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When addressing burnout reduction and joy in health care, it is tempting to quickly jump into the fray to do something. Problems may seem to have ready answers. Given the urgency of the needs, taking time to first determine how to measure improvement progress can feel like an unnecessary delay.
But using data to understand human constructs such as worklife, well-being, and empathy is key to promoting sustainable change. Analyzing regularly collected data on wellness, stress, burnout, and their predictors can allow an organization to move intentionally and supportively to help staff stay well, fresh, and connected.
Here are some principles to keep in mind when building an infrastructure for wellness monitoring and improvement:
- Keep it simple. Starting measurement is the hardest part. It requires time, effort, and resources at the start, but it gets easier. Strive for ease of use with a concise set of measures rather than a complete list of every factor impacting worklife. Measure how much difficulty people are having, in what domains, and from which stressors and organizational challenges. Using validated measures to test areas of interest (e.g., stress, burnout, joy, fulfillment, organization culture, and work conditions) will allow maximum flexibility in defining the problems, identifying solutions, and demonstrating that interventions made a difference.
- Work with the right people. Connect with those who know how to do what needs to be done, including how to set up, distribute, and make sure people respond to Your marketing department may have skills in these areas. (Note: The survey doesn’t need to be fancy. At Hennepin Healthcare, we use a free web-based product). While not necessary, a statistical unit to analyze the data can be exceedingly helpful.
- Know what you’re going to do with your data. Measurement is important, but not as important as knowing what you’re going to do with your data once you collect it. What are you trying to understand? Who will see the data? Is what you are measuring something definable that can be acted upon or simply a measure of how well (or unwell) people are? Try not to measure things you are unlikely to act upon.
- Align measurements with your organization’s overall strategy. How does joy in work connect to your organization’s short- and long-term planning? Taking data to the executive suite that can inform decision-making can help turn data into intelligence for leadership and respect for teams. For example, suppose your organization is hoping to see revenue growth in five key clinical units that surveys indicate have the highest burnout. You are fairly certain that growth in these units would lead to higher burnout and turnover. If you have also learned what is causing burnout and can offer remediable solutions which may support future growth, leaders will be interested in hearing what you have to say about the data you’ve collected.
- Avoid survey fatigue. The key to preventing survey fatigue is to make sure participants understand what the data show and what the next steps will be. At Hennepin Healthcare, we aggregate survey data into a one-page report each year that calls out themes and next steps. Within one month of the survey closing, all clinicians get this summary. The report indicates that we have reviewed and analyzed the data, and what we are preparing to do with it. (Here is a summary report template.) Also, keeping workplace wellness surveys brief boosts response rates and the validity of the data.
- Identify champions. It is important to find a leader or two who “get it” and support efforts to link worklife and wellness to organizational thriving. You will need their support to carry on your work and to advocate for modest to moderate financial investments in staff time and surveys. They can also encourage measurement, intervention, and advocacy and help with spreading learnings from data to leadership. Chief Medical Officers are familiar with the hard work that clinicians are doing and are often super champions for improving joy in work. Likewise, opening direct lines of communication and building relationships with department chairs and other organizational leaders (e.g., medical directors or practice managers) can be exceedingly helpful. Creating these connections also helps leaders identify you as a local expert and encourages them to bring worklife problems to you.
- Spread what you learn. Commit to following through and spreading what you learn by rapidly sharing your findings with all levels of leadership. Improvement work often happens in pockets or silos across an organization. Encourage groups from different areas to discuss what’s going on and share wins and learnings. At Hennepin, in addition to reporting data back to participants, we also share results with department chairs and wellness champions who can lead follow-up.
Building relationships and identifying joy in work partners throughout an organization creates more alignment and breaks down barriers to cooperation. Once an organization understands the profound meaning of worklife data, bonds form that allow wellness data and measurement to be turned into improvement.
Mark Linzer, MD, MACP, is a primary care physician and the Director of the Hennepin Healthcare Institute for Professional Worklife (IPW). Elizabeth Goelz, MD, is an internal medicine physician and the IPW’s Associate Director. Sara Poplau, BA, is IPW’s Operations Director.
You may also be interested in:
IHI’s Joy in Work Results-Oriented Learning Network (begins August 2021)
The Institute for Professional Worklife Tool Library
IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work