnout. Like any initiative with strategic, cultural, and financial impact, success requires:

  • Adequate Attention
  • Funding
  • Resources
  • Sustained Communication Framework

Top-down support for mitigation strategies must be communicated and demonstrated. Managers must be empowered and equipped to support staff through challenges, particularly those of highly impacted people groups. Some wins will come quicker than others, but continued assessment and the flexibility to adjust based on that assessment will be imperative for long-term progress.

Ongoing measurement allows tracking progress against goals and adjusting strategies and tactics to continue advancing toward those targets. If progress is not made, change course; if burnout rises elsewhere, investigate it. Burnout is not an issue that disappears with a free lunch or a long weekend; it will not resolve itself with a single champion. But with visible and sustained efforts powered by scientifically validated diagnostics, organizations can make meaningful progress against burnout’s strategic, cultural, and financial impacts.

Conclusion – Measure When It Matters

Near-term concerns over burnout are second only to worries about clinical staffing shortages.6 However, if burnout and propensity for turnover are closely and expensively linked, and leaders doubt their ability to replace those exiting the organization, then leaders are right to acknowledge burnout with escalating urgency.

Burnout is a war that can be won, but only when organizations use data and perspective to fight the right battle. When an organization can precisely measure where burnout is most prevalent and clearly define the character of the issue, it can quantify the true cost of burnout and prescribe targeted strategies and tactics with significant returns on investment.

Measure what matters, when it matters.

For questions or to learn more, reach out to a professional at FORVIS or submit the Contact Us form below.

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