Burnout develops when individuals feel they have insufficient resources (i.e., time, energy, and support) to address the daily demands of the workplace. Burnout frequently occurs in occupations that involve serving other people. Having to cope with stressful demands on an ongoing basis creates this experience of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.*
“The effects of burnout are well-documented across every profession, but they run particularly rampant in health care.”** The negative outcomes of burnout in healthcare include absenteeism, poor work performance, reduced quality of healthcare delivery, and higher organizational costs.* 83% of clinicians, clinical leaders, and healthcare executives perceive physician burnout as a problem in their organization.+ While burnout among physicians is certainly problematic, the rate of burnout is likely even higher among other healthcare professionals.++ The higher rates of burnout within these fields may be fueled by income inequality.
This past fall, the Washington Post reported that, “Income inequality in the United States has hit its highest level since the Census Bureau started tracking it more than five decades ago….”^ People who do not have an opportunity to make a living wage can feel exploited by their employer. They experience guilt, shame, anger and hostility. The feelings of guilt and shame are likely to lead to burnout, employee silence, and psychological withdrawal, while anger and hostility can lead to revenge against the organization, higher turnover intentions, and reduced employee engagement and commitment.#
In and of itself, “High levels of inequality… reduce the importance of work to employees, exacerbate burnout, increase absenteeism, and result in lower participation and higher turnover.”^^ Therefore, the demands of healthcare together with the consequences of income equality contribute to truly debilitating consequences for healthcare workers and workplaces.
Positive leadership styles can attenuate the negative effects of burnout in healthcare and other environments. When leaders demonstrate consistency between leadership values and practices, a positive work climate is created that decreases emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and enhances personal accomplishment.*
Spiritual leadership, which creates vision and value congruence across an organization and fosters higher levels of employee well-being, commitment, and productivity, can be especially effective in mitigating these effects.
Spiritual leadership is sourced through spiritual awareness and practices. It helps create a work context that fills workers’ needs for a sense of calling and membership.* The fulfillment of these needs helps both the person and the organization. Healthcare workers’ organizational commitment, productivity, and life satisfaction increase while burnout decreases.*
Given that we are living in a time associated with high income inequality, spiritual leadership is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but has become a necessity, especially for people who serve in the healthcare industry.
*Yang, M. & Fry, L. W. 2018. The role of spiritual leadership in reducing healthcare worker burnout. Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 15:4, 305-324.
^^ Bapuji, H., Gokhan, E., and Shaw, J. D. 2020. Organizations and Societal Economic Inequality: A Review and Way Forward. Academy of Management Annals, 14 (1), 60–91.
#Livne-Ofer, E., Coyle-Shapiro, J. A-M., Pearce, J. L. 2019. Eyes Wide Open: Perceived Exploitation and Its Consequences. Academy of Management Journal, 62 (6), 1989–2018.