Inherently “purposeful” professions still need Purpose. Especially in times of crisis, like now, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the Great Resignation weighs on the working world.
As the founders of Purpose consulting, we know that purposeful organizations can have a tremendous impact. And for some industries, a sense of Purpose seems to come with the territory – such as government entities, non-profits, and arguably most of all, Healthcare.
Healthcare employees draw energy and strength from a deep sense of purpose. Their timeless WHY seems naturally embedded and self-evident. But the Covid-19 pandemic has placed added pressure on an already challenging field, straining the bonds that attract and attach healthcare workers to their calling. The profession is seeing widespread burnout and moral fatigue, with many healthcare workers reconsidering not only their places of work, but their career choice. The remedy for this crisis may involve more than healthcare workers uncovering new ways to find meaning in their work. It will require something more, that entails clinicians and administrators creating new ways to live their Purpose, and bring it to life in their everyday clinical settings.
THE CHALLENGE IN DETAIL
At BCG BrightHouse, we’ve served multiple healthcare organizations over the past 25 years. As we engage with employees to uncover their organization’s unique strengths, we often hear that the reason employees choose to go into this profession is because it’s their life’s calling. In other words, it’s more than just a job and a paycheck; it’s their passion, it fulfills their Personal Purpose.
Despite their strong sense of service, clinicians were reporting high levels of burnout and distress even before the pandemic, and at a much higher rate than other professions. A 2012 report revealed that burnout was nearly twice as prevalent among physicians as US workers in other fields after controlling for work hours and other factors. Among hospital nurses, a 2007 study showed the rate of burnout was 35 percent. This trend is even true among those at the very beginning of their careers. In recent years, medical students and residents also show much higher rates of burnout than apprentices pursuing other fields. (SOURCE 1)
Today the situation is even more dire. As the pandemic trudges on, over half of healthcare workers (53 percent) are reporting symptoms of burnout. (SOURCE 2) Nearly 1 in 5 clinicians are considering quitting due to the pandemic. (SOURCE 3)
Another troubling fact is that burnout is contagious. In one study where burnout was measured by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment, results showed that clinicians can “catch” their colleagues’ burnout. (SOURCE 4)
Patients are also being negatively impacted, as empathic caregivers leave the profession. As one of our Luminaries, Dr. Anita Nowak, explains, empathy is a renewable resource, but it’s essential that healthcare professionals have time and space to rechange their empathy batteries. Unfortunately, they, “bathe in a culture of self-neglect…and their empathy erodes due to time constraints, lack of sleep, and heavy patient loads. Healthcare providers need backup to go the distance and be present for each patient.”
There is good news. One of the best ways to cure burnout is to reinvigorate your sense of Purpose. (SOURCE 5) This might seem counterintuitive—if your job is stressful, surely some time off is better than focusing even more intently on your work. But for those facing burnout, reinvigorating Purpose isn’t so much of a further immersing yourself in your job, as it is stepping back from the day-to-day grind and remembering why your work matters. Then, to fully realize the benefits of Purpose, you need to connect and share that sense of Purpose with your colleagues so the organization can more fully live it.
Before employees can energize an organization by rallying around Purpose, the surrounding systems and infrastructure must also enable it. As one healthcare organization leader told us, “Clinicians want to be part of something bigger, so we need to connect with them in that way. They want to change lives, that’s why they do this work.”
Research shows that employees who are connected to their employer’s Purpose are 66% more likely to be fulfilled by their work. (SOURCE 6). And that companies who rank in the top Quartile for employee engagement experience 59% less turnover. (SOURCE 7)
Though Purpose may seem second nature in healthcare, it must be constantly enabled and lived across culture, strategy and operations, and communications, especially in trying times when it’s needed most.
Purpose can restore and repair Healthcare employee’s fervor for their work by helping clinicians find new ways to work and uncover new ways to fulfill their reason for being in what is an increasingly challenging environment. If this is not done, we will continue to see lower patient satisfaction, worsening patient outcomes, and increased healthcare costs as well as high rates of turnover, and an increased exodus from the profession.
- Two papers: Burnout contagion among general practitioners – Bakker
Emotional contagion, empathic concern and … – Omdahl –
- Evidence from Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast “Burnout is everyone’s problem” “Adam Grant “You are an overworked, emotionally-exhausted teacher, and your idea of self-care is to then say, “Alright, I’m going to start another organization and volunteer for it.” What kind of sick and twisted vacation is that? CC: I know it sounds counterintuitive, but I felt really refreshed, and like I had a new, kind of, purpose and drive, and I found that I actually was a happier person. AG: Your antidote to burnout is not necessarily less work. It could be more meaning…. In a study of hundreds of professionals keeping daily diaries across multiple industries, the single strongest predictor of engagement at work was a sense of daily progress.
- Imperative: Purpose Workforce Index (2019) and BH data deck
Words associated with Fulfillment include Happy, Love, Enjoy, Difference, Achieve, Goals
Words associated with Engagement include: Busy, Active, Interest, Hard, Like, Challenges
- Gallup: Building a High-Development Culture Through Your Employee Engagement Strategy