In the worlds of healthcare, medicine, and nursing, employees can feel like so much cannon fodder when corporate interests appear to override the personal needs of individual staff members and the public whom they serve. Thus, we need to reevaluate the role of human resources and consider once again reasserting more of the "human" side into the mix.

Resources are Human, Too

When we think of healthcare industry human resources departments, we may readily think of the processes of hiring and firing, the doling out of benefits packages, and other such responsibilities of HR professionals.

Another important aspect of HR is Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), wherein employees can see trained mental health professionals who can assist them in the relatively short term with work-related or personal issues that are present in their lives. These programs can be excellent, and they can also be woefully limited in the breadth and scope of their offerings; and sadly, many workplaces don’t choose to offer such programs at all.

Resources such as health insurance, disability coverage, and paid time off are important aspects of a medical professional’s compensation package, yet the human side can often be given short shrift, even for an employee in dire need of support.

What may sometimes occur is that the employee in need of specific assistance may end up feeling that his or her employer’s humanity is oddly absent. Especially in moments of personal crisis, HR could lean in and provide an employee what they need to make it through a difficult life passage, yet why do so many healthcare workers feel they’re just not seen as actual people with real problems and feelings?

Perceiving one’s place as a veritable cog in a corporate wheel does not bode well for one’s sense of purpose, professional satisfaction, and personal mission.

Healthcare Workers’ Heavy Lift

The work of healthcare can truly be a heavy emotional lift. Unlike employees in grocery stores, museums, or machine shops, healthcare workers may come face to face with some form of human tragedy, suffering, or loss with each and every shift. Museum guides and grocery store staff serve crucial societal functions, yet the stressors of the life-and-death healthcare milieu are categorically different.

There is an emotional toll of witnessing death and disease on a daily basis that is unparalleled in most other occupations and industries. A nurse or doctor may literally hold a patient’s life in their hands, and losing a patient or the battle against disease can be both heartbreaking and demoralizing.

From pediatric oncology to dialysis and hospice, the human suffering inherent in healthcare is palpable, while the suffering of healthcare providers is often ignored or dismissed. Physician suicide, nurse burnout, and other symptoms and repercussions of the dehumanization of healthcare are well worthy of attention and innovative intervention.

Balancing the Equation

We all agree that patient satisfaction, safety, and outcomes are paramount to the aims of the healthcare system. We can also agree that, at times, patients’ holistic needs are overlooked in the rush to treat specific symptoms wherein we miss the human forest for the trees. How many patients leave a healthcare appointment or hospitalization feeling less than satisfied?

On the staff side of this critical equation in ongoing need of balance, we need to rethink the ways in which we support our healthcare employees. Some food for thought in this regard includes, but is not limited to:

  • Using innovative techniques like medical improv to improve communication and teamwork
  • Making employee reviews more holistic, taking away the sole focus on performance and task-based accomplishment
  • Introducing the concepts of emotional, relational, and behavioral intelligence to the healthcare workplace, including the adoption of these concepts as an inherent aspect of the corporate mission and raison d’etre
  • Taking a stand of zero tolerance against bullying, harassment, and incivility
  • Holding workshops promoting empathy, listening skills, and compassion in employee relationships, especially across disciplines
  • Assuring that food service, maintenance, housekeeping, and other nonclinical staff are honored for their essential roles in facilitating safe patient care and smooth operations
  • Creating robust and effective employee assistance programs
  • Providing ongoing training for managers, executives, and supervisors in emotional intelligence, communication, empathy, and relational intelligence
  • Hiring and training HR professionals who embrace the above-named concepts and are willing to integrate them into HR services

The Human Bottom Line

If patient satisfaction scores remain the sole measure of organizational success and reimbursement, we have much work to do. Staff satisfaction should be held in equal importance as patient satisfaction, especially since unhappy and burned out medical staff will be emotionally unprepared to provide the highest quality care, leading to mushrooming healthcare costs as valuable yet burned out staff contribute to higher and higher attrition rates.

Balancing the equation within the healthcare milieu translates to promoting a profound sea change in how we approach human resources and employee support. This is not rocket science, yet facilities focused on the financial bottom line will continue to miss the fact that the human bottom line is equally deserving of attention. Who will champion this sea change? It begins with you.