There is a high prevalence of job burnout or profession related wearing down, which is considered to be an adaptive disorder to chronic work stress and entails harmful consequences for the individual suffering from it and the employing organization .
Studies performed in primary care show that around 40% of family doctors suffer from burnout syndrome to some degree , although with variable results ranging from 10% to 80% .
Concern about the satisfaction of health professionals led to initial studies by Donabedian in 1966, and later by Freebon and Greenlick in 1973.
Donabedian states that the degree of quality of the services provided by a health care system is directly related to the satisfaction level of the professionals working within it, and reveals that their demoralization is the main difficulty faced by directors and managers of health care centers (HCCs).
Work motivation is the result of a series of interactions between individual effort, obtained output, organizational rewards, and personal objectives. Even though any worker is susceptible to dejection, those most likely to suffer from it are the ones directly in contact with the public.
The term “work stress” was first introduced by McGrath in 1970 and defined as the imbalance perceived between a demand and the individual's capacity to fulfill it under conditions where failing to fulfill that demand entails significant consequences.
Even though Donabedian and Freebon were the first ones to associate work satisfaction with the quality of supplied services, it was not until 1974 that psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger talks of “work disease” for the first time, defining the “burnout syndrome” as a state of exhaustion or frustration resulting from dedication to a cause, way of life, or relationship that does not result in the expected reinforcement .
Herbert Freudenberger mentions that this syndrome is more frequent in helping professions, where facing intense emotions of pain, disease, and/or psychological suffering is common.
Health professionals work with the most intense emotional facets of human beings (suffering, fear, sexuality, and death), and they cannot, nor must, be completely indifferent towards them. Thus, it is easy for them to be subjected to a high degree of chronic stress and a state of physical and psychological exhaustion.
Stress is the response (physiological, psychological, and behavioral) of beings when facing events, situations, people, or objects perceived as stressful, which consequently induces a stress response that is essential for survival. According to Hans Seyle, the 3 physiological phases that the response follows are: alarm, adaptation or resistance, and exhaustion. During stressful situations, attention increases and the brain focuses on the perceived challenge. When stress becomes chronic, it stops being a physiological stimulus and becomes detrimental to health .
In 1982, psychologist Maslach describes the responses of workers to different stressful situations in their work life, and tries to define the basic characteristics of the syndrome that she terms “burnout syndrome” .
The basic characteristics of the syndrome are: emotional exhaustion, feeling of fatigue with both mental (anxiety, anguish, sexual dysfunction, chronic fatigue, etc.) and physical (spastic colon, dyspepsia, headache, myalgia, etc.) manifestations, and depersonalization. Depersonalization results in isolation behaviors, insensitivity, dehumanization, negativity, distancing from patients, low personal fulfillment (dissatisfaction about professional achievements and a desire to give up). In the health setting, mental fatigue results in a state of exhaustion in the face of those task requirements that the worker feels no interest to perform; depersonalization implies a rejection behavior towards patients, referring to them as objects; and lack of personal fulfillment consists of a negative attitude towards oneself and work, loss of interest towards work, irritability, low productivity, and low self-esteem. Thus, the burnout syndrome has important family and social repercussions, as well as for the work environment and organization, which translate into absenteeism from work, decrease of worker and user satisfaction, job mobility, and loss of productivity [3, 5, 7].
In the health setting, there is a serious concern about the quality of the care provided to the community and user's degree of satisfaction, whereas less attention is dedicated to the work-related health of the professionals. However, it has been demonstrated that dissatisfaction of health professionals entails an important economic and social cost due to its effect on the work environment, performance, and supply of health care.
For the last decades, we are experiencing a gradual increase of health care demand as a consequence of a population that is more critical and demanding of the care provided by health professionals. Additionally, this modification of health habits in the general population has not been accompanied by the administrative and managerial strategies necessary to provide an appropriate health care work environment.
Work satisfaction has not significantly changed in the last 10 years despite the important changes introduced by the reform of the Spanish primary care system. There is evidence that some aspects related to work satisfaction (work excess, labor tension, and promotion) have worsened. These factors can be a source of stress that leads to burnout when they are permanently maintained and overcome the individual's self-defense mechanisms. Variables related to the syndrome are excessive number of patient consultations, excessive responsibility over clinical decisions that exceed the level appropriate for the primary care setting, and difficulties in accessing continuing medical training .
In environments that are prone to generating this disorder, a series of factors are usually observed at an organizational level: organizational bureaucratic culture with scarce actual participation in the decision-making processes that may affect the staff; performance evaluation based on quantitative aspects and limited appreciation of qualitative ones; poor organization of tasks, job assignments, and macro-social factors such as degree of complexity and difficulty, lack of supervisor and partner support, scarce encouragement for team work, unjustified lack of resources, low or no planning, few possibilities for promotion; and additional factors .
Training programs aimed at preventing burnout syndrome must include training at various levels. At an organizational level, training workers in organizational development and change is required. The inter-personal level takes into account working groups and social interaction, and therefore training programs on social support, social skills, self-efficacy, and leadership, among others, must be included. The individual level must provide solutions to personal needs for coping with stress .
Since stress is unavoidable, it is most important to educate the worker on how to deal with it as efficiently as possible [11, 12]. It is estimated that around two thirds of all diseases are related to stress, and even though it is not a cause-and-effect relationship, stress is an important factor that interacts with other biological, psychological, and social variables, resulting in numerous physical and mental pathologies .
Stress coping techniques aim to modify any aspects of the triple response (psycho-physiological, cognitive, and behavioral) generated by the organism when facing stress .
Control over activation of the psycho-physiological component allows the person to cope with daily life stressors by controlling physical symptoms resulting from the generated anxiety (palpitations, dizziness, muscle tension, etc.).
Techniques on controlling the initiation of the response are easily learned strategies that do not require much training time and can be acquired at any age. They can be carried out wherever the individual is, without the need for special conditions for their application. With adequate learning, they are able to control stress and anxiety almost immediately .
People are the most important resource in the health care system for achieving its objectives. The burnout syndrome is considered to be an adaptive disorder to chronic work stress , therefore stress-interventions for health professionals will contribute to reducing it and consequently improve population care.
In a previous research project developed by our group, Effectiveness of two interventions on primary health professionals with burnout for dealing with stress, of which 2 partial articles have been published [16, 17], it was proven that burnout is a very wide-spread problem and carrying out a trans-personal relaxation workshop improves psycho-pathologies, as measured by Goldberg's test, and emotional exhaustion, the most important component of burnout, as measured by the Maslach's burnout inventory (MBI).
From a clinical perspective, burnout can be considered a type of adaptive disorder related to psycho-social work stressors and the existence of a persistent imbalance between demands and available resources for fulfilling them, expectations and perceived results, as well as performed effort and obtained reinforcements. The pathology results from an accumulation of risk factors, whether they are personal, organizational, work-related, or other, and from the lack of protective factors and resistance to experienced stress .
Apart from the need for organizational measures to improve the situation, establishing interventions aimed at minimizing the prevalence of burnout syndrome may be useful. Thus, we consider this study as a continuation to the previous one, seeking an effective intervention aimed at all health professionals within a primary care team.
The novelty of this study is that the intervention will be performed on all health professionals from a primary care team, acting on both personal and inter-personal levels, which we estimate will reinforce the effect of the intervention. Some of the main variables that affect organizational behavior, and therefore the appearance of the burnout syndrome, are found in the social-interpersonal realm. This syndrome has its origin in the interpersonal professional relationships that are established within the work environment. The objective is to train workers to improve social processes (formal and informal) that are developed during their work activities .