Preventing Burnout: Core Value Conflicts

Value conflicts drive burnout.

A consistent theme in our work with hospital employees has been that they feel pulled in two directions, if not more. One core value conflict is between attentive patient care and efficient processing.

Attentive patient care has a strong foundation.

    • It is a central tenant of professional training.

    • It is endorsed by professional ethical standards.

    • It is explicitly extolled in hospital mission and value statements.

Efficiency has a strong foundation as well.

    • Controlling health care costs is a high priority for hospitals and communities.

    • Funding is often reduced or failing to match growth in demand.

    • Costs are easier to track institutionally than the attentiveness of patient care.

Despite the ideal of working smarter as a way to suit both values, efficiency and attentive patient care are at odds with each other.

    • The easiest way to be efficient is to be less attentive.

    • The time providers commit to being attentive is expensive.

Although attentive patient care may be the most efficient delivery of health care in the long run, it may not be the most efficient way to get through today’s work demands. Health care provides would appreciate clear direction from management on resolving these conflicting values. Instead they learn that they are responsible for figuring it out on their own. They also approach core conflicts clearly leaning in the direction of professional values. However, these conflicts translate into serious strains that undermine employees’ resilience while pushing them towards burnout.

What To Do

• Take a Team Approach. Core value conflicts are not an individual issue. They are intrinsic to the organization. A team approach to resolving conflicts has a much greater potential for a sustainable solution. So, talk about these challenges with your colleagues to develop a shared strategy.

• Accept Reality. You cannot wish core conflicts away. You have to deal with them.

• Action over Complaining. Grumbling about a problem is much easier than taking action, but grumbling gets old quickly. After indulging in a short session of complaining start generating ideas of how the group can organize its efforts to provide the best possible balance between competing values.

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Dr. Michael Leiter, co-author of Banishing Burnout and The Truth about Burnout, is set to release his newest book on Work Engagement. Dr. Leiter founded the Canadian Centre for Organizational Research & Development and has researched organizational behaviour for more than two decades. He knows how to improve an organization’s bottom line (productivity and profitability by improving its top line - people. In fact, he and his co-author coined the term "work engagement" as the antithesis to burnout!

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