Healthcare organizations in particular are high-risk environments in which to work, mainly due to factors like stress and fatigue. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers generally experience higher rates of burnout, divorce, depression and suicide than the general population. While more healthcare facilities are now acknowledging the problem, many are at a loss as to how to address it.
Christiana Care Health System is among the few health care organizations in the United States that is tackling this issue head-on, committing significant resources and developing new, effective strategies to reduce stress and create a culture of wellness. We recognize that by caring for our extraordinary caregivers, we enable them to provide exceptional care to the people we serve.
But we all know that workplace stress and burnout can be significant challenges for any organization. In today's fast-paced, resource-challenged world, virtually any business can benefit from building a culture of wellness. As Christiana Care's Chief Wellness Officer, I'd like to share with you some of the strategies developed at our Center for Provider Wellbeing that you can adapt to your own organization:
Encouraging Self-Care Is Just the Beginning
Most physicians and cliniciansknowthey need to take care of themselves physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally-but it's not enough simply to tellthem to do it without creating an environment that empowersthem to do so. In many cases, the workplace itself gets in the way of proper self-care; in other cases, workers simply don't know where to start. Some ways organizations can facilitate personal resilience:
Psychoeducation-teaching workers how their brains operate under stress and specific steps to take to mitigate that stress.
Create a "tranquil space"in the workplace where workers can go to de-stress after a difficult event or interaction. Include mindfulness resources, massage chairs and other tools for unplugging mentally and emotionally. (At Christiana Care, we call these OASIS spaces-"Opportunity to Achieve Staff Inspiration and Strength.")
Streamlining Workflows and Workplace Procedures
A large portion of employee stress can be attributed to obstacles in the workplace itself-barriers that make it more difficult for them to provide efficient care to their patients or efficient service to their customers. Look for ways to streamline the business model in order to remove barriers to work and impediments to joy. A streamlined approach will create a better experience for your customers-and it increases employee satisfaction.
Developing a Strong Support System
A culture of workplace wellness hinges greatly on the attitudes cultivated in the workplace itself, both from the leadership and among peers. Some tips to help create this culture more effectively:
Cultivate affirming leadership.Leaders should implement participative management coaching styles that focus on developing, recognizing and rewarding their people.
Cultivate peer group support.Camaraderie is a powerful weapon for diffusing the natural stresses in the healthcare environment. For example, when an adverse event occurs, healthcare workers are just as devastated as their patients; do they have a safe environment to process those human emotions? Creating safe spaces for workers to process stressful issues can help immensely. In addition, coworkers can be taught the signs of stress, depression and mental anguish and encouraged to check in on each other.
Destigmatizing mental health issues for workers. Many people suffer from anxiety and depression but are afraid to ask for help, perhaps for fear of losing their jobs. Providing easy, discreet access to mental health resources is an effective way to remove this stigma so that employees can get the help they need when they need it.
There was a time when coal miners brought caged canaries into the mines with them. If toxic gases like carbon monoxide were present and the canary perished, the workers would know to exit the mine immediately.
Encouraging self-care is important, but it's not enough. We don't just need to bring fresh canaries into the same coal mine; we need to change the coal mine itself. In the long run, developing a culture of wellness in the workplace will be far more impactful on your employees than simply acknowledging the problem.