Research

Research finds burnout prevention strategies

study focusing on the three dimensions of burnout, instead of total burnout scores, has found that time pressure is the most important predictor of emotional exhaustion - and that this can be addressed through supervision and skills development where job demands are not able to be reduced.

The study, based on a survey of more than 2,400 doctors in Finland, found "psychosocial factors in physicians' work are differently associated with the dimensions of burnout".

The World Health Organisation redefined burnout as a "syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed", and "characterised by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy."

The researchers, from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and other bodies, say that the condition has serious consequences for doctors' health and quality of life, and can also compromise the quality of patient care by increasing the risk of medical errors, workplace violence and turnover.

They note that energy depletion or exhaustion is generally thought to represent the first stage of the development of burnout, and there is considerable evidence on exhaustion risks – high job demands, and low job resources – from previous studies.

The study found the most important predictors:

  • of emotional exhaustion were (in order of importance) time pressure, work-family conflict, patient-related stress and lack of support;

  • of depersonalisation were patient-related stress, time pressure and poor job control; and

  • of reduced personal accomplishment were patient-related stress, poor job control, poor team climate, time pressure, lack of support and organisational injustice.

 The authors concluded that workplace strategies focusing on exhaustion and depersonalisation are likely to be the most useful in tackling burnout.  While reducing job demands would protect physicians from burnout, these demands are often inherent to healthcare settings and difficult to change. However, job resources, on the other hand, "represent more alterable job characteristics."

This has implications for other settings, where job demands cannot be easily reduced. 

Read more: K Gluschkoff, et al, The relative importance of work-related psychosocial factors in physician burnout. [Full article] Occupational Medicine, published online November 2021, doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqab147. Source: OHSAlert

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