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The Impact of Work Environments on Healthcare Workers

The Impact of Work Environments on Healthcare Workers

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It’s no secret that many jobs within the healthcare sector are stressful. The industry itself is often fast-paced with high stakes. People’s lives are often on the line, and even when they aren’t, dealing with patients from different walks of life can lead to burnout. All of these conditions make a perfect storm for stress, which can increase the risk of human error and reduce productivity. 

If you manage a healthcare space, there’s no way to completely eliminate the stress from the industry. However, optimizing workspaces and implementing ergonomic practices can contribute to error reduction and stress alleviation. 

By implementing practical solutions in the workplace, you can create healthcare spaces that enhance efficiency and accuracy but prioritize the mental and physical health of your dedicated staff. That dedication and care get passed on to patients, and your team gets to go home at the end of each shift feeling less stressed and more valued and understood. 


Reducing Human Error

While technology has made huge advancements in health and wellness, there is no replacement for bedside manner and personal patient interaction. Patients want to feel seen, heard, understood, and cared for by another person. A little compassion and understanding always go a long way. 

But, as long as there are people directly working with patients, there will be a risk of human error. No matter how good someone is at their job, humans make mistakes. While you can’t avoid it completely, your goal within the industry should be to reduce human error at your facility as much as possible. 

One of the best ways to do that is by making sure your staff isn’t overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted. The more they’re feeling burnt out, the easier it will be for them to make a mistake. Some of the best ways to reduce the risk of human error include: 

  • Creating a clean and organized workspace

  • Fostering a positive work culture that encourages communication

  • Providing continuous staff training on safety protocols

  • Keeping safety checklists nearby

  • Taking immediate action when you’re notified of potential hazards

It’s also important to audit your facility to determine where human errors have become the most common. If you can pinpoint a specific area or even a specific job, you can take a closer look at why those errors are happening. Talk to the people involved and get their input. An audit will also help you determine any areas of your practice that might not be up to code or compliant. Hospital policies and procedures are designed to hold employees accountable. Regularly reviewing and adhering to compliance measures, such as those set out by HIPAA,  will not only keep your practice safer, but it will help to maintain your accreditation. 

Engaging with your employees regularly, especially if there are signs of burnout, will not only help with productivity and reduced stress, but it can improve retention and loyalty, and increase motivation within the workplace. Employees who feel valued and heard are naturally likely to be less stressed, and when their concerns are addressed and they’re given the support they need, you’re likely to see fewer errors. 


Fostering Emotional Well-Being

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Employee engagement is also a crucial step toward creating an environment that focuses on physical and mental well-being. Stress takes a toll on the body, and when employees are exposed to it every day, at every shift, it can lead to unhealthy employees who are more likely to make mistakes. 

Chronic stress can lead to everything from heart palpitations to high blood pressure, and even weight gain. From a mental health standpoint, prolonged stress can lead to conditions like anxiety or depression, both of which can have a severe impact on an individual’s ability to focus at work. 

Too much stress on the job can also lead to career burnout, causing employees to experience symptoms like: 

  • Feeling cynical about their jobs

  • Feeling like they have to drag themselves to work each day

  • A lack of motivation

  • Reduced productivity

  • Difficulty concentrating

Staff members who work with patients regularly might even become irritable or impatient, lowering the quality of patient care and potentially the reputation of your facility. 

Some of the best ways to reduce the risk of burnout, especially in a hospital setting, include improving EMR systems, offering hybrid care models, and simply showing appreciation within the workplace. Recognizing and rewarding your employees for the work they do shows them their efforts aren’t going unnoticed. Appreciation and recognition can help to reduce stress, improve morale, boost the workplace environment, and provide greater motivation to those on your staff. 

When it comes to reducing the effects of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, become an advocate for mental health awareness. Start by offering benefits that improve your team’s work-life balance and flexibility. Encourage employees to take their paid time off and vacation days. 

Most importantly, foster a work environment where it isn’t taboo or abnormal to talk about mental health. Recently, the CDC launched a federal campaign encouraging hospitals to track burnout in their workers, and offering free resources to help those practices improve employee well-being. Consider looking into resources that are available to your practice, or utilize who you might already have on staff, including hospital chaplains who can assist both patients and workers.

When the people who work for you understand that their mental health concerns aren’t going to be stigmatized in the workplace, they will be more likely to come forward and open up. Sometimes, something as simple as being able to talk to someone about their struggles can make a difference in how they feel. 


