Small Changes to Reduce Medical Staff Stress

The most important thing to provide a comfortable work environment for employees is making sure they feel someone notices and appreciates their work.

Stress on the job, especially during today’s uncertain economic climate, is inevitable. Just as with any business, a medical practice is under constant pressure to improve its bottom line. Plus, medical practices need to keep up with regulatory policy changes and daily interactions with insurance companies. Medical practice staff can easily find themselves experiencing more than their share of stress.

“Medical practices are at the mercy of insurance companies and reimbursement rates,” says Lubna Somjee, PhD, a clinical and health psychologist. “Over the past decade, these insurance companies have kept medical reimbursement rates the same, or perhaps even slightly decreased them. That’s one thing that makes medical practices a little more susceptible to stress.”

As a result, there’s pressure on physicians to help alleviate some of that stress.

Know your staff

Somjee explains that health care professionals — physicians as well as front office staff — are certainly prone to burnout, but they may not care for themselves as they should. The result could be a negative impact on the quality of care patients receive. She says that there’s a big difference between everyday stress, which is usually manageable, and burnout. And unfortunately, physicians are not always tuned in to their employees.

“I think it’s useful for someone in a management position to be able to keep tabs on their employees enough to be able to spot when an employee is more than just stressed” and it’s impacting his or her ability to do work effectively, Somjee says. “Knowing your employees is a piece of the puzzle when it comes to increasing morale. And research indicates that if you’re plugged into an employee and morale is high, then productivity will be high.” And stress will be reduced.

Boost staff morale

There are a lot of ways to boost staff morale, and most are easy to do at very little cost. These changes can impact staff both at the organizational level and at the relational level.

According to Somjee, most managers believe that employees are happiest when they have generous benefit packages or when their salaries are high, but research indicates that’s not the case. Employees are happiest typically when they feel valued by their employer, and also, feel that they’re playing an integral role in the practice’s overall mission. Keeping those two things in mind while implementing changes can be very useful.

“It’s easy for people to get carried away by the rush of the day,” Somjee says. “Oftentimes physicians don’t have a chance to stop and do things as regularly as they’d like.”

For instance, the boss might forget to make sure that the employees are informed of any changes that are coming, whether they’re small or large.

“You want employees to feel clued in, that they’re respected, versus having the rumor mill get crazy and people feel anxious about potential changes that they don’t know a lot about,” Somjee says. “So, it’s important to keep employees informed of changes, large and small.”

It’s also important to recognize employees on a regular basis. The more you know about your employees, the better able you are to point out when they’ve done well, Somjee says.

“If possible, give them a very small reward,” she says. “But even just recognizing them publicly without that reward can go a long way.”

Provide tools and feedback

The other thing that physicians or their medical practice managers can do to help relieve stress is provide feedback to their employees. Most employees are subject to formal feedback sessions yearly, but one of the best things that someone in a management position can do is just to stop by someone’s office or cubicle, chat for five minutes, see how they’re doing and give them some informal feedback.

“That kind of thing goes a long way because it makes employees feel that they’re plugged into the organization,” Somjee says. “People are watching and valuing them.”

Also, make sure that you’re providing employees with what they need. Make sure it’s very clear to the employee what their role is within the company, what their expectations are, what their performance goals are for the year and that you’re giving them adequate tools for them to do their job. Not having the right tools, even though it may seem small, can create a lot of stress for employees.

Above all else, employees like to feel that their boss is consistently supporting them, Somjee says.

“If it’s sort of stop and start then employees don’t know what to make of that,” Somjee says. “They don’t know what to expect, and they won’t feel comfortable in their work setting.”