Right now it seems like wellbeing plans are all the rage. Employers should have them, and employees should follow them. In theory it sounds great, but what is a wellbeing plan? How does a hospital start creating one? And more importantly, how do you get buy-in from the employees?
It starts when leaders commit to creating a healthy workplace environment. The Center for Disease Control has an area on their website which provides tools and resources for employers looking to develop out a plan for their hospitals. They state, “Maintaining a healthier workforce…will also positively impact many indirect costs such as absenteeism and worker productivity” (CDC, 2021).
Create a Committee
I would encourage all leaders to develop a committee that is focused on the health and well-being of the team in the hospital. Meeting a few times a year to evaluate the plan is a good way to keep the committee engaged. This is a great place to start.
Analyze Your Hospital’s Wellbeing Health
The CDC offers a comprehensive list of resources to start creating your own hospital wellness plan. They suggest performing a workplace health assessment. They have surveys and assessment tools on their website to help you assess your own hospital. You can find these resources on cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion. Click on Workplace Health Model to find the assessment tools.
Create the Program
The next step is to plan the program. This is usually fun and should involve a diverse group of hospital team members that make up your committee. Brainstorming and developing a plan is also a great team builder. People get excited about creating a program that will help to reduce stress and promote health in the hospital. While there is no perfect wellness plan that will fit every hospital, here are some suggestions to start developing your own.
Provide Health Insurance: Probably not what you were thinking I would list first, but it’s important that all employees have a good healthcare program. More and more health insurance companies are focusing on prevention by offering discounts to gyms, online wellbeing apps, and even wellness retreat discounts. Make sure your health insurance plan covers the big stuff, but also takes care of the entire person.
Encourage Health: Even though veterinary employees are busy walking around and standing on their feet every day, many struggle with being healthy. Many veterinary professionals don’t eat the best because they are constantly grabbing a quick bite to eat which are usually centered around snacking. Creating healthy challenges in the hospital, so long as they are not focused on body shaming and are not mandatory, can be a great way to encourage individuals to get healthy.
The Hospital Should Look Healthy: It’s been proven that an organized working environment actually decreases mental stress. Feng shui, is a modern-day practice originating from ancient China, claims to use positive energy forces to create a more Zen atmosphere between individuals and their surrounding environment. Why can’t veterinary hospitals have a little feng shui? The saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” has some truth in it. People feel less stress when things are neat and tidy.
Support Full Breaks: Yes! Veterinary medical leaders and professionals are terrible at this. This is a two-fold problem. I can’t even believe that there are veterinary managers and supervisors that tell their teams that they cannot take breaks. It’s absolutely inexcusable. In fact, it makes me angry. I know of more than just a few hospitals who have required their employees to sign forms stating that they are “giving away their breaks” so they cannot be sued. After all, if employees willingly give up their breaks it must be legal, right? Just stop. I hope no one reading this is telling their teams they can’t take breaks.
The second problem are the veterinary professionals who refuse to take breaks because they feel guilty doing so. Breaks need to be mandatory, and they need to occur. Everyone in veterinary medicine recognizes that at some point they may have to forgo their break, but the majority of the time breaks needs to happen. Leaders need to work towards solutions for the future so employees can take breaks.
Supply Healthy Snacks And/Or Meals: No matter where the veterinary hospital is in the world, there are sugary and fatty snacks on the break room table. When hospitals are trying to create wellness programs they need to make a conscious effort to fuel their team with healthy food such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts instead of unhealthy snacks and candy.
Promote Work-Life Balance: Leaders must advertise the benefits of focusing on mental health and wellness. These same leaders must be fully engaged in all aspects of the well-being program in order to ensure best buy-in from the hospital team. Too often leaders poo-poo wellness programs. Leaders must lead by example and be bought into the mission of creating a healthy workplace environment.
For example, when employees go home for the day they should leave work at the door. This includes leaders. It’s not natural to be on call 24 hours a day seven days a week. If leaders catch employees responding to emails while off the clock, they should discourage them from doing so in a kind, but firm way. Leaders in return need to do the same. Promoting work-life balance means setting and respecting boundaries.
Implement the Program
Implementing a program, no matter how well-thought-out it may be, can be a struggle in a hospital. Let’s face it, many veterinary employees are a bit salty and snarky. When you tell them that they need to take care of their health and well-being you are often met with, “I’m fine” or “If you force me to meditate I’ll quit.” Yet, veterinary medicine has one of the highest burnout and suicide rates of any profession in the world. Clearly veterinary professionals are not okay despite them saying “they’re fine.”
As previously stated in order for any program to be successful leadership needs to be 100% bought in. If leadership is excited about it than their enthusiasm is usually contagious.
I have seen wellness programs fail because they make things mandatory for employees. In this past year alone I watched countless hospitals make yoga sessions mandatory for all employees. Some employees embraced the sessions, but a large percent felt it was a burden and became even more disgruntled and disengaged.
If the wellness program is stressing out the employees then it is having the opposite intended effect. Everything in the wellness program should be made available to all employees but not be mandatory. This will help with the buy-in. If only a few employees partake in a certain event and enjoy it, the word will spread. I do think that offering yoga classes or meditation classes to veterinary employees can be hugely beneficial. Hospitals just can’t make them mandatory.
Review the Program
Lastly, hospitals need to plan to evaluate their well-being program. There is no sense in dumping money and resources into something that is failing or not being utilized by the team. Instead, hospitals need to figure out what would work better. Not having a well-being program is not an option. It’s 2021 people. Every human healthcare facility and moderate to large company has a well-being program for their employees. Veterinary medicine needs to get on board.
The CDC offers a workplace health program development checklist which can be used to both review and monitor progress of your program. You can find it in the same link which I listed above.There is no perfect well-being plan for every hospital, but it is imperative that we start by developing one and then modifying it to fit our hospital’s needs.