By 2019, the impact of burnout on medical practitioners had been discussed for decades, but the condition’s effect on healthcare executives was more or less an unexplored topic.
That’s when WittKieffer, an executive search firm mostly focused on the healthcare industry, published a study called The Impact of Burnout on Healthcare Executives. The researchers heard from nearly 350 CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, Chief Nursing Officers, and other executives at top levels.
- About 60 percent reported some degree of burnout.
- 51 percent said burnout might cause them to leave their positions.
- Of equal significance was the fact that 79 percent said their organization is not doing enough to prevent or reduce executive burnout.
And then came the pandemic.
WittKieffer’s research team knew the executive burnout survey would need a major update in the devastating wake of COVID, and so, in 2022, they came out with “Burnout in Healthcare Executives : A Call to Action.” Key findings included:
- 74 percent of healthcare leaders reported having felt some degree of burnout within the prior six months.
- 93 percent of these executives feel that burnout is negatively impacting their organizations.
- 33 percent of respondents said they “often” or “always” think about leaving their jobs.
- 28 percent say they “often” or “always” consider leaving the healthcare industry.
A Sense of Lost Hope
Even more striking were the discrepancies in responses between those undergoing burnout and who aren’t. Executives feeling burned out:
- Are much less hopeful about the future of healthcare leadership.
- Feel significantly less productive and unable to overcome challenges at work.
- Feel much less determined to make an impact in their work and careers.
The researchers highlighted COVID-19’s impact and the unprecedented challenges the healthcare industry faced. Many executives were faced with decisions they’ve never faced before, such as staffing COVID command centers, navigating the complex shifting government regulations and stimulus funding requirements, problem solving for the many essential supply shortages, as well as maintaining constant, consistent communication with their boards, leadership teams, physicians, staff and government officials.
“The pandemic created a sense of doubt that I have had trouble shaking,” one of the CEOs surveyed commented. “I felt frustrated about my leadership in a world constantly changing. I’ve also developed anxiety through the pandemic. The amount of worry has become overwhelming.”
And yet, as many respondents pointed out, COVID only underlined stressors that had been developing for years. “It is everything that keeps coming,” said another CEO, and he cited pressures to make margins, supply chain problems, employees resigning and violence directed at healthcare workers.
The surveys make clear that, although executives are not at the bedside, they struggle under daunting difficult conditions, similar to their clinical colleagues. For more on their issues, and how a focus on their well-being can help, read this incisive article by physician and veteran health care executive Steven Swanson.