Due to the nature of healthcare, those who work in the medical profession hold immense responsibility. This alone can incite stress, but other factors such as long hours, increasing rates of violence against healthcare workers, complex EHR systems and pandemic challenges add to the strain and can create challenging work environments in hospitals and medical facilities.
In caring for others, medical professionals fill a vital role in our society, and it’s important that hospitals and healthcare facilities take every opportunity to support them. Although many stressors are nearly impossible to control, administrators should seek to improve the variables that are under their influence.
A natural starting place is promoting a positive work environment for healthcare employees by properly addressing conflict, protecting workers from physical harm and prioritizing mental health.
Address Bullying in the Healthcare Workplace
In a Medscape opinion piece, Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, founder of the Center for Physician Resilience and the Sotile Center for Resilience, addresses the issue of bullying within hospitals and healthcare facilities. He says this inappropriate behavior takes place among colleagues, but he points out that bullying can also occur at the institutional level. He encourages organizations to solicit – and respectfully respond to – input from people of all generations, genders, ethnicities, backgrounds and education levels. “Doing so requires courage, emotional intelligence, maturity and commitment to relentlessly and respectfully pursuing excellence,” he explains.
Furthermore, he encourages medical professionals to give each other the benefit of the doubt and open the door for conversation. “Rather than institutionalize ‘write ’em up!’ cultures, let’s work to create ‘speak with each other’ workplaces,” he says.
When conflicts arise, Dr. Sotile encourages employees to pause and consider three questions:
- Is this someone who chronically mistreats others?
- Is this a good person who is having a problem for which they need help? (For example, are they depressed, distressed or struggling in another way?)
- Is this person’s problem behavior indicative of larger organizational issues that need to be addressed?
Protect Healthcare Workers from Physical Harm
Statistics from the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicate that hospital employees experience twice the injury rate of individuals in private industry, and hospital jobs are even more dangerous than those in manufacturing and construction. Working in hospitals requires workers to lift heavy objects, handle various substances and manage challenging patients, all of which carry unique risks. To tackle this, OSHA recommends that hospitals and healthcare facilities address hazards proactively. Effective injury-prevention programs typically involve participation from leadership and employees, identification of hazards, prevention and control and education/training.
Physical harm in the healthcare workplace can also be caused by violence, and there has been a rise in these incidents. A previous MLMIC Insider post examined how organizations can protect medical personnel from this specific type of harm. It emphasizes the value of addressing volatile situations before they escalate and practicing techniques for responding to specific situations. Community-policing strategies that unite hospital staff and security teams may also boost safety. In order for these systems to be successful, it is recommended that they include team building, good communication, regular risk assessments and compassionate incident investigation.
Prioritize Healthcare Workers’ Mental Health
While it is critical to protect healthcare employees’ physical safety, mental well-being carries equal importance. A survey by Mental Health America indicates that 93% of healthcare workers are stressed, 86% experience anxiety and more than 70% feel frustration, exhaustion, burnout and feelings of being overwhelmed. Because of these widespread issues, hospital and practice leadership have a responsibility to alleviate these concerns when possible. Experts recommend adjusting schedules and procedures to minimize stress, rotating workers between high- and low-stress tasks, creating mentorship programs, providing resources for mental support and encouraging communication about issues. These actions and their potential benefits help the institution, employees and patients.
At MLMIC, we recognize that it is no small task to simultaneously minimize workplace conflict, protect the physical safety of healthcare workers and prioritize mental health. We know that these issues require ongoing concentrated efforts, and we are eager to help our insureds work toward this goal.