It seems to be common knowledge these days that employees at places like Google, Apple and other Silicon Valley success stories enjoy perks that many of us in the healthcare industry can only dream of. Even other companies---like biotechs and others---have learned that small perks can go a long way toward employee well-being and morale. Why don't we healthcare workers---who save lives every day---enjoy even a fraction of these sorts of benefits?
We've probably all seen photos or heard reports of Google employees bouncing on trampolines on their lunch breaks or playing ping-pong after a team meeting. There are free gourmet-style meals, amazing benefits, and a college-like atmosphere that keeps the geeks happy.
Meanwhile, at most hospitals, cafeteria food is vastly disappointing and "break rooms"---if they even exist---are glorified closets devoid of any charm (except, perhaps, for a sappy poster of skydivers holding hands high above the earth, the caption at the bottom reading "Teamwork: We're All In It Together", or some such platitude posing as motivation).
At my brother's pharmaceutical biotech company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there's always food in the fridge for those working after hours, and his previous workplaces have provided cookouts and beer on Friday afternoons and other simple (yet highly appreciated) employee fringe benefits.
No matter how much we peddle health and well-being in this healthcare industry of ours, it's outrageously apparent how our employers seem to generally miss the boat when it comes to really caring for employees.
A recent example of a hospital really trying to change this paradigm is the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (where my beloved niece was born, by the way). In 2011, the hospital opened its "Center for Nursing Renewal", where nurses and other employees can utilize massage chairs, classes in yoga, dance, meditation and nutrition, as well as weekly visits by therapeutic animals. It also provides a quiet place to eat lunch, relax, and borrow books from a lending library. While it's impossible to gauge the quality of the center from a few photographs or brief articles, it demonstrates that the facility is indeed thinking about the quality of their nurses' lives, and striving to offer services that will increase morale and combat stress and compassion fatigue.
While nurses aren't necessarily clamoring for foosball tables and trampolines (although many of us might like the notion of cold beers in the employee fridge at the end of a tough day on the unit!), there's no doubt in my mind that there are nurses out there who would jump at the chance to work for an employer who offered more perks than a mug and a free pen during National Nurses Week.
As mandatory overtime and higher nurse-patient ratios are enacted around the country, nurses work harder, care for more patients, and otherwise carry the weight of the world on their shoulders with precious little in return. I fully understand that keeping the cost of healthcare down is critical, but caring for our employees and treating them to small yet meaningful examples of that care would probably pay for itself in decreased absenteeism and attrition, increased productivity and morale, improved workplace loyalty, improved patient outcomes, and decreases in the multiple (yet sometimes unquantifiable) costs of burnout and compassion fatigue.
Something has to give, and we can't simply continue to replace burned out nurses with new ones who we throw directly into the fire without even a brief respite in the metaphoric frying pan. And this does not apply to nurses alone: technicians, social workers, case managers, unit secretaries, physicians----everyone needs more recognition and acknowledgment that simple yet effective perks and programs can go a long way to creating healthier, happier workplaces. I don't pretend to have all the answers, and I know that healthcare is a complicated business, but I know that our nurses and workers need to be treated better, and doing so will only have positive repercussions for patients and healthcare workers alike.