Self-care, team-care and an empty well

Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:


Self-care, team-care and an empty well

“How’s it going?” I asked Larry, one of the maintenance workers I chatted with from time to time. He didn’t have his usual smile and his wrist was in a brace from a repetitive stress injury.

“I’m tired,” he replied. “I’m real tired. I was supposed to be off today but Jules called in sick and we were already short one guy. Tomorrow will make seven days of work in a row.”

“You’ve got to take care of yourself,” I encouraged him.

“I know,” he said, “but they needed me.”

A few months after my encounter with Larry, I noticed that an excellent nurse had “lost her shine.” I stopped by her med cart to see why.

“My sister’s very sick,” Shirley told me, becoming tearful. “She lives in Haiti and I’m worried about her.”

“Oh no! Do you have any vacation time? Can you go see her?”

“I do, but I don’t know if the director of nursing will sign off on it. I guess I could try.”

I followed up with her the next week as if she’d been one of my patients.

“No,” Shirley said as I approached the nursing station, “I didn’t put in for the vacation time.”

She’d lost weight since the prior week and her expression had become grim. I regularly observed her completing paperwork and tending to the residents an hour after her shift was over.

“Let’s do it now,” I insisted. I stood at the desk while Shirley filled in the form requesting time off the following month. That weekend she had a heart attack.

I’ve met many Larrys and Shirleys over the years. If asked, they’ll work the extra shift because they’re the type of people who don’t like to say no. While it’s tempting for organizations to meet staffing needs with someone who always says yes, good managers recognize that such requests can push employees to the brink. Encouraging employees to engage in ongoing self-care and to recognize when they need to “refill the well” can reduce their chances of burnout and illness, leading to better workers, improved care and fewer missed shifts overall.

Self-care for healthcare workers is, according to one research paper, “a proactive and holistic approach to promoting personal health and well-being to support professional care of others.” Team-care — a concept I learned while researching this article — refers to coworkers supporting and encouraging the self-care efforts of their teammates.

When I asked after the well-being of Larry and Shirley, I was engaging in team-care. While I often informally check in with my coworkers, team-care is much more effective if it’s a consistent, leader-supported element of workplace culture.

There are many ways in which individuals can engage in self-care and be supported by facilities and coworkers in their efforts.

Self-care, team-care and an empty well

Leave a Comment