• Workplace Wellness: Important and Achievable

    Author(s): By Thomas Davis, DNAP, MAE, CRNA

    Effective leaders tend to be savvy resources managers and recognize that their workers are the most valuable resource that they manage. The health of each team member is directly tied to morale, productivity, and retention, all indicators of effective leadership. Therefore, the leaders who place value on team wellness tend to be the ones who gain appreciation from both their team members and the organization.

    Writing in 15Five, author Pamela DeLoatch notes that both mental and physical health are important in an effective wellness program. She notes that designing activities into the workflow that encourage movement and defuse stress are creative ways to infuse wellness into your workgroup.

    Building on the theme of workplace wellness, author Steven Aldana notes that lifestyle choices are correlated to 70-90% of chronic diseases challenging healthcare workers including stroke, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  Creating wellness in the workplace begins with awareness and then, driven by motivation from leadership, morphs into a culture change that encourages healthy habits. This all sounds great, but how do you create the culture change necessary to make wellness a priority in the workplace?  Read on.

    Promote physical wellness

    Our bodies were meant to be active and in motion. As healthcare workers, we are aware of the devastating consequences when ICU patients become immobile. Similarly, over time, a sedentary lifestyle will impair the body’s mobility and eventually prevent the person from participating fully in activities that they once enjoyed. Make a commitment to personal health and extend that commitment to practicing healthy habits both at home and in the workplace. Here are some ways to improve physical wellness in the workplace:

    1. Eat healthy foods for lunch. Pack a nutritious lunch from home and avoid the high salt/high fat fast foods at the drive-through on the way to work. Skip the 800 calorie Starbucks super-deluxe beverage and drink more water at work. Keep candy, cake, and cookies out of the employee lounge. Challenge your team to a vegan challenge where only vegan foods are allowed in the break room for a week.
    2. Sit less. Select a lunch spot on the other side of the building and enjoy a brisk five-minute walk each way during your lunch break. The change of scenery will give you a mental break and if you can find a sunny spot, you have the additional benefit of sunshine.
    3. Stretch. Operating room workers sit for long periods of time during challenging cases and then race between cases to get the next patient going. While in a long case, set your watch to alarm every 30 minutes, stand up, and stretch. Touch your toes, stretch overhead, twist at your waist. Stretch every 30 minutes each day for a week and note the increase in flexibility.
    4. Promote sleep awareness. Use a team meeting to have a healthcare professional talk to the team about the importance of sleep. Design work schedules to allow full recovery after a demanding night on call.
    5. Encourage sick employees to stay home. If a person were in a car accident, you would figure it out and get the cases done. Have the same consideration when a colleague is truly sick and should not be at work.
    6. Design group activities. Have a monthly group activity on a Saturday or Sunday morning that promotes both activity and a sense of community. Meet at a park for a hike, bike ride or swim. Participate as a group at a local 5K race/walk or charity bike ride. Have several members of the team take up a new activity together such as pickleball, tennis or volleyball.

      Promote mental wellness

    1. Speak candidly about mental health. Let your colleagues know that you are aware of the effects of stress on mental health. Make it OK for others to express their anxiety or concerns by listening in a non-judgmental manner.  Avoid offering solutions or telling the person how to fix a problem and remember that they need a sympathetic ear, not a lecture.
    2. Invite a mental health professional to a team meeting. Have the person describe the resources available to team members who are experiencing stress and how to access them in a confidential manner.
    3. Encourage walk breaks. The surgical suite can be a noisy, hectic place that is driven by production pressure. When possible, encourage colleagues to take a 5-minute walk break between cases. Finding a hallway with windows that provide a sunny view is uplifting and provides the mental break that will put you back on track.
    4. Provide a quiet place. Have one area where employees can quietly sit and reflect on the day. Encourage meditation, yoga, or other activities to refresh the mind.
    5. Encourage relationships. Colleagues who chatter with one another and share experiences unrelated to work form social networks that are essential during stressful times.
    6. Defuse production pressure. This is a tough one and requires a culture change. We are taught early on that the most important thing we do is to get the next case going. We are encouraged to cut corners where possible and move as quickly as possible. Leadership at all levels must value the safety of the patient and the mental health of the worker enough to slow the process and allow team members to move at a reasonable pace between cases. Courageous leaders and workplace champions are necessary for this culture change to occur.
    7. Get outdoors. Where possible, ensure that you and your colleagues spend time in the open air. During good weather, encourage people to eat lunch outside and plan weekend gatherings at a local park.

    Historically, wellness programs in the nurse anesthesia community were designed to prevent or treat those who developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Over time, the concept of wellness has expanded to include the daily mental and physical health of workers. Research has documented the positive effects of wellness programs on the morale and productivity of workgroups both in healthcare and the business communities. As healthcare providers, we take pride in the application of evidence-based medicine in our practice. Now it is time to apply evidence-based wellness programs in the workplace to protect our most valuable resources…our workers.

    Tom S. Davis, DNAP, CRNA, MAE, is the former Chief of the Division of Nurse Anesthesia at The Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and former Chief CRNA at (Baylor) Scott and White, Main OR in Temple, TX. Col. Davis, USAF (Ret.), is well-known throughout the Nurse Anesthesia community for his leadership in clinical anesthesia, including developing the first distance education model while on the graduate faculty at Kansas University Medical Center. Recognized for his expertise in team-building across department lines, Tom is a sought-after speaker, educator, author, and leadership trainer. Follow @procrnatom on Twitter.