Wellbeing is rapidly becoming more of a professional than a personal issue. Burnout –
characterised by feelings of exhaustion, mental distance from one’s job and reduced productivity – is the word on everybody’s lips, but why does it have such an impact on dental professionals, and what should it mean for you as a practice owner or manager?
In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) re-defined the term ‘burnout’ in their 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Fast-paced and pressurised working environments make dental professionals prime candidates for burnout; in a recent study by Dental Protection, 45% of employees had considered leaving the profession for reasons of personal wellbeing.
As with many healthcare professions, dentistry comes with many risks and pressures: strict regulations, fear of litigation, high expectations from patients, anxieties around COVID-19, minimal breaks, long days – the list goes on. These factors contribute to high levels of stress and emotional exhaustion in dental professionals, putting their long-term health and your practice’s standard of patient care on the line.
Employees can take legal action against employers where burnout or excessive work has affected their health. They can claim for financial and non-financial loss – for instance, if severe stress prevents them from fulfilling their career later in life. You must take steps to protect your employees, yourself and your practice against this unfortunate eventuality.
As an employer, there are several things you can do to prevent stress from coming to a head. Implementing training around burnout – the risks, consequences and signs – is a good place to start. Line managers should know the signs to spot when staff are overworking, and staff should know to recognise this behaviour pattern in themselves.
You should also introduce or review policies around organisational culture, ensuring that managerial support is available, breaks are encouraged, and staff feel that they can openly discuss their mental health. What’s more, counselling services, workshops on topics like mindfulness and work-life balance or even active after-work activities like yoga could help to encourage positive lifestyle habits amongst staff.
At FTA Law, we have a wealth of knowledge on dental employment and HR law. If you need specialist help shaping your policies and contracts, e-mail me at email@example.com for more information.
 Dr Raj Rattan, Breaking the Burnout Cycle, November 2019