Recently, I hired an interior designer to help decorate my living room. Eight years into the workforce, the grad school couch that was chronically spilling it’s foam stuffing in clumps onto the floor had gotten the best of me. I avoided spending time in my living room as the space stressed me out rather than helped me kick back and relax with my feet up on the coffee table. While my decision to go full bore with living room decor seemed a bit extravagant, it was totally worth it.
Now that my couch has been replaced with a fresh sectional, sans puppy chew hole and stuffing spillage, my home feels like a place to hang out rather than a collection of college dorm room castoffs. A fresh coat of paint hides wear and tear. Cliché but true, I feel inspired in the space. My living room redo got me thinking, how much do my physical surroundings affect me?
Yesterday, when I arrived to the fast track area of the emergency department where I was assigned for my shift, I immediately noticed the place was a disaster. Packages of suture material were strewn about the cabinets mixed in with loose gauze and bandage materials. Stray vials of lidocaine had been tossed on the desk, apparently abandoned in a hurry by another provider hustling to leave work on time. The workspace wasn’t technically unsanitary as the supplies were packaged, but the place looked sloppy.
When I work at this particular hospital, I notice that the attitude of employees, and sometimes even myself, tends to mirror the scene I encountered yesterday. “Good enough” is the standard, rather than excellence. Groups with “good enough” attitudes don’t make for efficient, healthy, high functioning teams. So, turnover in the department is high. Turnover places extra stress and workload on remaining staff resulting in job dissatisfaction. Consequently, the turnover cycle continues.
Am I suggesting that neglecting to organize your supply room or tidy up after a 12-hour shift will result in poor attitudes, high turnover, and ultimately lost revenue for your practice? Not necessarily. What I am suggesting is that our work environment does play a part in dictating our performance.
Perception makes a big difference. ‘Rough’ neighborhoods that plant trees and clean up vacant lots, for example, experience lower crime rates. The space looks safe, so it becomes safe. In the same way, a tidy, clean workspace sends the message to staff that details matter. The space looks professional, so employees act like professionals. When details matter and professionalism increases, fewer things fall through the cracks. The bar for performance is set higher. Not only do such changes affect attitudes among your team, patients notice, too.
We are more influenced by our physical surroundings than we often realize. Making a few small changes to the layout, cleanliness, or organization of your office, clinic, or your hospital floor may go a long way in motivating yourself and your coworkers. You can expect increased engagement and more positive attitudes. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on the project, a little time will do. Start with the break room or nurses’ lounge. Clean out the fridge and coffee maker. Wipe down tables and chairs. Get the word out that this is how the space should stay. Having a place you actually want to sit down on your lunch break is a small detail, but goes a long way in affecting the enjoyment of your day.
As nurse practitioners in patient facing roles, our shifts can be long and trying. Why not take advantages of the small changes improvements to our physical work environment can make? An office overhaul may not be within your budget or decision making power. That’s OK. You can still lead the effort to take a few basic steps that will make your workspace a more positive place.
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