3 Ways to combat employee burnout

By Molly Mulcahy | February 2, 2023


Healthcare is facing a staffing crisis that pre-dates COVID-19 but has been exacerbated by the global pandemic. Even staff who stay in their jobs are experiencing high rates of burnout, with 49% of administrative staff reporting feeling burned out a few times per month or more.¹

Addressing these challenges through organizational psychology is a major focus for Patrick Aguilar, M.D., M.B.A., chief medical officer of MedWise Urgent Care and assistant professor at Dell Medical School. He points to company culture as a powerful factor in driving employee satisfaction and mitigating burnout. Speaking with athenahealth, Aguilar recently shared three ways that organizations can shape culture to engage and empower employees and, as a result, boost staff retention. 

1. Create a purpose-driven culture that connects with employees. 

Many workers were drawn to healthcare for a reason: to help patients. Aligning your company culture with what drives your staff creates deeper connections and a desire to work toward a common goal. 

“We spend a lot of time on a ‘sense of purpose’ because it's exactly what we're here to do,” Aguilar said, explaining MedWise’s patient-focused culture.  

MedWise recognizes that a positive patient experience goes hand in hand with providing a positive employee experience, creating a cycle of success. As part of this, they are consistently soliciting feedback via patient surveys. 

“You take the feedback, and you pull it in and say, ‘How do I evolve this and make it better?’” explained Aguilar. “We want to know what delights the patient … and we want to talk about it all the time. And then we want to help employees understand how to use that to make things better for themselves and for the patient. That sort of creates a cycle of conversation that is consistent and has integrity.” 

2. Design thoughtful job roles with room for growth. 

Job design greatly impacts your staff’s ability to succeed and grow in their careers. At MedWise, “We're really interested in making sure that we are putting people into jobs that are doable,” Aguilar said. 

In addition to ensuring a job is designed to be achievable, it should also be flexible enough to foster personal development and career growth. 

“We built a career ladder for people to be able to say, ‘I'm going to start doing things outside of the one thing that I do over and over and over—things that allow me to feel like there’s a growth horizon,’” explained Aguilar.  

One example of this at MedWise is the path that is open for medical assistants.  

“We’ve said, ‘Look, you guys are doing … a lot of the hard work. You're doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Let's make pathways for you to learn how to train people, so that now you're not just doing an awesome job at giving injections and taking vitals and checking people in rooms, but now you're also able to start thinking about how do you do this as an educator? How do you educate other people to do that?’ There's a growth edge. People start to feel like they're making progress, they're learning.” 

“It's harder to get burned out, if you're doing something new and interesting.” said Aguilar.  

3. Foster an open line of communication with staff. 

Communication is key to uncovering issues that may be impacting your staff’s morale, allowing you to get ahead of problems before they drive away your top performers. MedWise takes several different approaches to catch concerns before they arise. 

“One thing that we do is regular surveys where people have an opportunity to anonymously respond,” Aguilar said. “We try to give responses as much as we can. Obviously, we can't tell people everything, but we can let them know that we're following up, and we have managers really involved in that process.”  

Direct managers at MedWise play a significant role in employee engagement and are trained to facilitate fruitful conversations with all their staff via one-on-one interviews. 

“I do not want a one-on-one to be just like, ‘Hey, you doing okay? Yeah, great, see you in a month,’” Aguilar said. “We want to have actual meaningful conversations that let people feel connected.” 

In addition to surveys and one-on-one meetings, MedWise also organizes employee resource groups. These employee groups elect representatives to attend quarterly meetings to share feedback with senior executive leaders. 

“There are times when the people who are our front-of-house staff will come in and tell us something, and we'll think, ‘Wow, we've been working on this for two years, and we've never thought of that. That's awesome,’” Aguilar explained. “We love doing that, and we love getting that feedback. It gives an opportunity for somebody to anonymously tell their peer what's a concern so that that person can bring it on behalf of the group.” 

Interested in learning more about how you can combat burnout in your organization? Consider registering for athenahealth’s on demand Panel Discussion: Solutions for Staffing Challenges and Administrative Burnout

¹athenahealth, Healthcare Workforce Enablement Survey (Administrative), November 2020.​

Patrick Aguilar participates in athenahealth’s Client Advocacy Program. To learn more about the program, please visit 

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