Why Employee Wellness Matters for Healthcare Employers
Wellness is crucial to healthcare workers for two primary reasons. First, patients’ health depends on employees showing up to work and feeling good enough to perform their tasks competently. Second, healthcare providers lead by example and guide their patients by modeling behaviors that contribute to wellness and self-care. The wellness level of employees also contributes to retention. A Gallup poll on healthcare employee wellness notes, “Medical professionals who are thriving in three or more elements [of health] are … two times less likely to look for a new job than their counterparts with lower well-being.”
Healthcare Workers Have Unique Wellness Challenges
Workers in the healthcare field are vulnerable to a wide array of hazards on the job. The National Institutes of Health summarize these hazards in the following six categories:
- Infections: Bacterial and viral infections can be transmitted by patients’ body fluids. Every employee who is near a contagious patient runs the risk of being exposed to tuberculosis, SARS, influenza, MRSA and more through airborne droplets or contaminated surfaces.
- Needle injuries: Serious blood-borne infections, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, can be transmitted by an accident when handling sharp needles.
- Back injuries: Caregivers who are responsible for lifting, turning and bathing patients are subject to serious back strain. According to Citizen.org, “The rate of work-related musculoskeletal disorders for nursing aides, orderlies and attendants was the highest in the nation in 2011, and more than seven times the national rate for all employees.”
- Allergens and toxic chemicals: Healthcare workers are subject to toxic chemicals, including glutaraldehyde, ethylene oxide, mercury and chemotherapy compounds, as well as allergens in latex gloves.
- Violence: Because healthcare providers are working with people who are frightened, in pain and/or mentally ill, the risk of interpersonal violence is high.
- Stress: Long shifts and life-or-death pressures or just the intense emotional drain of providing care can result in high levels of occupational stress.
Despite the importance of healthcare workers taking measures to promote their own safety and well-being, however, there is still significant ground left to cover. In 2010, employers in the healthcare sector reported 653,900 workplace injuries, a figure more than 152,000 higher than the industry sector with the next highest number of injuries. Adding to the problem, OSHA conducted only 5 percent as many inspections of healthcare facilities as it did of construction sites in 2010.
Tips to Improve Employee Wellness at Healthcare Organizations
Protecting workers from such a variety of hazards is naturally a complex project, but even a few changes can make a big difference in organizational safety. OSHA offers abundant information on protocols that will protect workers from all healthcare-related risks.
Every healthcare worker must be trained in proper handling of biological and chemical hazards, and the training should be repeated at appropriate intervals. Hand-washing techniques and infection-control measures must be constantly evaluated.
Staffing must be sufficient to avoid the risk of a nurse or attendant being forced to lift or turn a heavy patient without help, and adequate staffing also goes a long way toward preventing emotional stress and burn-out. The CDC offers a number of suggestions to reduce the risk of violence in hospitals, including escorts in parking lots, emergency monitoring and security systems and plenty of staffing.
When healthcare employees’ well-being is safeguarded, patient satisfaction is higher, but that’s only the beginning. In the words of the Gallup Business Journal, “When healthcare workers thrive in all elements of well-being … healthcare organizations can gain a competitive advantage from employees' maximized performance, reduced turnover and enhanced engagement.”