Urgent message: Statistics indicate there is an epidemic of mental, physical, and emotional burnout of employees in the United States, painting a troubling picture that urgent care operators must proactively manage in order to assure continued patient satisfaction.
Many of us have been there: getting out of bed in the morning feels like a monumental task. The thought of another work day evokes an exasperated sigh. Previously productive shifts give way to distracted clock-watching. Patience shortens while errors and mistakes creep up. The temptation to call in sick, or ditch early, grows stronger by the day.
What do all these things have common? They’re classic symptoms of employee burnout. And although it’s common in healthcare settings such as urgent care, burnout is hardly limited to them. In fact, it’s on the rise everywhere, severely hindering productivity and driving up costs across America’s workplaces. That’s according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, which takes a sobering look at the widespread prevalence of employee burnout and its damaging effects on employees and businesses alike.
The Burnout Epidemic
The WSJ article cites an “always-on” workplace culture, overworked staffs, and job insecurity as key factors in fraying millions of workers at the edges, and sending them spiraling into despair. In fact, up to 40% of U.S. workers are experiencing burnout at any given time, based on the findings of a large-scale survey conducted by Gallup in 2012. Annual turnover is on the rise as a result, to the tune of fully 50% of all turnover being attributed to burnout. And burnout-caused, work-related healthcare costs have skyrocketed as well, with estimates ranging anywhere from $125 billion to $190 billion annually.
Compounding the problem is the fact that companies are struggling to get a handle on the issue. Psychology and human resources experts contend that many workplaces either fail to take the problem seriously, or lack the resources to provide assistance to their employees. This point was also illustrated in the WSJ article, which noted that employee-assistance provider Workplace Options, for example, reported stress and anxiety as the two main factors in 70% of their inbound phone-counseling calls.
Few Work-Life Boundaries
One well-recognized culprit of employee burnout is a blurring of work-life boundaries. For instance, a 2016 survey of working-age adults revealed the following telling statistics:
- 30% worked or worried about work while on vacation
- 19% worked 50 hours a week or more at their main jobs
- 43% felt that their jobs exacerbated their stress levels
- 64% worked regular weekend and/or overtime hours
- 20% reported feeling high levels of stress at their job
- 65% felt an obligation to monitor company email after work hours
- 55% found it difficult to mentally detach from work
The data paint a troubling picture: Due to fearful workers refusing to be assertive about their boundaries, workplaces everywhere are bursting at the seams with overwhelmed, apathetic, and numb employees. And the resulting workplace accidents, turnover, onboarding, absenteeism, diminished productivity, insurance and medical costs, and workers’ compensation comes at a steep price for U.S. employers—estimated at upwards of $300 billion annually.
Strategies for Managing Burnout
Like any workplace, urgent care is susceptible to employee burnout. A fast-paced clinical environment that emphasizes speedy throughput and high-quality patient care coupled with frequent late-evening and weekend shifts carries with it a very real burnout risk.
Fortunately, though, companies are beginning to acknowledge the mental, physical, and emotional toll that burnout can wreak on their employees—not to mention the bottom line. Hence, they’ve begun investing time and effort into strategies to curtail workplace stress and restore a healthy work-life balance. To that end, urgent care would do well to follow suit in the following areas:
- Encourage guilt-free time off – Employees need free time dedicated to family, friends, and hobbies to relax and recharge their emotional batteries, so reassure staff that the center will run fine without them on their day off.
- Staff appropriately – Understaffed workplaces lead to overworked employees. Keep staff levels appropriate to the workload and demand to prevent taxed workers and excessive overtime hours.
- Offer flex-scheduling when available – Sometimes, a healthy work-life balance means working longer hours one day and shorter the next, or starting a shift earlier or later depending on the day. Give employees the opportunity to “flex” their schedule when appropriate.
- Create a nurturing culture – Frequent check-ins with staff to ensure they are OK, creating team and buddy systems, allowing for “vent sessions,” making time for fun and humor, and regular acknowledgement of excellent performance can go a long way toward creating a less stressful workplace.
Taken together, the statistics surrounding employee burnout tend to add up to a workplace culture issue. Too often, managers fail to fully acknowledge the culture deficiencies in their workplace that, left unchecked, can contribute to stressed out and overburden staffers. By first examining then repairing the culture along with encouraging a healthy work-life balance, burnout can be dramatically reduced—resulting in a happier, healthier staff, patients, and bottom line.
Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Practice Velocity, LLC and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine