With everyone concerned about burnout lately, and since I wanted to write something to promote personal mental health for Bell Let’s Talk Day next week, I reread one of my favourite Harvard Business Review articles from 2013. I have been remembering this article lately and wondering how it might inform our discussion about burnout, so I decided to look it up and review it. It is still as good an article as ever, and it provides good information about the best workplaces. I am going to put each of the qualities as a question so that you can evaluate your own workplace or situation.

Now to be entirely accurate about the article, it is not focused on preventing burnout but on having highly engaged employees, but I think this still works since highly engaged employees are not likely to develop burnout.

Here are the six questions to ask yourself about your workplace:

1. Does your workplace encourage you to be yourself? One way to tell would be to ask yourself whether your workplace ever supports its employees in doing charity work. Some workplaces will allow employees a certain number of hours of time to be involved in community projects, recognizing that the people who work for them are part of a larger community. Another way your workplace might promote individuality is by allowing flexible hours.

2. Does your workplace keep employees informed about all developments? Here’s a direct quote from the article describing this: “The organization of your dreams does not deceive, stonewall, distort or spin.” Confidence that you can trust your employer to be honest about what’s happening gives a worker control, even when the news is bad.

3. Does your workplace help you to build your strengths? You can really see the theme that the best workplaces value their employees’ strengths and help them to develop.

4. Does your workplace strive to make the world a better place? If you can identify with what your organization is trying to achieve, then it’s more rewarding to go to work. You are working not just to get paid but also for something you believe in.

5. Does your workplace ensure that the daily tasks you complete each day make sense? There is nothing more demoralizing than working on projects that don’t make sense in your company’s overall plan. In my workplace, we collect a tremendous amount of data. The time spent collecting data that is sent to government for oversight, for no clear purpose, is disheartening, but the information we collect to make our own programs better is worth the effort.

6. Does your workplace have rules that make sense? Everyone knows the kind of rule that makes no sense and almost everyone can think of one from experience. I’d like to think that there is a reason for every nonsensical rule, but it might not be widely known. If that’s the case, something a workplace can do is to track which rules seem not to make sense and inform employees as to the reason for them.

I admit that, as I reviewed these principles, both in 2013 and to write this, I considered these questions from my own perspective as a healthcare worker in a hospital setting, keeping in mind that, as a physician, I am one of the most independent workers in that setting. Right away, this independence is one of the elements that can help prevent burnout for me. Having said this, the roles for those of us in healthcare are pretty much defined by our scopes of practice. Many of our goals are set for us by government, with only a limited amount of input from the most senior hospital employees. Some days, it is not clear that health care providers, or even patients or their families, have any impact at all on the priorities being set for healthcare.

Also, while no one can doubt that the work of healthcare providers is meaningful and strives to make the world a better place, the ongoing cuts to healthcare funding affect all care providers’ ability to do that meaningful work. Two weeks ago, I listened as the Ontario Hospital Association outlined the impact that further cuts to hospital spending could have on their ability to meet their mandates. As always, hospitals will work not to cut the staff working directly with patients. But, if you work in a hospital, you will know that, if you cut front line administrative staff, or managers, or senior staff, their work doesn’t disappear. Their work is redistributed to people, like me, with very little knowledge about how to complete it. If you ask any of the remarkable administrative assistants I’ve had over the years what it would be like if I managed my own calendar, for example, they would tell you. They’ve all had to get me out of some mess I’ve made creatively trying to manage my own time.

That goes right back to the first rule of great workplaces: Let people be themselves and do the work for which they are best suited. Burnout is a condition employers could help to prevent.

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