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Avoiding Burnout
Tallie Casucci, MLIS
Assistant Librarian
Marriott Library, University of Utah

Amy Locke, MD, FAAFP
Clinical Professor, Family and Preventive Medicine
University of Utah
Burnout is defined as a “psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment” (1). There are many drivers which affect one’s ability to find meaning in work. These drivers - workplace and job demands, control and flexibility, work-life integration, social support and community, culture and values, and efficiency and resources - can either push employees to experience burnout or professional fulfillment (2). Past studies, including our recent JMLA article (3), found that many librarians suffer from burnout. So, now what?

Both theoretical and empirical research have focused on organizational and individual interventions to prevent burnout and improve workplace well-being. Organizational interventions attempt to balance the mismatches within the risk factor areas. In Panagioti’s “Controlled Interventions to Reduce Burnout in Physicians: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” they found that organizational approaches are the most successful; however, these are rare (4).

If you are in a leadership position – does your organization have a culture of wellness? Do you model work-life balance and encourage your colleagues to do the same? Are you communicating regularly with your employees to ensure their workload is reasonable and they have all the resources (financial, technical, information, etc.) and skills to accomplish their job duties? Do you foster career development opportunities and allow them to control their job? Do individuals in your organization feel valued and heard? Is there a sense of community? We recommend regularly assessing professional fulfillment and burnout, along with drivers.

Individualized approaches focus on coping skills, building resilience, and well-being strategies. Unsurprisingly, common well-being strategies include practicing mindfulness, improving sleep hygiene, physical activity, and eating well. Mindfulness in particular has been shown to improve health by decreasing depression, anxiety, and chronic pain (5-6); decrease absenteeism (7); and decrease burnout (8). It is also associated with reduced brain aging (9). Positive psychology practices like the “Three Good Things” exercise can be easy to implement and have substantial benefit (10).

For individuals who are experiencing burnout, seeing a way out can be challenging. Help may be needed to cultivate personal resilience and leverage your healthcare resources. Resilient individuals commonly have traits such as acceptance and realism, self-awareness, appreciation, and gratitude; take breaks; have strong support networks; set boundaries around work; and recognize when change is needed (11). These skills can be developed over time.

Finally, leverage your healthcare resources. This can include talking with your primary care team, working with a behavioral health specialist, and/or participating in workplace well-being programs, such as employee assistance programs, ombudsmen, peer support programs, or other human resources support programs. You are not alone. Together you can determine if your burnout is due to long-standing predictable risk factors, such as workload and job duties, or short-term factors, such as leadership/employee turnover and group conflict. In either situation, you basically have three options – do nothing, take action to change the situation, or leave the position. In the best-case scenario, you are able to consider all of your options and make the best choice that ensures a meaningful career that provides substantial professional fulfillment.

1. Maslach C, Jackson SE, Leiter MP, Schaufeli WB, Schwab RL. Maslach burnout inventory: Consulting Psychologists Press Palo Alto, CA; 1986.
2. Shanafelt TD and Noseworthy JH. Executive Leadership and Physician Well-being: Nine Organizational Strategies to Promote Engagement and Reduce Burnout. Mayo Clin Proc. Jan 2017;92(1):129-146.
3. Casucci T, Locke A, Henson A, Queadan F. (2020). A Workplace Wellbeing Game Intervention for Health Sciences Librarians to Address Burnout. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 108(4): 605-617. DOI:10.5195/jmla.2020.742
4. Panagioti M, Panagopoulou E, Bower P, Lewith G, Kontopantelis E, Chew-Graham C, Dawson S, van Marwijk H, Geraghty K, Esmail A. (2017). Controlled Interventions to Reduce Burnout in Physicians: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(2): 195-205.
5. Marchand WR. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. J Psychiatr Pract, 2012. 18(4): p. 233-52.
6. Garland EL. Restructuring reward processing with Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement: novel therapeutic mechanisms to remediate hedonic dysregulation in addiction, stress, and pain. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 2016. 1373(1): p. 25-37.
7. Rakel D. Mundt M, Ewers T, Fortney L, Zgierska A, Gassman M, Barrett B. Value associated with mindfulness meditation and moderate exercise intervention in acute respiratory infection: the MEPARI Study. Fam Pract, 2013. 30(4): p. 390-7.
8. Fortney L, Luchterhand C, Zakletskaia L, Zgierska A, Rakel D. Abbreviated mindfulness intervention for job satisfaction, quality of life, and compassion in primary care clinicians: a pilot study. Ann Fam Med, 2013. 11(5): p. 412-20.
9. Kurth, F, Cherbuin N, Luders E. Reduced age-related degeneration of the hippocampal subiculum in long-term meditators. Psychiatry Res. 2015;232(3):214-218.
10. Sexton JB, Adair KC. Forty-five good things: a prospective pilot study of the Three Good Things well-being intervention in the USA for healthcare worker emotional exhaustion, depression, work–life balance and happiness. BMJ Open 2019;9:e022695. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-022695
11. Zwack J, Schweitzer J. If every fifth physician is affected by burnout, what about the other four? Resilience strategies of experienced physicians. Acad Med. 2013;88(3):382-389. doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e318281696b

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