The Impact of Burnout on Healthcare Executives: A WittKieffer Study

Healthcare executives take on a great deal of responsibility for the cost, delivery, advancement and other factors that impact the overall health of the American population. The enormity of such obligations can tax one’s mental and physical wellbeing over time, often leading to instances of burnout among the industry’s leadership.

What specifically causes burnout among healthcare executives? Are employers offering programs to address the phenomenon, and is it enough? What do some individuals do at work and on their own in an effort to address burnout? Does job burnout have the ability to drive top healthcare executives from their jobs, perhaps even into non-healthcare related fields? In an attempt to better understand the impact of burnout on retaining and advancing healthcare leaders, WittKieffer conducted a survey of C-suite hospital and health system executives on the topic.

In order to frame the subject, we provided respondents with the Mayo Clinic’s definition of burnout, specifically job burnout: “clinically defined as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”

The survey had 343 respondents, representing CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, Chief Nursing Officers and other executives at the C-suite, Vice President and Director levels. The majority of participants have worked in healthcare administration for more than 16 years, and have been in their current position for at least four years. Participants’ responses offer a unique and intimate view of the difficulties and stress they encounter while performing their duties for hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers, government-related providers and others.

Their opinions and experiences are likely similar to the thousands of other senior executives working across the healthcare industry, and may align with the experiences of executives across a number of industries. In some cases burnout is thought of as the inability to function at a high level. One survey respondent even suggested that: “It appears that in the for-profit sector, burnout is considered to be a weakness, wherein the executive should leave the company.” Fortunately, we found that not all experiences were as negative, but it is clear from these results that there is much work to be done as the challenges in healthcare continue to mount.

The need for high-functioning leaders to help healthcare organizations navigate the ever-evolving landscape of the industry requires that they be at their best. Regulatory compliance, shifting cost and care paradigms, insurance standards, and even daily job pressures can stress (or worse) even the most experienced healthcare administrator. Survey respondents offered suggestions for ways to alleviate burnout. “The most valuable thing that could be done would be to reduce bureaucracy and streamline/simplify corporate operations. The thing I see burning my team out the most is the litany of nonsensical policies and procedures put in place for one nominal concern yet implemented across the board impacting everyone’s lives unnecessarily.”

Read the full report here.

Related reading: Burnout in a Time of Crisis: How Should Leaders Respond?