Belonging, Burnout and the Importance of Well-Being | Podcast

Health care is hard work. It takes a lot of energy – both physical and mental – to show up day after day, help patients through their health issues and be there when a health issue can’t be helped. Naturally, health care is an industry that attracts a lot of service-minded people. But no matter how much we want to give, we can only give so much before we start to risk burnout.
Burnout is a complex, multifaceted topic. But knowing what keeps us well, what keeps our work sustainable, is at the core of avoiding it. So what actually does those things? And how do we nurture those qualities in our care systems?
On this episode, we’re joined by Dr. Natalia Dorf Biderman, who is a hospitalist at Methodist Hospital and the co-chair of the HealthPartners clinician well-being taskforce. During our conversation, she gave us answers to those and many other questions related to well-being, burnout and what she sees as an important part of the solution: belonging. Listen to the episode or read the transcript.

Taking comfort further
Dr. Dorf Biderman believes that burnout is an environmental issue that expresses itself through individuals. So while a strong sense of belonging may not be the whole solution, she sees it as a significant part. But as she points out, we’ve historically thought about belonging, at least at work, in a one-dimensional way – as comfort.
That’s not to say that being comfortable at work is unimportant. Feeling like you can go to work as your full self and be valued and respected is extremely important. Dr. Dorf Biderman’s point is that a deeper sense of belonging can be achieved by using comfort as a starting point. From a place of comfort, we then have the opportunity to build authentic connections with the people around us. We can look at the missions and visions of our organizations and honestly reflect on where they resonate most with us. And once we have these connections to our peers and our work, we can then start contributing in the ways that are best suited to our individual talents and preferences, with the assurance that we’ll be supported.
Dr. Dorf Biderman has data to support this stance. As she describes it, when people feel like they belong where they work, there’s a 56% increase in performance, a 50% reduction in turnover and a 75% decrease in sick days. In turn, these statistics translate to organizations more widely. Organizations with a strong sense of employee belonging are multiple times more likely to achieve financial and business goals. They’re also far, far more likely to be high-performing and innovative. The through-line, and the message, are clear: belonging matters.
We can change our environment
Dr. Dorf Biderman also stresses the importance of personal agency in building a sense of belonging, particularly for frontline health care workers. We don’t have to wait for policy mandates or decisions from leadership to foster comfort, connection and contribution. In many cases, it’s simply a matter of acting on observations. What’s working? What isn’t? What are the knowns and unknowns?
Each of us has opportunities to make our work environment more open and authentic. We can share our opinions, even if the first few times are just to see how they’re received. We can also encourage others to share their opinions. We can volunteer our time and our talents to our peers and invite them to do the same. It’s the Golden Rule, a classic two-way street that allows us to build both community and a sustainable practice from the ground up.
Some parts of working in health care are always going to be hard. Dr. Dorf Biderman shows us the importance of focusing instead on uplifting what’s rewarding. At the end of the day, many of us work in health care because we care about relationships. We want to help people, and that should include each other. Extending our empathy to everyone we work with makes our work better and helps us keep doing it. To hear more from Dr. Dorf Biderman about authenticity, lessons from the pandemic and defining the midpoint between Canada and Chile, listen to this episode of Off the Charts.