Values Congruence and Physician Burnout

Substantial research exists that suggests when employees hold values that match the values of their employer, those employers are satisfied with their jobs, identify with the organization, and see to maintain the employment relationship. For example, honesty, clearly defined work, competence and meeting obligations have been associated with lower burnout and higher well-being. In addition, acceptance of others and helping others have been associated with lower burnout.

Could this congruence of personal and system values predict burnout among physicians?

Researchers in Canada sought to answer that question by randomly surveying more than 3,200 physicians. Using a short version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory along with the Areas of Worklife survey which assesses manageable workloads and values congruence, the researchers analyzed the responses from the physicians surveyed and made these observations.

  • Both values congruence and workloads contributed to predicting burnout among physicians.
  • The contribution of values congruence went beyond the information provided by workload overload alone. Both process—values and workload—contributed to the prediction of exhaustion and cynicism.
  • The analysis suggested values congruence has a buffering effect for women. Specifically, when experiencing congruence of their personal values with health system values, women encountered less distress in demanding situations than when they experienced incongruence.
  • The authors of the study suggest that the relevance of values for women might be related to differences in how they approach their work. Despite reporting more exhaustion than men while working fewer hours, the way women integrate values congruences with their work influenced their level of burnout and work satisfaction.

The implications for both physicians and healthcare organizations are clear. For a well-functioning, highly responsive and caring environment, leaders must ensure that the values of the organization are well-understood, well-defined, and properly carried out day-in and day-out. Physicians, on the other hand, must make sure their values are aligned with institution’s vision and values. Any disconnect between those two will not only create discord, but could predict an outcome of burnout and turnover.