Back to basics for bashing burnout

I recently created 2 documents outlining expectations for physicians: one addressed professionalism and the other productivity.  The intent was to articulate what is needed as a baseline from each physician, and point out the importance of discretionary (extra) effort for us to be successful.  Acknowledging and thanking those who go above and beyond on a regular basis was essential to this exercise.

The activity was undertaken because of complaints from a number of colleagues about low productivity and poor professionalism among a few; this small minority was threatening the joy and pride in work of those many who go above and beyond.  Although obvious but not always front of mind is the connection of professionalism and productivity to burnout – the more individuals in the workforce underperforming in either, or both, the higher turnover, the lower overall engagement, and the more likely burnout will occur.  The underperforming few can drag the hardworking majority down.

As leaders we know clarifying expectations is important.  It sets the bar, and it also provides the opportunity for us to remind those pushing themselves way beyond the bar to cut back and strike a healthier balance.

Expectations need to be clear before people can be held accountable, self-reflect and resolve to improve where appropriate, whether it be on one’s balance, commitment or focus.  The under performing who feel burned out despite doing the minimum need to improve efficiency and cut out activities that aren’t aligned with what is needed (i.e. essentialism).

The explanation of professionalism I drafted centered on the following principles:

Respect for the voice and value of others – listen to learn and understand; value others contributions.

Kindness – speak with humility and respect, not dogmatism or for the purpose of demoralizing another.

Focus on the mission and core functions of the team; avoid drama, avoid drawing attention to oneself unnecessarily.

Professionalism – balanced and non-judgmental communication; courage balanced with consideration

The explanation of productivity centered on the following:

Time– >50 hours a week on average outside of night call is almost always needed – professionals who need to work less than this may need to go part-time.

RVUs– a starting place for reflecting on efficiency and contribution – it’s not a 4-letter word, but it is an imperfect measure, and needs to be taken in context.  Yet its needed because it’s too easy (and very human) to be biased about how hard one works.

Discretionary effort for certain committees, projects (e.g. quality improvement) and activities (e.g. teaching) is a must for us to be successful.  Yet one must feel that this work is meaningful and making a difference.

Triaging– invariably individuals and teams need to prioritize their activities, schedules, patient care, phone calls, who and what they teach, etc.  We can’t do it all.

Still a work in progress, yet it does drive a good dialogue.