Bite-Sized Well-Being Can Help Reduce Burnout for Health Care Workers


Session at the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association Annual Conference 2022 focuses on methods to improve emotional exhaustion among pharmacists and other health care providers.

Bite-sized well-being strategies can help reduce burnout for health care workers, according to the John G. Kuhn Keynote Address at the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association Annual Conference 2022.

“This time we’re in right now is not the time to tell people to start training for a triathlon, or to start with yoga, or to start with meditation. We just don’t have the initiation energy to do that right now,” J. Bryan Sexton, PhD, director of the Duke Center for Healthcare and Safety and Quality at Duke University Health System, said in the keynote address.

“If you were doing those things before the pandemic, maybe lean into those practices now, but what people need right now when there is so little gas in the tank is these bite-sized strategies.”

Burnout, which is the impaired ability to experience positive emotion, can cause lower patient satisfaction, more infections, more medication errors, and higher standardized mortality ratios.

When an individual is burnt out, it is harder for them to experience positive emotions, such as being thankful, grateful, or even experience joy, Sexton said.

However, positive emotions are required to feel purpose and meaning, but it can also help to reduce the implications of burnout. These emotions, such as amusement and serenity, can help to recharge an individual’s internal battery, which gets depleted when an individual suffers from burnout.

Sexton said that colleagues can also affect an individual’s level of burnout. Approximately one-quarter of well-being is determined by who an individual works with, according to Sexton. Burnout also tends to lead to more disruptive behavior in the workplace. If an individual is more burnt out, they may tend to be ruder to their colleagues, which can manifest as bullying or harassment. This would affect their colleagues in a negative way and then the cycle would continue.

Burnout is contagious, but so is well-being. If a colleague experiences more positive emotions, more than likely so will others around them.

“Think of well-being as your ability to do stuff,” Sexton said. “As your well-being is compromised, your ability to do stuff is also compromised.”

Well-being is the ability to see both the good and the bad across situations, without one dominating the other, he added.

Sexton tested out a method called “3 Good Things,” which is just writing 3 good things that happened every day for 15 days. He said that in doing so, by day 15, there will be a significant improvement in emotional exhaustion.

Sexton noted that this “2-week dosing” is the ideal time frame for health care workers.

“[At day 15], what we found was that happiness goes up and it stays up to a year later,” Sexton said. “If you do it for 15 days, your burnout goes down by 1 month and it stays down 12 months later.”

He said that it does not only work with burnout, but it works with depression and anxiety as well, with the same results.

People are hardwired to remember the negative, so by focusing on the positive, it reminds individuals to focus on the positive. Additionally, doing this practice before bed helps to improve an individual’s sleep as well.

Lastly, with practice, each day it becomes easier to come up with 3 good things that happened that day, so an individual does not have to wait 2 weeks to feel the full effect of this practice.


Sexton J B. John G. Kuhn Keynote Address: Bite-sized Well-being During Times of Uncertainty. Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association Annual Conference 2022.; April 1, 2022; Boston, MA.

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