Returning to the office after the holidays is never easy. After a month of holiday merriment and a week or two out of the office, facing up to another year of responsibility, commuting and office politics can be tough.

For the last few years, hospital leaders have had to deal with those workaday hurdles in addition to major changes in the way they conduct their jobs, as the combined pressures of reform implementation, dramatic alterations to health care delivery systems and overall cost pressures mount. And there are growing signs that the work that all that much-ballyhooed transformation entails is convincing more than a few CEOs to reconsider whether it's worth hanging in there for the long haul.

Some numbers: In a study earlier this year by the American College of Healthcare Executives, the group found that hospital CEO turnover in 2010 averaged 16 percent, down from 18 percent in 2009 but still higher than the 14.6 percent average between 2001 and 2008. In an article in the September issue of ACHE's Healthcare Executive (while the magazine is available only to subscribers, click here to access a version of the article that appeared in H&HN's sister publication, Trustee), Thomas Dolan, CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives, noted that the median tenure for community hospital CEOs was only four years in 2011.

CEO burnout is also mentioned by the Steven Valentine, president of the Camden Group consulting firm, as one of the top 2012 trends in an upcoming Trustee article. Valentine writes that pressures related to reform, delivery model change, payment uncertainty and labor issues are all putting increased pressure on the C-Suite.

"There has never been a time with such an unsettled future; it is difficult to know where we will be in another year," Valentine writes. "… Many CEOs recognize that they will have to reduce their own C-suite staff and restructure the organization, and many are worn out from the stress of the past three years."

So what can hospitals do to cope with potential changes at the top? Dolan urges more time on succession planning, noting that only 21 percent of hospitals routinely conduct such planning, compared with 57 percent of all U.S. companies.

Later this year, I'll be exploring this topic in detail for an article in the print edition of H&HN. I'm interested in hearing from CEOs and other hospital leaders: Do you feel CEO burnout is legitimately on the rise, and if so, why? Also, what succession planning strategies are your institutions considering to prepare for this new reality? Email your thoughts and ideas to hbush@healthforum.com.