Introducing Technology

Again, there’s nothing that can fully replace face-to-face, human interaction, especially when it comes to patient care. However, that doesn’t mean your facility shouldn’t take advantage of technology when it comes to reducing human error and improving the quality of care. 

The healthcare industry is seeing a state of growth when it comes to advancements in technology. Automation and AI are becoming the norm in many facilities, taking some of the burden away from staff members and providing near perfection in everything from data storage to robotic surgeries. 

One of the easiest ways to utilize automation to ease your employee workload is by using it to track patient data and care. From the moment a patient comes into your practice or hospital, data should be entered automatically through the use of automated technology. This reduces the need to have employees enter it manually. It will free up your staff and reduce the risk of error. Automating even the simplest of tasks can provide a lot of relief for overworked staff members. 

In hospitals, AI is already being used to assist with surgeries, personalize treatment options, and even detect diseases by sifting through symptoms that might sometimes be missed by overworked clinicians. Using technology in this way can help patients get the care they need sooner and reduces the chance that a doctor might “miss” something if they don’t have the time to look through a patient’s entire chart for a history of symptoms. 


Reducing Physical Strain

Stress is often associated with mental health issues, and there’s no denying the role it often plays in anxiety, depression, and burnout. But, it’s also essential to consider the physical stress your team is under every day in a healthcare setting. 

Depending on their role, some of the most common physical demands healthcare workers have to deal with include: 

  • Standing for long periods of time

  • Sustaining repetitive movement

  • Kneeling or crouching

  • Walking long distances

All of these demands are expected without long breaks in between, and often for many hours at a time. Physical stress can cause pain, discomfort, achiness, and fatigue. All of those issues can easily contribute to human error. For example, if a nurse has been on her feet for ten hours, had to give CPR to a patient, and has walked thousands of steps on her shift, she might be so exhausted and fatigued that she forgets to give her next patient a certain kind of medication, or even fails to write a piece of important information in their chart. 

Most people understand that working in a medical setting is often physically demanding. But, there are things you can do to improve the comfort of your team and ensure they’re being physically supported while they’re on the job. 

Invest in hospital ergonomics wherever possible. That includes utilizing assist devices and equipment to lift things like wheelchairs, lateral transfer devices, and repositioning devices. Reduce the risk of your employees experiencing a muscle strain or tear by reaching for things or lifting items that could cause an injury. 

Additionally, provide supportive seating for those who are working in administrative positions. Ergonomic chairs will help to improve posture, reducing the risk of back and neck pain that could be distracting. 

Finally, consider offering break areas for your staff that encourage rest and relaxation. Even if someone is only able to sit down for a few minutes or they’re taking a 30-minute break, they should be able to rest their muscles, eat something nutritious, and fight the effects of fatigue. Providing an environment that encourages that will help to reduce physical strain and keep your team focused on their patients. 


Fostering a Healthy Work Environment

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None of the suggestions here will be effective if you’re dealing with a toxic work environment. If an employee feels like they aren’t appreciated or they’re dealing with toxic management or co-workers, they’re going to be living with constant stress whenever they’re on the job. More stress equals a greater risk of human error. 

Again, you can’t eliminate stress completely from the healthcare industry. But, you can do your part to ensure your facility is a healthy, positive environment for employees and patients alike. 

Implementing strategies to promote a better work environment can make a big difference in both the mental and physical well-being of your team. It starts with showing authentic leadership. Don’t just talk about having a better work environment. Take active steps to engage with your team, offer your help and support, and ask for feedback when it’s appropriate. 

Communication and collaboration are two huge and helpful factors in fostering a better work environment. If your staff is skilled in clinical skills but not communication skills, there is going to be a disconnect that could lead to unnecessary tension and contention in the workplace. Encourage collaborative efforts as often as possible, especially when it allows you to showcase the specific strengths of certain staff members. 

As someone who works in the healthcare industry, there’s no doubt you have high standards for the level of care and compassion your patients receive on a daily basis. But, if you’re in a leadership position, make sure your staff is receiving the same kind of compassion and care. By prioritizing a positive work environment that aims to reduce physical and mental stress, you’ll also reduce the risk of human error and end up with happier, healthier employees. Not only will that improve retention and recruitment efforts, but it will help to set a tone in the healthcare industry that no matter how demanding a job might be, the well-being of the people doing that job should never be ignored.