Drum Sessions Protect Employees From Burnout

By Alison McCook

SOURCE: Advances in Mind-Body Medicine • Fall/Winter 2003 NEW YORK (Reuters Health)

All study participants were employees at a nursing home, an industry with an unusually high turnover rate. When staffers at one Pennsylvania facility participated in six drumming sessions with their coworkers, however, they experienced nearly a 50-percent improvement in mood, including a decrease in feelings of fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Moreover, during the year following the drumming sessions, 49 fewer employees resigned than had the previous year, saving the facility nearly $400,000 in costs associated with training new hires.

These findings suggest that incorporating drumming circles into the lives of employees can be a cost-effective means of helping workers and reducing turnover, both in long-term care and other industries, study author Dr. Barry Bittman said.

"We're not just talking about long-term care," said Bittman, who is based at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, Pennsylvania. "There's no reason this wouldn't work" in other contexts, as well, he noted.

Workers in long-term care typically exhibit a turnover rate estimated at between 40- and 100-percent per year, which research shows is largely a result of emotional factors, such as burnout.

During the study, Bittman and his colleagues asked 112 employees at the Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community to participate in drumming circles for one hour per week for six weeks. Before and after the six-week sessions, participants completed questionnaires designed to assess their mood.

Participants came from all parts of the facility, and included nurses, dietary workers, accountants, administrators and housekeepers.

In the drumming sessions, participants performed a series of exercises, including beating the drum to the rhythm of their own name, copying the rhythm of others' names, representing their feelings via drumbeats, playing along to music, and discussing ongoing stresses with the group, if they so chose.

Immediately after the sessions were completed, people showed a 46-percent improvement in mood. Six weeks after the sessions ended, the same people showed a more than 62-percent improvement in mood, suggesting that emotional boost can continue long after the music has ended.

In an interview with Reuters Health, Margaret Bailey of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, who facilitated most of the drumming sessions, said she suspected the exercise helps people because hearing the rhythm of others' names introduced coworkers, and playing together "creates a connectiveness and energy within the group."

This connectiveness, in turn, enables people to feel supported by others, talk about their problems and cope with them before a situation escalates into something that makes workers want to leave their jobs, Bailey noted.

According to Bittman, making music may bring people together better than other group activities, such as group retreats or team sports, because it is more cost-effective and accessible to people of all physical abilities. Furthermore, music may inspire more openness to others by asking people to adopt "a level of communication (they) weren't accustomed to," he noted.

Bittman added that he uses similar techniques with patients living in long-term facilities and their families, as well as those with cancer and other chronic illnesses.

The study, funded by Yamaha, appears in the journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine.