Between a Rock and a Hard Place: An underlying cause for burnout in healthcare workers

Mark Goulston
3 min readJun 6

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The healthcare industry is facing an unprecedented crisis — not only in terms of the global pandemic that has stretched its resources to the limit, but also in the growing epidemic of burnout among healthcare workers. Nurses, doctors, nurses aids, social workers, and all others who tirelessly provide care to patients are finding themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place, where their duty to care clashes with a lack of support and the pursuit of profit in the healthcare system.

While it may not be fair to lay the blame solely on the institutions, it is important to acknowledge the impact of corporate ownership in healthcare. Many healthcare institutions are owned by corporations that have a duty to provide a return on investment (ROI) to their shareholders. These corporations often prioritize profit over the well-being of their staff, creating an environment that is not conducive to providing the best care and support to healthcare workers.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that many investors are unaware of their investments due to their inclusion in mutual funds. This disconnect between the investors and the reality of healthcare institutions means that decisions regarding resource allocation and staffing are made without a true understanding of the challenges faced by healthcare workers on the front lines. The focus on financial returns without proper consideration for the impact on staff morale and patient outcomes is a significant contributor to the burnout crisis.

Adding to this complex situation is the uncomfortable truth about the wealthiest of investors. While they expect a sizable ROI from their investments, their expectations of receiving VIP care and treatment when they themselves require medical attention demonstrate a lack of empathy and understanding. This entitlement not only perpetuates the disregard for the well-being of healthcare workers but also sends a damaging message to the broader society about the value we place on those who provide essential care.

Addressing the underlying causes of burnout in healthcare workers requires a fundamental shift in the priorities and values of the healthcare system. Corporations must recognize that the well-being of their employees directly impacts patient care and outcomes. Instead of solely focusing on financial gains, they should invest in initiatives that promote the mental and physical health of their staff. This includes implementing comprehensive support programs, improving working conditions, and ensuring fair compensation that reflects the immense value of the work healthcare workers provide.

Moreover, investors need to develop a deeper understanding of the implications of their investments. Mutual fund managers and financial advisors should prioritize transparency and educate their clients about the companies in which they are investing, including the potential impact on healthcare institutions and the well-being of the workers within them. By fostering awareness and accountability among investors, we can encourage responsible investment practices that prioritize both financial returns and the greater good of society.

Society as a whole also has a role to play in reshaping the narrative surrounding healthcare and the value we place on those who provide it. We must challenge the notion of entitlement to VIP care and instead foster a culture of appreciation and support for healthcare workers. By recognizing their contributions and advocating for their well-being, we can create a healthcare system that not only provides quality care to patients but also nurtures and supports those who dedicate their lives to this vital profession.

In conclusion, burnout among healthcare workers is a multifaceted issue that requires a comprehensive and collective effort to address. While corporate ownership and investor expectations play a significant role in exacerbating the problem, it is not an insurmountable challenge. By shifting priorities, promoting transparency, and fostering a culture of support and appreciation, we can begin to build a healthcare system that truly cares for those who care for us. It is time to acknowledge the underlying causes of burnout and take meaningful action to support the backbone of our healthcare system — the dedicated and compassionate healthcare workers.

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Mark Goulston

Dr. Goulston is the world's #1 listening coach and author of "Just Listen" which became the top book on listening in the world

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