Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Taking the Stress Out of Healthcare Part 3 Supporting Purposeful Wellness Breaks

Taking the Stress Out of Healthcare Part 3 Supporting Purposeful Wellness Breaks

by James Porter December 15, 2022

I recently attended a conference in Baltimore sponsored by Planetree, an organization focused on promoting “patient-centered care” where I learned that if you want to achieve this objective you have to take care of the care-giver first.

Thus, it was no surprise to find a breakout session there entitled:  Supporting Purposeful Wellness Breaks. What is a purposeful wellness break I wondered and how do you support one? As I found out later, many nurses are so conscientious they don’t want to leave the care of their patients to other nurses on the same floor who have their own patients to look after. They need to know someone is going to be looking after their patients specifically while they’re on break.

During Covid, it was possible for a patient could die while you were on a break. So even though Nurses were working 10 and 12 hour shifts, they weren’t taking much needed breaks.

So, the nurse managers putting in this hospital decided to start a program to actually train nurses to take over for other nurses during their breaks. Once the Wellness Break Nurses were put in place, according to surveys conducted at the time, the overwhelming majority of those polled strongly agreed that:

  1. They were able to take their ENTIRE break without interruption.
  2. When they returned from the break, their patients were either better or had experienced no change.
  3. If this structure was provided, they were “extremely likely” to take wellness breaks in the future.

This simple program speaks to the tremendous need to provide support not only for wellness, but for utilizing wellness resources also! You must realize there’s an important difference between the two. I see this happening with our mental well-being web-portal,  MY STRESS TOOLS where it’s not enough to simply provide this service, management needs to say its OK to utilize the service during work or during specific times of the day. This way we recognize as a culture the dramatic difference between the roll-out of a new program and actually utilizing it.

This very problem can occur in organizations totally committed to promoting wellness. I remember talking to a wellness director at a mid-sized corporation years ago, who had won the American Psychological Association’s “The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award” which focused on a company’s efforts to create a top-notch program for promoting mental-well-being within the workplace.

She would occasionally complain, that even with her award-winning program in place, there were entire departments within her organization that were highly stressed. As she explained: “If a department manager works through lunch, works late, and doesn’t use our wellness facilities, chances are, the employees working under that manager, aren’t going to take advantage of these services either.”

That’s why a program as simple as training nurses to be “wellness-break nurses” is sorely needed! As this simple intervention shows, by training nurses to take over during breaks your managers will be: modeling healthy behavior (It’s necessary to take breaks) and building in supports to be able to engage in this behavior, which is crucial to creating mental well-being in any organization.

Remember the difference between simply offering up a perk (like a break, or a mental well-being app or even an onsite fitness facility) and fully endorsing the utilization of such facilities. If you truly desire a healthy workplace culture, you can’t have one without the other.

James Porter
James Porter