Culture & Leadership | Supporting the Workforce

Workplace Violence in Healthcare: A Rallying Cry to Restore Safety

There are moments within healthcare where some of us have not felt safe. These feelings could have transpired because of the population being cared for or from the people that we work with each day. It’s time to ask: Have we ever felt safe? This focus on workplace safety has been a slowly burning ember that has finally caught fire.

As healthcare professionals, we spend a lot of time and resources on patient experience and often neglect the experience of the people who show up to work every day. The mass exodus from healthcare as a profession has been the wakeup call. We are called to serve and not be abused. I believe we now see the importance of taking care of ourselves and each other. We cannot do what we are showing up to do without being ok ourselves. That is the hardest part for many of us, because we are also taught to push through and do the best for the patient. Doing the best for ourselves is a part of doing our best for the patient and for all of our teammates that we work alongside each day. 

The first part of restoring workplace safety is ensuring health and well-being of the workforce. We have to make sure everyone knows there is zero tolerance for maltreatment of any kind. We have to empower our teammates to speak up and speak out, and leadership must act upon the rallying cry of the folks sharing what they see as broken, unsafe, and wrong in the current environment. We need executive champions to lead the way. We need town halls to voice concerns. We need to know we have each other’s back, so we can rebuild (or for some, build) trust.

Workforce experience is the foundation of experience in healthcare. If we cannot strengthen the foundation, then the rest of the work, service, and care we are trying to provide will crumble. Do something about the reports coming in. Touch base immediately with those who have been harmed. Offer support and space to heal. We have to be humane and not treat people like machines. We have to listen. We must have compassion.

Start asking the questions of yourself first as to how you feel about where you work each day. Do you feel safe? Do you feel heard?  Do you feel seen? Do you feel supported? Have your concerns and issues been addressed and acknowledged? We must dig deep and far to uncover the things that we do not want to face and the ugly underbelly of what we continue to ignore in order to go on and do the work for the sake of productivity, metrics, and rankings. 

We start by caring. We start by coming alongside our teammates no matter the position. Committees are now being formed to address workplace safety:

  • Make sure the committees are well-rounded.
  • Get out there and show your support to teammates.
  • Do not throw metrics and data around.
  • Show action and follow-through.
  • Reward people for reporting unsafe acts or activities.
  • Institute and reform certain policies.
  • Make it clear to the workforce they are important and valued.
  • Invest in people.
  • Invest first in yourself.

What does all of this look like? It looks different in all of our places of work, yet the common thread is transparency, accountability, and compassion.

Do better. Not just for the people we see each day and not just for the patients we serve. Do better for you and who you know your best self is in restoring workplace safety for the present and future workforce to come, so we can continue to improve the health and well-being of all in this profession.

About the Author:

Michelle Anderson Squire works in Patient Relations at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill,NC.

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