Clinical laboratories play an immensely important role in healthcare today and are responsible for delivering accurate and timely results to MDs and other clinicians in order to help formulate plans of care.1 The result, however, can be a high-stress, 24/7 environment that can lead to employee burnout. The good news? While stress cannot be completely eliminated from our modern lifestyle, a good manager can help to bring stress levels down in the lab with these four strategies.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) notes that the average worker spends between 34 and 48 hours per week at work and does additional work-related activities while at home, leaving little room for down time. The HBR piece quotes McKinsey Quarterly claiming that “always on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening productivity and making us unhappy." The article goes on to suggest that managers at the outset establish boundaries between personal and work life, such as making rules prohibiting emails on the weekends or evenings, to give employees that time that they need off in order to psychologically recharge and return to work fresh and motivated2. Research that looked at job stress among several groups of healthcare workers—including laboratory technicians—found a strong prevalence of burnout among those who worked large amounts of overtime and were frequently overcommitted.3
Compassion might not be one of the qualities people automatically think of as associated with being a good manager, but HBR quotes research finding that “the single greatest influence on profitability and productivity within an organization…is the ability of leaders to spend more time and effort developing and recognizing their people." It takes time, effort and people skills to get to know one's employees, but this effort can pay off in terms of employee satisfaction and retention.
What forms can this compassion and support take? In a study that looked at job-related depression among laboratory workers, scientists recommended strengthening the social support—including supervisors and coworkers—for the lab workers as well as decreasing the psychological demand of the job and increasing their authority.4
One way to help employees reduce stress is to incorporate mindfulness stress-reduction techniques into employee education. "As much as almost a quarter of European and half of USA's employees estimated to be at the point of burnout," according to a study in the journal Mindfulness. "Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and physical exercise have all shown beneficial effects for work-related stress and illness." Employees in this study who participated in a mindfulness program showed reduced levels of burnout as well as significantly decreased anxiety and depression and increased sleep quality.
Researchers studying a laboratory of 120 workers that performed around 2.5 million tests per year recommended that the organization improve its high turnover and burnout rate by extra training and education for staff and supervisors—as well as by making worker-friendly improvements to the facility such as adding recliners and workout rooms.
Much of modern society sings the praises of multitasking, but HBR notes there is much evidence to support the idea that the human brain is not designed for doing more than one task at a time—and that attempting to do so actually increases both production time and the possibilities of errors. It is better to encourage employees to be serial "mono-taskers" and to give them “clean, one-at-a-time" tasks and guide them in matters of prioritization.
The publication Lab Manager notes that habits of mindfulness—being focused on the present moment—are a great way to combat the traditional multitasking environment. Managing the day to commit to one task at a time, changing the work environment if one is “stuck" on a task and seeking help from colleagues are all ways to avoid doing too much at once—and doing it badly.5
No lab environment is ever going to be stress-free. But following these tips and creating an environment that fosters compassion for employees, sets boundaries between work and personal life, encourages monotasking and gives employees the tools they need for stress management can lead to a mentally healthier and more productive environment.
By Mayo Clinic staff
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