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Life-work balance: What we get right and wrong in the workplace

The number-one challenge at the recent CEO Roundtable at the Governance Institute conference? Workforce.

Overlook Medical Center’s Chief Nursing Officer, Ophelia Byers, knows that life-work balance is more than a challenge. From technology to cultural expectations and individual personality traits, it’s more important than ever to keep a healthy workforce, which is the topic of the latest episode of NRC Health’s Patient No Longer podcast.

“The workplace is dealing with everything from different stressors at home to unique stressors at work and in healthcare—all very profoundly affected by the pandemic, given the nature of it,” says Byers. “And talent is telling us that. It’s time for a new way of thinking and a new way of working and being. We see the burnout…the moral distress that team members are experiencing in all industries, and the financial impact. It’s time for us to start listening to our team members telling us that if we’re not willing to reimagine or think about work differently, we will find employers who will. It’s definitely a time for leaders to listen, now more than ever.”

Byers, Associate Chief Nursing Executive for Atlanta Health System and founder of SitchRoom, a career coaching command center, says that leadership should be engaging with employees around these more comprehensive assessments of their well-being: not just how they’re doing at work and if they have the tools to do their job as well while on-site, but also what’s going on with them that may be affecting their performance at work.

“Leaders getting intentionally curious about their employees and understanding what’s going well is a preventative approach, right? It’s not waiting until performance is waning or challenged to ask those questions,” she says. “But it’s important to understand what makes them tick and what motivates them while things are going well, so that if there is a change, we can readily assess that.”

Byers explains that when it comes to stress, several things are happening outside of work. We can never understand every individual employee in totality, she says; what we can do is set up structures and supports, and let people know that we’re interested in knowing more about them and their lived experiences. She points out that there are resources that many health systems have, such as employee-assistance programs, that are focused on prevention and providing touchpoints when things are going well—and that those kinds of wellness and well-being check-ins are just as important as support for when things aren’t going well.

“It is really inviting our employees to share the totality of who they are—and having expert resources in place to support them when they are challenged,” she says. “When we say we bring our whole selves to work, we really need to understand what that means. It sounds nice to say, ‘We want you to be your full, authentic self,’ but are we ready for it? Are we ready, as organizations and as leaders, to receive that? Are we agile enough to support that?”

Byers says that healthcare systems should ask what resources they need to support themselves in navigating this new territory. “I think that from a standpoint of empathy, we need to engage leaders to understand their fears,” she explains. “We need to understand that leaders are also scared—a lot like employees—and need support in a different way than they did, say, pre-COVID.”

Byers says that organizations may now have to rely on other types of expert guidance than they would normally. You might need expert advice from a qualitative researcher, for example, to understand how they turn narratives—which are extremely important and compelling—into data that can be used.

“I always like to emphasize the D-I-K-W model that I learned in a nursing informatics course in my doctoral program,” Byers says. “It suggests that there are data, but data feeds into information, information feeds into knowledge, and knowledge feeds into wisdom. Data is a very rudimentary form. You still have to travel to get to wisdom; along that journey is considering lived experiences and personal narratives. That’s what gets you to wisdom.”

Learn more about the role of trust, empathy, cultural cultivation, and valuing relationships in this episode of Patient No Longer.