Physiotherapy Alberta conducted a research project with the overarching goal to assist in maintaining a healthy workforce, and to support members to provide safe and effective physiotherapy care to patients in Alberta. The literature suggested that burnout (and associated absenteeism and attrition) is a growing concern in the workforce and that it affects health human resources planning and can affect patient care, but there was limited evidence about the prevalence and impact of burnout among physiotherapists in this province.
What did we do?
We surveyed physiotherapists to find out how many were demonstrating a high degree of burnout, and to ask what they’ve seen in themselves and in others related to the experience of burnout. We used two standardized outcome measures (the Maslach Burnout Inventory – Human Services Scale [MBI-HSS]10 and the nine-item Utrecht Work Engagement Scale [UWES-9]11 (these data were analyzed using a two-step ANOVA). Respondents were also asked a series of open-ended questions; the answers were analyzed using thematic analysis methodology.
What did we find?12
The survey response rate was 10.2% (201 respondents). While the mean scores on the two outcome measures fell in the range of average degree of burnout overall, it was interesting to see that some respondents demonstrated a high degree of emotional exhaustion and low scores in personal achievement (two of the three constructs measured in the MBI-HSS). This is important to be aware of as the literature provides evidence that high emotional exhaustion can progress to overall burnout over time. Correlating demographics with outcome measure scores provided additional insight into potential contributing factors to burnout.
The qualitative analysis revealed two global themes: the “Workplace” (suggesting that burnout is affected by work context, the patient population, and individual characteristics of the physiotherapist) (see Fig 1) and the “Continuum” (connecting the prevention of and the contributing factors to burnout – see Fig 2).
Work Context: Includes Management style and abilities, workload, resources, access to continuing education
The Indidual PT: Includes work-life balance, career choices, healthy lifestyle, seeking help, setting personal limits, and expressing personal limitations
Patient or patient population: Includes unrealistic expectation of patients, patient and family demands, emotional toll, greif and loss
Contributing factors: include poor management, lack of recognition, work overload, high demands, lack of resources, personal issues, poor lifestyle choices, and home demands.
Mitigating factors: Include healthy lifestyle (exercise, sleep), work-life balance, social supports, recognition from mangement, and opportunities for continuing education.
With this better understanding of the risk of burnout in its membership, Physiotherapy Alberta has provided recommendations related to positive change to minimize that risk. These recommendations can be used by employers and by physiotherapists. A repository of resources has also been created related to the identification and prevention of burnout.
Click here to learn more about the research project.