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Healing the healers: 6 ways to help healthcare workers

Any job that requires 24/7 caregiving – and actual matters of life and death – isn’t easy. Add hospital budget cuts and staff reductions to the mix, and you can understand why healthcare workers feel anxious, frustrated and unappreciated.

At the same time, their own well-being needs to be front and center – but getting them to focus on that can be tough given the unique demands and urgency of their work. Eating healthy meals? Not easy when you check out the cafeteria options. Working out? Try fitting that into a 12-hour shift. Deep breathing? Only likely to happen if they pass out on the job and end up connected to a ventilator.

So how do you get these hard-working, life-saving employees to engage in their own well-being? Our best tip: Help them help themselves. 

6 Ways to Help Healthcare Workers Care for Themselves

1. Overhaul the dining options

Hospital food isn’t just a joke among patients. Our own CEO Henry Albrecht is appalled by the unhealthy food served to hospital staff and visitors. Chili cheeseburgers? McDonald’s?! If this sounds familiar, team up with the food services crew to make grabbing a quick, healthy meal a no-brainer. Think lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, bottled water, less sugar and carbs.

2. Reward baby steps

Preaching about sweeping life changes can be tough with this crowd, so reward them for small strides. Give points for choosing a healthy meal during their shift. Or distribute pedometers so these constantly-on-the-move employees can track their steps at work. And make it a challenge, pitting one department or hospital against another. A number of Limeade clients are asking their employees to “walk the system” by logging the steps or miles equivalent to the total distance between hospital locations. Give it a go!

3. “Patients, we need your cooperation.”

It’s not uncommon for patients and their families to thank caregivers with gifts. However, many of them involve unhealthy sweet treats – not exactly ideal considering that over half of American nurses are overweight or obese. So create table tents for the nurses’ stations, suggesting other options. Several Limeade clients have had success with this strategy, requesting gift cards, fruit baskets or water bottles instead.

4. Relevant rewards

Of course, your entire program needs to be relevant – from the activities you offer to alignment with your culture. But rewards are especially critical for healthcare workers, who may not be as motivated by cash or premium discounts. In fact, this is one group where paid time off may be the greatest reward. It’s a good idea to survey employees about what appeals to them, but if you’re short on time or budget, try offering a couple reward options and see what people choose.

5. Be brief. Be clear. Be in print.

There’s not a whole lot of screen time in patient care. If healthcare workers get a chance to peek at their email, it better be a quick, easy read. Think scannable, catchy headlines, clear calls to action and keep the communication to 100 words or less. As with other hard-to-reach employee groups, paper is paramount. Mix home mailings, posters in locker rooms and flyers in break rooms into your communication plan for maximum reach.

6. Encourage R & R & R

That’s right – the three R’s: rest, relaxation and reflection. Make sure leadership is on board with the need for healthcare workers to rejuvenate. Ask supervisors to enforce it – and provide the resources that make it possible: peaceful nap rooms, on-site 30-minute yoga or meditation classes, even regularly scheduled sessions where people can discuss the social and emotional issues that arise in caring for patients. Keep in mind that caregivers are consumed with caring for others – exactly where you want them, but that means they put themselves second. So make it easy for them to eat right, relax and take baby steps toward well-being. That’s our best advice for helping you heal the healers.