The hospital medicine field has struggled with the issue of burnout for years. The supply of hospitalists has had trouble keeping up with the demand. Hospitalists, often viewed as agents of change, are also encouraged to take on projects, such as quality improvement initiatives, beyond their clinical duties.
A talk at this year’s meeting will take on the issue of work-life balance, which is often an ideal that hospitalists find difficult to attain.
Dawna Ballard, PhD, will lead the session “Why We Fail at Work-Life Balance,” scheduled for Tuesday, May 2, 3:05–3:45 p.m., as part of the Rapid Fire track.
Dr. Ballard is an associate professor in communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin and is an expert on chronemics, which, as her professional website puts it, is the “study of time as it is bound to human communication.” She does research on why we lead our lives at a certain pace and the effect this pace has on our communication and, ultimately, on the long-term health of organizations.
Recently, she has studied the historical and contemporary problems with the discourse on “work-life balance.” She is also a coauthor of the 2016 book Work Pressures, which explores the ways pressure at work can erode the performance and vitality of people and their organizations.
Dr. Ballard said she has found in her research that the very idea of a “work-life balance” can bring about confusion and frustration.
“Just this morning, someone tweeted me that they don’t really like the notion of balance, and they always feel like they’re being punished,” she said recently. “A big part of the problem is our expectations about ourselves around time.”
Dr. Ballard said she will focus on promoting a better understanding of the relationship between time and work.
“I will identify a few common themes (in everyday talk and popular culture) about the role of time in being effective at work,” she said. “I will then discuss what the research and data suggest is actually true about these relationships between time and work.”
Struggles with balancing personal time and time in the workplace seem to be linked with job satisfaction in hospital medicine, the literature suggests. In survey results published in 2012, 63% of hospitalists reported high job satisfaction, but personal time was one area in which they reported being least satisfied. Satisfaction or dissatisfaction with personal time was also one of the areas that predicted satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their specialty.1
Dr. Ballard said that she hopes to debunk some misconceptions. “The goal of this talk is to identify problems with commonly held assumptions that actually lead to reduced effectiveness at work and increased stress,” she said. “Given the centrality of time to our experience as professional and personal selves, working with a clear (evidence-based) understanding of the sociocultural and historical underpinnings of common assumptions is critical.”
One problem, she said, is that there is “a mythology that this is something that has ever existed or ever could exist, and so it disciplines people and it makes people feel like they’re failing.”
“Work is uneven – especially for doctors, it’s really uneven,” she said. “It can be really intense sometimes and then there can be times where we can pull back. … Intensity doesn’t have to be bad and not good. It just is descriptive.”
She added, “We love work that can be intense at times.”
1. Hinami K, Whelan CT, Wolosin RJ, et al. “Worklife and satisfaction of hospitalists: Toward flourishing careers.” J Gen Intern Med. 2012;27(1):28-36.
“Why We Fail at Work-Life Balance”
Tuesday, May 2, 3:05–3:45 p.m.