August 02, 2023

First Staff Grand Rounds successful, helps staff navigate joy and burnout in the workplace

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Staff Grand Rounds Q3 photoA new speaker series for Heersink School of Medicine staff launched last Thursday, July 27.

The quarterly event, Staff Grand Rounds, offers educational content to staff on professional development and advancement, belonging and engagement, and other staff-suggested topics.

Hosted by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the series is unique because it is entirely staff driven. The Staff Diversity Liaisons, a group representing departments at Heersink School of Medicine, manage the curriculum, among other responsibilities consulting the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. The group cultivates topics, content, and speaker ideas for Staff Grand Rounds directly from staff members in their area.

The first event in the series, “Beating the burnout: Finding joy in your job (and life) again,” was presented by Megan McMurray Hays, Ph.D., associate director of Education for the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness.

Hays started the meeting by discussing burnout and where it comes from, then focused on evidence-based strategies to prevent and mitigate it. If you missed it, watch the presentation here or read a few key takeaways from Hays's presentation below.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a work-related psychological syndrome resulting from chronic exposure to job stress.

It consists of three dimensions:

1. Emotional exhaustion. “This is the feeling of being wiped out or exhausted by your work,” Hays says.

2. Cynicism and depersonalization. “This is when people feel a lot of negativity towards their job or feel detached from their work, patients, coworkers, etc.,” Hays explains. “It can be really hard to be in this place.”

3. Reduced professional efficacy and personal accomplishment. Hays says this dimension can include elements of regret or feelings similar to imposter syndrome; employees may “feel like the work [they] are doing isn’t making a difference.”

Understand the signs

Staff can know they are experiencing burnout by asking themselves assessment questions. A few include: Are you feeling cynical? Are you dragging yourself to work? Have you become irritable? Do you need more energy to be consistently productive? Do you find it hard to concentrate? Are you having unexplained physical complaints? Have your sleep habits changed?

Hays lists many more questions to assess burnout in her presentation. She explains that some professions are more vulnerable than others to burnout, such as health care workers, teachers or staff in higher education, human services workers, and first responders.

Factors contributing to burnout include workload, social recognition and reinforcement of a job well done, and control over one’s own work, such as pursuing passion projects.

Hays also mentioned that the workplace community is significant in preventing burnout. Fairness and values are two of the most foundational attributes to being joyful and avoiding burnout. Fairness means a lack of discrimination, a promotion of equity, and being respected by the employer or organization. As for values, we want our work to align with our most deeply held values. Burnout can occur when values are misaligned with our employer, team, unit, et cetera.

Address employee well-being

Everyone wins when we address well-being and burnout, Hays says. We can do this by increasing compassion and empathy as well as reconnecting with joy and purpose. “When the barrier of burnout is removed, we can go back to enjoying what we do,” she says.

Hays offered a few tips for staying joyful in her presentation, which include some of the following.

Physical health. Even if it’s something really easy or just enjoyable, movement is key. Try for 7-9 hours of sleep; wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends. Eat well overall but don’t get caught up in “all or nothing” thinking.

Emotional. Feel your feelings. Don’t avoid or repress them. Use grounding techniques and check in with your senses.

Social health. Connecting with other people is pivotal to well-being.

Find balance at work. Set boundaries, use vacation time, delegate, and don’t volunteer for extra work. Work between regular business hours if possible. Use employer-provided resources such as the EACC

Questions and presentation

At the end of her presentation, Hays answered several questions from the audience, such as defining the term “work/life blend.” One question was asked that she did not have time to answer about burnout and the COVID-19 pandemic. The question was: “Attitudes after COVID seem to be much more hateful. Do you think this is burnout?”

Hays answers, “We know that healthcare worker burnout was high before the pandemic, and COVID certainly worsened rates of burnout, so that is one possibility for perceiving worsened attitudes and behaviors. But there are other potential factors that may have worsened morale for some individuals since COVID, such as PTSD symptoms, compassion fatigue, and other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. We know all these things increased as a result of the pandemic as well and could be factors. In addition, ongoing stress from staffing shortages in an already burned-out workforce probably isn’t helping matters!”

Watch the presentation here and stay tuned for more information on the Staff Grand Rounds event coming this fall.