The State of Clinician Health: A Call for Respite

(Sponsored content by Pigott, provided by Gail Caldwell + Herman Miller)

“You can teach caregivers mindfulness and mediation techniques, but if you throw them back into the war zone, it’s not going to work.” – Dr. Mark Greenawald, Carilion Clinic Vice Chair, Academic Affairs, Virginia Tech School of Medicine

The onset of COVID-19 created insurmountable challenges for many industries, however, the healthcare sector has felt the pressure the most.  The effects have been seen in the weathering of facilities, the lack of available resources, but perhaps most importantly, the long-term impacts for clinicians. We are witnessing a shortage of nurses due to the overwhelming pressures that stem from workplace stress and burnout. If we are to expect clinicians to be available to provide their necessary services, it is our responsibility to understand what is causing burnout for healthcare workers and seek solutions to preventing it in the future.

Understanding the Pressures that Influence Clinician Stress + Burnout

Clinicians are well-known for their giving nature, often sacrificing their own emotional and physical well-being for others.  While a sympathetic disposition is an essential trait, especially for this environment, too much of a good thing can lead to issues ahead.  This has been emphasized throughout the pandemic and we are seeing an influx of clinician compassion fatigue, brought on by the intensified working hours and the inability for family members to be with their loved ones during the end of their lives.

Due to the pandemic, nearly 50% of nurses and over 60% of physicians are experiencing burnout. This is more than 1.5x the burnout reported by non-healthcare workers. These high numbers of clinicians experiencing burnout have a significant impact on turnover rates within a hospital.  There is a critical need to ensure expert knowledge is available for those who need it but with the average hospital losing nearly $6.4M annually in turnover costs, funds to secure experienced providers are limited. Additionally, burnout has played a major role in the influx of medical errors, such as misdiagnosis, infections, or medication errors.  Since COVID, there has been a 200% increase in medical errors stemming directly from burnout.

The Importance of Engaged + Thriving Employees

Engaged employees are involved, proud, and committed to their work, workplace, and patients.  They believe the organization and workplace supports their needs, which creates dedicated employees who want longevity with an organization.  The healthcare industry has the smallest percentage of engaged employees.  This low employee engagement further increases the likelihood of medical errors and absenteeism.

There are 5 components that are associated with those who are fully thriving in the workplace: person has a feeling of purpose, feeling connected to others, addressing stress, having good health, and feeling financially and emotionally provided for.  A recent Gallop Poll shows that of the surveyed nurses, only 6% felt that they were doing well in each of these elements and as many as 26% felt as though they are not doing well in any element.  This suggests that fewer than 1 in 10 clinicians are fully thriving. 

Thriving employees generally have a higher well-being and are more likely to recover quickly from stress.  Organizations will gain a competitive advantage from their employees’ maximized performance, reduced turnover, and enhanced engagements.

How Can We Help?

We all know how important workplace design can be for an organization’s success. Now, more than ever, we realize that an organization’s prosperity can be a matter of life or death and the call for change in healthcare design must be answered. Through implementation of respite spaces, clinicians can have dedicated spaces to center themselves before getting back to work. Respite spaces are areas where clinicians can have a temporary delay from their duties and get away from workplace stress for a few minutes, allowing them the opportunity to hit the pause button and take a few deep breaths.

Key Attributes of Respite Spaces

When designing a space for respite, one should consider an area with direct access to natural light or directly outdoors.  Research shows that taking a daily break outside can reduce nurse burnout and immediately decrease feelings of anger and tiredness. Most often these spaces are secluded, cozy, welcoming, and less serious than the rest of the workplace environment. It is generally recommended for respite spaces to be located near the working area to provide easy access for clinicians. This offers clinicians the option to socialize with their coworkers or to retreat to a private space – away from their patients and their families.

Keep in mind, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every facility.  It is critical to inquire how the clinicians you are designing for define their ideal respite space.  Some individuals may prefer a setting in which they can freely engage with their colleagues, while others may prefer privacy and alone time.  Listening to the specific needs of your clinicians will help to identify the type of respite space that will best serve your team.

Additionally, for respite spaces to be a benefit to clinicians, the culture of the workplace must support it.  This can be accomplished through education of the value for wellness and self-care that may need to occur during work hours.  Providing a culture that encourages employees to seek opportunities for wellness will have a positive impact on the overall organization and the experience of employees and patients.

Options for Spaces Large or Small, New or Existing

Whenever possible, respite spaces should be isolated areas with natural light or access outside.  These private areas allow for clinicians to fully recharge and disconnect from the stress of their jobs. Calm and soothing colors, minimal noise, and a comfortable seating area provide the perfect setting for respite.

However, not all facilities have the available space to dedicate to respite.  In these instances, consider incorporating freestanding pieces that can be placed throughout the workplace.  While these spaces might not be fully cutoff from the hustle and bustle, they still provide the necessary outlet for workers to step away for a few minutes and refocus.

Busby Chair by Naughtone
Framery O by Framery

Another option would be to carve out an area for respite within a shared space.  This could be done inside a breakroom or lounge area.  As long as there is a dedicated private space, employees will still benefit from the effects of the quiet area that is removed from their demanding job responsibilities.

What We Know

We are witnessing the incredible challenges that clinicians are facing every day.  Their daily stress is leading to burnout, increasing turnover and medical errors.  We know that workplace design has a significant impact on clinician behaviors, attitudes, and well-being.  Through incorporating respite spaces within healthcare facilities, we can help to improve clinician health and organizational prosperity.

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