October 10, 2019

Building a culture of holistic wellness for the healthcare workforce

Healthcare organizations are putting greater emphasis on the patient experience; however, there may be unintended consequences to employee well-being. Here’s how organizations can adopt a holistic approach to workforce health, and how technology can help by building a culture of wellness.

The healthcare sector is under pressure. Rising demand for care and responding to increasing patient expectations is creating a heavy load for the workforce to carry on their shoulders. While hiring more workers is one step in addressing these challenges, it only grazes the surface. Healthcare organizations need to consider the contradiction that the ones we turn to for care and treatment are also at risk of adverse health effects due to pressure and burnout.

As organizations put greater emphasis on the patient experience, there may be unintended consequences to workers’ well-being. Healthcare workers are 1.5 times more likely to miss work due to an illness than employees in other sectors, and 40% of nurses and physicians report having advanced stages of burnout. Consequently, patients are experiencing longer wait times, lower quality care, and a higher likelihood of errors.

With massive transformation and change continuing to impact the industry, health organizations have been ill-prepared to focus on this critical issue. In fact, organizations have historically treated the symptoms rather than address the cause.

A renewed focus on holistic workplace well-being

Healthcare workers are tasked with delivering new models of patient care, focusing on the “whole person” rather than simply treating the illness or condition. Practitioners in our sector understand that the many determinants of health are interrelated, and yet, research shows that more than half of all healthcare workers are thriving in only one element of well-being – mental, physical, financial, social, and career – or possibly even none of those areas. 

Long hours and stressful work are an inextricable part of working in the healthcare sector, however, there are many untapped opportunities for employers to support the well-being of their workforce. Here, I outline important components of holistic workforce health, and how technology can help by building a culture of wellness.

1. Sufficient rest time

Long, continuous shifts, reduced time for sleep, and minimal downtime for recuperation all contribute significantly to impairments in physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning. Having enough rest between shifts is a crucial component of a healthy, high-performing workforce. Organizations can leverage data within workforce management tools to show managers when people are over-scheduled, under-scheduled, or on standby. These tools also help build schedules based on complex priorities to more easily cater to employees’ individual situations and preferences to promote fair and stable work-life.

Organizations must also identify if workers are getting enough breaks for meals throughout the day. During busy times it can be even more difficult to find time for a full meal break, however, taking breaks during busy or stressful times is even more critical. A study by the American Nurses Association states that 35% of nurses reported “rarely or never” taking a meal-length break. Health care organizations must ensure they’re providing their workforce with adequate rest times so they can avoid exhaustion and burnout.

2. Physical health

While health and wellness benefits have been around for some time, more organizations are acknowledging that a healthy employee is one who has access not only to vision and dental care, but also to other support services that promote overall physical health.

Where possible, healthcare organizations should allow employees to customize their benefits packages to meet their individual needs. Online benefits selection tools help employees make more informed decisions and enroll into the right plan for them, faster.

3. Mental health

Building a culture of holistic health extends beyond employees’ physical well-being. Studies have shown that healthcare professionals are exposed to psychological distress, and about 30–40% of healthcare workers suffer from burnout. Wellness programs that include mental health benefits will help ensure workers have access to the type of care needed to prevent, treat, or manage psychological distress and burnout.

Another way employers can help support workers’ mental health is by giving employees a platform to voice their opinions and concerns. Engagement analysis tools allow organizations to collect feedback from people and identify patterns and trends in employees’ emotional states. With this information, organizations can build action plans to help reduce turnover, burnout, and absenteeism.

4. Work-life balance

Programs and policies that support work-life balance will help reduce stress within the workforce, so care providers can perform optimally. Organizations can provide workers with self-service tools so people can more easily manage their day-to-day work lives. Mobile apps for swapping shifts and managing time-off requests are great options that give employees more control over their schedules so they can mitigate the health risks of stress and burnout. These solutions allow greater accessibility so employees can update information anywhere they are at any point during their busy day.

5. Financial health

When employees are financially stressed, both their health and work performance can suffer. In Ceridian’s recent Pay Experience Report, 80% of employees surveyed said they feel at least slightly stressed about money on a regular basis. Employees that report high levels of financial stress are more than four times as likely to suffer from symptoms of fatigue, depression, or other ailments, and twice as likely to report poor health overall.

Organizations should reassess the financial programs they’re offering their employees and consider building out initiatives that support overall financial well-being. Offering finanial education programs, 401(k) contributions, or incentivized compensation programs such as profit sharing are powerful ways organizations can help reduce stress and even motivate employees to improve their financial well-being.

Further, many employees cite being able to meet even a small, unexpected expense a top financial concern. One solution is to provide self-service tools so employees can access the wages they’ve earned at any time during the pay cycle. This will give the workforce extra control over their finances so they can improve their stress levels and focus on what matters: patient care.

Prescribing a holistic approach to employee well-being

Workplace health and well-being has the potential to drive significant business outcomes. In fact, an organization is four times more likely to experience a loss in talented workers within a year if employees are not satisfied with its wellness offerings. Employers can build a culture of health and well-being by giving the same level of focus to workforce health as they do patient care and outcomes.

To learn more about building a culture of employee well-being in the healthcare sector, read Ceridian’s guide, Prescribing the Future: Building a Next-Gen Healthcare Workforce.

Jarrett Jedlicka

Jarrett is VP and Principal, Healthcare Industry Advisory at Ceridian. Leveraging his extensive experience in healthcare, Jarrett is responsible for deepening Ceridian’s penetration in the sector, working with key customers and prospects to understand their business challenges and bring forward strategic solutions to address them. Prior to joining Ceridian, Jarrett held a number of senior positions at leading healthcare and technology organizations, most recently as Principal for Healthcare at SAS Institute. 

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