“Care is at the core of our business and values. Being an indispensable part of the hospital, our staff members’ well-being has a profound impact on our service quality, and the well-being of our patients,” said Ms Grace Wong Yuen Ling, General Manager of Hong Kong Baptist Hospital (HKBH).
Even before the pandemic, jobs in healthcare organisations tended to come with higher levels of stress; for example, frontline clinicians who need to manage urgent, emergency situations, with little tolerance for errors. Over time, such accumulated stress can lead to burnout, or loss of job motivation.
As such, some hospitals – such as HKBH – have recognised the need for targeted and continual efforts to improve staff well-being and satisfaction. In Hong Kong, the Department of Health, Labour Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Council launched the “Joyful@Healthy Workplace” programme, which offers workplace workshops, advisory services and training courses around the three main areas of “Healthy Eating”, “Physical Activity” and “Mental Well-being”.
HKBH has been on board the initiative since 2016, and over the years, it has come up with its own additional set of activities and events, such as competitions for self-made fitness videos or culinary contests. For its efforts, HKBH was awarded the Excellence Award in Hong Kong Occupational Health Awards in 2016 and 2017, and the Gold Award in the Occupational Rehabilitation Award category in 2019.
Physical wellbeing and safety
Ms Wong noted that HKBH’s approach is a holistic one that covers the physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of staff well-being.
In terms of staff’s physical well-being, a 10,000-step daily challenge has been held since 2017. Participating staff who meet the targets, and those whose BMI improved, were duly rewarded. By 2018, over 600 staff (one-third of the total workforce) were participating in the programme, and close to 18% were able to improve their BMI, with some even reaching the normal range.
Another aspect of physical well-being is that of staff safety. When the pandemic first came to prominence in early 2020, there was a global shortage of PPEs. A lack of adequate and essential protection could have spiked anxiety in hospital staff.
HKBH, however, quickly converted part of the central sterile supply room into a surgical mask production line that focused on producing masks for staff usage. Extra masks were also made available for staff to purchase for their family members.
Infection control measures were also ramped up – the hospital became the first in the local healthcare sector to use robots to disinfect and clean high-risk areas. In addition, the Infection Control Unit frequently updated staff with the latest guidelines, and provided reminders on safety measures such as proper hand hygiene process.
To reduce congestion in the hospital during peak hours – which can lead to increased risk of work injuries – as well as to cut out unnecessary repetitive work which causes physical strain, the hospital embarked on an effort to relook at its environment planning and workflow designs. This resulted in the setting up of an ‘owl team’, whose duty is to transport bulky but essential items, such as linen and sterile OT utensil sets, during the off-peak hours (at night), so as to reduce stress to the environment and staff.
Mental health support
In trying to ensure the mental well-being of their employees, the hospital places strong emphasis on staff engagement.
“Staff engagement is key to building an open and supportive culture. This involves cultivating a sense of belonging and achievement among staff,” explained Ms Wong.
She noted that the hospital pays extra focus on open and timely communications. Alongside conventional communication channels such as hospital bulletins and staff forums, HKBH has leveraged on WhatsApp to disseminate the latest updates on the hospital’s major initiatives. By mid-2021, over 1,000 staff members (about 50% of their total workforce) have joined the hospital’s WhatsApp group.
To build a sense of camaraderie, the hospital holds festive celebrations where staff are gifted with goodies (such as turkeys during Christmas). An annual Awards and Appreciation Day is also held as a way for the hospital to recognise and appreciate their employees’ achievements and efforts over the year.
Currently, the hospital is running a six-month long “I Appreciate You” programme – an initiative that encourages staff to express their gratitude to colleagues. Those who have received appreciations, or have nominated colleagues, will stand a chance of winning prizes.
Emotional and spiritual support is provided in the form of calligraphy classes, which cultivates mindfulness. The hospital also includes tips on how to manage emotions in times of uncertainty in their newsletters. In addition, the Hospital chaplaincy regularly reaches out to staff to offer spiritual guidance and encouragement. In addition, HKBH regularly invites a professional counselling body to provide emotional support and counselling to staff – an initiative that started even before the pandemic began.
Besides well-being initiatives, it may also be helpful for hospitals to do regular check-ins on employees’ stress and anxiety levels, so appropriate interventions can be made. In early 2020, HKBH conducted an AQ (Adversity Quotient) survey among department heads, which measures individual and collective resilience in adversity. The results were positive – the average score of its staff was comparable to the global average set before the pandemic. This affirmed the grit and resilience of HKBH staff in adapting to the difficult times.
Job redesign and reassignment
Despite the hospital’s best efforts, uncertainties brought about by the pandemic did have a negative impact on staff morale, but only to a certain extent. With activities in the hospital slowing down during the pandemic, coupled with news about large-scale layoffs in certain large corporations in the country, some staff members grew worried about their job security and prospects.
To address staff concerns, the hospital introduced a scheme to rearrange and reassign job roles and duties. While services in some wards and departments were suspended due to low occupancy and usage, the workload in other areas escalated as a result of stepped-up infection control measures, as well as the launch of new services related to the pandemic. Employees whose jobs were affected by the pandemic were therefore assigned to work in those departments.
“With the new responsibilities assigned, our colleagues felt trusted, cared for and secure. They appreciated the opportunity to attain new knowledge in their new positions,” said Ms Wong.
With the rebound in hospital activities, staff have since returned to their original roles – but with a fresh sense of confidence. “They are now equipped with new skill sets, for example the operation of robots, and deeper knowledge of infection control measures to protect the Hospital, patients and fellow colleagues. They have become more confident and committed,” said Ms Wong.
While the long-drawn pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to healthcare workers, it has also become an experience that fostered camaraderie in the organisation. “I would say that the experience of fighting the pandemic together has brought our staff even closer, and enhanced the sense of belonging among staff. The resilience level of the concerted whole has been uplifted,” Ms Wong shared.
We at Hospital Management Asia aim to serve as a learning platform for hospitals, by showcasing the best the region has to offer. If your medical institution has any innovative projects or initiatives you would like us to feature, please contact Cindy at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you!