A new approach is needed to tackle high levels of burnout among healthcare workers, a new report has concluded. The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), the industry experts in occupational health, has published ‘Burnout in healthcare: risk factors and solutions.’
The report details professional recommendations including tackling the root causes of burnout such as more manageable workloads, improving people’s ability to cope including peer support, and person-centred treatment.
Shocking figures recently showed that NHS England experienced an absence rate of 5.6 percent in 2022, the equivalent of losing nearly 75,000 staff to illness, often caused by burnout.
170,000 staff have also left, or are planning to leave, the NHS due to stress and workload pressures.
Drawing on research data from a wide variety of sources, the report found that those working in healthcare, such as doctors, nurses and care workers, are particularly prone to experiencing burnout.
According to the 2022 NHS workforce survey, more than a third of healthcare staff report feel burned-out at work, with staff in clinical roles found to be most vulnerable.
Further data shows that 54 percent of doctors displayed signs of emotional exhaustion and nearly 40 percent of nurses ‘often’ or ‘always’ felt burned-out at work.
Burnout is not a medical condition, but a state of physical and emotional exhaustion caused by excessive, prolonged, and untreated interpersonal workplace stress.
It occurs when individuals become emotionally exhausted, cynical, and disengaged from the job and feel a sense of ineffectiveness and loss of purpose. It can have wide-ranging damaging effects on workers’ health, job performance and quality of life and is extremely costly for the healthcare sector.
The thoroughly evidenced report recommends primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions throughout the healthcare sector to protect employees against burnout and enable those returning from absence because of the condition to do so effectively and safely.
- Primary level interventions are those that tackle the root causes of burnout. It is crucial to ensure workload is manageable, adequate support is available, leadership is compassionate, inclusive, and ethical and staff are recognised and rewarded for their work and achievements. Training managers to support the wellbeing of their staff, identify early signs of burnout and encourage help-seeking are also particularly important.
- Secondary level interventions focus on improving people’s ability to cope with the challenging aspects of their roles. Particularly effective strategies include enhancing opportunities for peer support, promoting self-compassion and self-care, providing training in a range of stress management tools, and helping staff maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal life.
- Tertiary level interventions focus on treatment and encourage a safe and healthy return to work. These include taking a person-centred approach to identifying the factors that contributed to burnout and taking appropriate steps to address them.
With burnout being such a pressing issue in healthcare, occupational health, the specialist and expert field of health and well-being at work, will be a crucial part of the solution.
The UK is in a fortunate position, with specially trained occupational health professionals, but more investment is needed to expand this workforce through the newly announced workforce plan.
SOM is calling for universal occupational health access and will continue to press for more provision until everyone, whether they work in healthcare or in other industries, has the coverage they need to be healthy and happy at work.
Society of Occupational Medicine CEO, Nick Pahl, said:
“This new report outlines in detail why universal occupational health is so important in fighting burnout in healthcare. The NHS workforce plan’s aim is to reduce the overall leaver rate for NHS-employed staff from 9.1% (2022) to between 7.4% and 8.2% over the next 15 years. This can only occur by investing in occupational health – reversing burnout, tackling root causes, so that NHS staff can return to work well. SOM is committed to working with Government and the NHS to meet these challenges head-on.”
Professor Gail Kinman, the author of the report, said:
“Burnout is an extremely serious matter that impacts workplaces across Britain, but it is a particular problem in healthcare settings. We know that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are more likely than most to experience burnout and therefore it is vitally important that we take urgent action. There are compelling reasons for organisations to support the wellbeing of their employees. This report, which brings together a wealth of research and findings, recommends the real and practical steps that they can take in the fight against burnout to ensure healthcare staff remain healthy and motivated and that recruitment and retention are improved”.
A link to the full report is available here.
What is Occupational Health?
- OH professionals (including doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals) maintain the health and wellbeing of employees and keep them at work.
- The most common workplace health problems are mental health and musculoskeletal. OH professionals collaborate with staff and employers to develop solutions that enable staff with health issues to continue working, with adaptations if necessary.
- Studies have found that OH are an investment which pays off e.g. a £1 investment in OH leads to £1.93 saving in absenteeism costs or a £2.35 saving in medical costs.
- OH interventions have been shown to help people with disabilities and long-term conditions stay in work and increase productivity across the workforce.
The Society of Occupational Medicine is for all healthcare professionals working in or with an interest in occupational health (OH). It is concerned with the protection of the health of people in the workplace and the prevention of occupational injuries and disease. The Society stimulates interest and research in OH and works with government, the healthcare community, health charities and other bodies to promote a healthier workforce. It acts as the voice of OH, responding to consultative documents and media enquiries. A national leader in providing continued professional development and education for all working in OH, it is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and best practice. Visit www.som.org.uk for more information.