• Article
  • October 23, 2019

1 in 3 Professionals Are Burned Out. Are You?

People working in health care are statistically more likely to experience burnout than most other industries.

Working in a children’s hospital exposes employees to stressors, from the frenetic pace of change related to quality improvement to supporting seriously ill children and their families. These expectations make employees more vulnerable to burnout and likely to feel disengaged.

Burnout is the inability to work at your best and a sense of being alone in your struggles. Employees who aren’t talking about how they’re feeling are often left feeling further isolated and discouraged, says Bryan Sexton, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine and Director of Patient Safety Center, Duke University Health System.

For years, Sexton has studied teamwork, safety and resilience in high risk environments. He has found that one out of three people meet the criteria for burnout syndrome. “The constant pace of change is what's causing burnout levels to increase. That's overwhelming. We need to make it easier for busy, tired health care workers to have access to resources as part of their work time, not in addition to their personal lives,” he says.

A first step is recognizing if you’re susceptible. The questions you’re about to answer may seem simple, or what you consider a normal part of the job. But Sexton says answering "yes" to just one of them could signal you’re already burned out or at risk for burnout.

A quiz: Am I burned out?

  1. Do you try to be everything to everyone?
  2. Do you get to the end of a hard day of work and feel like you haven’t made a meaningful difference?
  3. Do you feel like the work you are doing is not recognized?
  4. Do you identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life?
  5. Does your job vary between monotony and chaos?
  6. Do you feel you have little or no control over your work?

Find your next step

Bringing attention to the impact of burnout on employees is important. According to Sexton, your perceptions are wildly influenced by how you feel and can affect your work performance. Now that you see where your pressure points are, what’s the next step you can take to practice self-care? Consider quick tools that can help you manage through these feelings, like Sexton’s “3 Good Things” exercise.

Practice writing “3 Good Things” every night

This intervention is simple and based on these ideas:

  • We are hardwired to remember the negative. Pull a different lever, like joy or gratitude, to manage positive emotion.
  • We have enhanced recall of material that's reviewed during the last two wakeful hours.
  • Reflecting on the positive leads to noticing more positive—so you'll notice benefits quickly.

Reserve a few minutes at bedtime to write down three things that went well during the day. People who do this every night are statistically significantly happier and less depressed. Sexton says it's slightly more effective than taking depression medications, but not nearly as intense as learning an entirely new skill, such as meditation.

Is this a topic you want to discuss with your colleagues or team? Start with “3 Tips for a Great Day,” designed for pediatric providers like you.

Send questions or comments.