Who takes care of the healthcare worker?

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Like observers of a mother driving herself to exhaustion and sickness by taking care of her children day after day, U.S. providers are seeing measured declines in their caregivers. The numbers reveal just how bad it is.

A “care for the healthcare worker” campaign is needed. Gallup researchers nearly say as much in commentary on their latest investigation.

The results of the new Gallup poll are ironic, given the very nature of caregivers' work. The “good” news, as pollsters put it, is that there is “significant opportunity for their well-being to improve.”

That's like saying a lot of good research can be conducted about the hardness of hammers if you keep pounding yourself in the head with one. It's not a position you want to be in, in the first place.

But here we are anyway, wondering just how it can be that professional caregivers aren't getting enough nurturing themselves. This isn't exactly like wondering why a barber has a lousy haircut.

It's more like witnessing your doctor smoking cigarettes. How well can medical professionals influence positive lifestyle habits in their patients if they're not embracing healthy habits themselves? Gallup researchers ponder. In this case, it's healthcare workers — including long-term care employees — neglecting their own care, either through lack of means or lack of good habits.

Regardless of the reason, the worrisome result is the same: A drag on a provider's ability to deliver the best care possible.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, there are five essential elements of well-being:

• Purpose — liking what you do each day and being motivated to reach your goals

• Social — having supportive relationships and love

• Financial — economic security and reduced stress

• Community — having pride in your community and feeling safe

• Physical — having good health and energy to accomplish things daily

If you're not “thriving” (strong and consistent), you might be “struggling” (moderate or inconsistent) or “suffering” (low and inconsistent) in any of these measures of well-being.

The sobering fact: More than half (51%) of all healthcare workers were found to be thriving in none or only one of the elements of well-being. The findings are bottom-heavy. The level of healthcare workers thriving in two, three, four or five of the elements measured 15%, 15%, 13% and 6%, respectively.

Results are based on a Gallup Panel Web study completed by participants aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 8-Nov. 13, 2014. A subsample of 1,300 healthcare working adults was used for the analysis, Gallup said Monday when it posted findings.

The results show significant opportunity for improvement indeed.

The key, as researchers point out, isn't just that cheerful, secure faces are needed to create a more positive influence up and down your hallways. But caregivers with a greater sense of well-being are also more resilient and deal with stress better. And you and your peers are no strangers to stress.

Greater well-being, therefore, means a more resilient workforce with better attendance, illness recovery, retention and overall caregiving. All of these help your bottom line.

So what does this mean for top managers? Refer to the five bulleted items above again.

First, find ways to give your workers a firm sense of financial and personal health security. Helping someone obtain strong finances and personal health can be gigantic challenges, of course. They can, after all, waste money or binge on a handful of Snickers every day if they want.

But go further. You can give employees a better chance at feeling good about their community and social connections, at least while they're within your four walls.

And if you can't help them realize a strong sense of purpose in the line of work you're in, well, it might be time for YOU to find another line of work.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.

Gallup and Healthways research shows that more than half of all healthcare workers are thriving in none or only one element of well-being, rather than thriving in multiple elements.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.