American Association for Physician Leadership

Workplace Wellness

How to Promote Workplace Wellness in your organization

Four ways to promote workplace wellness in your organization

With burnout reaching critical levels among physicians, organizations and physician leaders like you are increasingly focused on workplace wellness initiatives to promote employee wellbeing. But, where should you start? Promoting wellness doesn’t have to be costly and overwhelming, but can instead be achieved through smaller behaviors, policies, and initiatives. 

Here are four ways to promote workplace wellness at your organization.

Understand the connection between burnout, wellness, and medicine

One way to promote workplace wellness is to educate yourself on the magnitude of burnout and how it can affect an individual physician as well as the entire organization. But first, why is burnout so pervasive among physicians? While burnout can exist in any profession, the high demands on the job, the culture of medicine, and institutional factors make healthcare a prime place for burnout to flourish. In a study done by Tait Shanafelt in 2014, the most commonly cited sources of burnout were “electronic medical records (EMRs), static physician workforce levels despite growing patient populations, declining physician reimbursement, and loss of physician autonomy in clinical practice are just a few potential catalysts of burnout.” 

Plus, medicine and hospital settings have historically had a “machismo” culture in which stress management is seen as an individual responsibility and those who openly seek help may also fear the social and professional stigma. All of these factors can lead to burnout and often the stages of burnout aren’t obvious until it’s too late for help.

Christina Maslach, author of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, defines burnout as emotional exhaustion, a lack of feeling personal accomplishment, and depersonalization. In particular, depersonalization, can affect your organization’s bottom line in that a physician’s lack of empathy and connection to a patient can lead to poor patient outcomes. In fact, in the aforementioned study by Tait Shanafelt, burnt out physicians were more likely to admit that they had made a major medical error within the past three months.

Essentially, the healthcare industry has many factors that contribute to burnout more than other professions. Distressed and burnt out physicians can’t perform at their best and many suffer in silence until a breaking point. Educating yourself about these connections is a good stepping stone as you acknowledge the seriousness of burnout and encourage team members to be open about seeking assistance. 

Focus on workplace culture and how it affects wellness

In addition to large institutional factors, the way a team’s culture interacts can also significantly impact wellness. Most employees, in any industry, reasonably “expect workload burdens will be assigned equally, that they will be treated with respect, and that the company understands that they have personal lives too.” These expectations can be further complicated when physicians see that other team members consistently arrive late, work less than others, or see leadership clearly playing favorites. When these expectations aren’t met by leadership or other teammates, it can lead to frustration, disenchantment, gossip, team tension, and even burnout.

All team cultures and their struggles are unique, so take a good look at your team and try to identify what the current culture is and what changes you want to help facilitate. For instance, maybe you’re witnessed a pervasive gossip culture. This is obviously not conducive to a culture of wellness, but these matters often don’t exist in a vacuum away from leadership – what are you and the organization doing that’s contributing to a gossip culture? Perhaps your organization is not very transparent, and leaders are more likely to be found behind a closed door in their office than in the break room conversing with others. If this is the case, consider implementing a non-punitive, open-door policy and making staff more aware of organizational happenings. These smaller culture-specific changes can make a world of difference in creating an environment of wellbeing.

Lead by example

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when thinking of how to rehaul wellness initiatives at your organization. You can always start small and consider how minor adjustments in your behavior can affect wellness at your work. For instance, during conversations with team members, look them in the eye and avoid checking your phone or appearing distracted. When not speaking in person, always be courteous, attach a salutation to each message (yes, even in a text), and provide clear expectations.

Another example is to encourage certain policies and rules and then follow through. Encouraging others to disconnect and recharge during weekends and holidays is a great way to help promote wellness, but if you’re saying that and then constantly emailing and calling people on their time off, you’re not truly promoting wellness. Set boundaries and honor them. Additionally, set the example that it’s okay to have these boundaries by also allowing yourself to disconnect during holidays and weekends. When employees see that you respect their time, contributions, and work-life balance, and similarly display healthy boundaries, they’ll feel more respected and valued and overall less stressed.

Consider implementing a workplace wellness program

A workplace wellness program that provides trainings and encourages employees to seek out assistance in a non-punitive environment is one of the most effective ways to promote wellness at your organization. But don’t get overwhelmed with the idea that you need to implement a large program right away. The best way to promote workplace wellness is have a program or policy that is consistent. For instance, in a survey, 66% of physicians said that they would skip meals because they were too stressed or busy. In 2015, Mayo Clinic implemented a workplace lunch program that encouraged physicians and research scientists to eat meals together and discuss topics related to healthcare. Mayo Clinic would pay for the meals and asked that the lunch groups meet twelve times over six months. The program proved to be very popular among physicians with many of them re-enrolling after the original six-month period was complete.

Burnout is inextricably linked to the institution of healthcare and physician leaders teaming up with their organization to implement something like a workplace lunch program shows physicians that their organization cares about their happiness and wellbeing. While a short lunch with coworkers may seem small, it can make a significant impact on how a physician feels when they come to work.

Implementing a workplace wellness program, helping your team transition its culture to one that emphasizes physician wellbeing, or making small changes in your behavior to better show your appreciation for your team isn’t something that can be done overnight. Use this page to come up with new strategies to bolster wellness in your organization and celebrate the process each day.

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