Typically defined by a sense of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal efficacy, burnout has become all too familiar to health care workers. But a common challenge in addressing burnout is finding where to influence change.
Children's hospitals are large organizations often with thousands of employees across multiple campuses working varying schedules and having different needs based on their area of focus. Change at an organizational level can take time. But change at a team level could help children's hospitals foster resilience at a pace that feels more achievable in the short term.
"Teams control many of the essential components of resilience," says Leah Weiss, Ph.D., Stanford Graduate School of Business. "So much of resilience and burnout is relational and teams can make changes quickly. If you decide to implement a new collective behavior and give it a shot for 30 days, you can make that decision without permission from the organization."
Weiss teaches compassionate leadership and is a founding faculty member of Stanford's Compassionate Cultivation program conceived by the Dalai lama.
Using the four pillars of resilience, Weiss says team leaders—and team members—can identify areas of change:
Self-awareness. This is broader than just knowing your emotions. At a team level, self-awareness is about knowing your triggers for burnout or emotional distress and communicating them to your peers. Help them understand your values, what brings you purpose and what drains you.
Autonomy. Having support to do your work successfully and some control over your time, schedule and output can influence resilience. Leaders who allow team members flexibility to act and give say in team priorities will find they have more resilient teams. Finding this balance of support and flexibility to act.
Structured rest and rejuvenation. While it's partially about being able to rest, disconnect from work and enjoy time off, rejuvenation is also about understanding what energizes you at work. What changes can be made at a team level to have those things? Often what energizes one person, doesn't have the same effect on a peer. Colleagues and team leads may be able to swap certain duties to have more fulfillment.
Community and collaboration. Studies show that when each person has one strong connection on their team at work, it influences positive health outcomes for employees, higher engagement and retention in the workplace, and overall joy at work. Leaders can help foster those relationships. Express value and support for connections among others.
To start, Weiss recommends teams pick one element within the four pillars of resilience to focus on. Whether it's focusing on allowing all team members to disconnect when they're off work or increasing dialogue around what brings you purpose, Weiss says it may help knowing there's team effort being put forth towards a common thing.
The sense of togetherness among a team also has a secondary purpose: easier identification of burnout. Weiss emphasizes it's easier to recognize burnout in others than it is to recognize it in yourself. Understanding your peers, their habits and hobbies will help a strong team identify when someone isn't themselves and may be experiencing burnout.
"Burnout isn't a binary," Weiss says. "Burnout is a spectrum. The early parts of the spectrum are difficult to self-identify: excessive drive, pushing yourself to work harder and longer, neglecting personal needs. The early stages of burnout don't look like burnout. They look like a strong commitment to your job. Having communities and relationships within your team can help recognize behavior changes."