Thursday, October 2, 2008

Morale Issues

What happens when our energies flag?

We've all had those days - those moments when, despite having chosen our work out of genuine dedication, we think to ourselves, "What am I DOING here? Should I be doing this any more?"

The other day I walked into an O.R. to borrow a piece of equipment and came upon one of my colleagues being playful with her five-year-old patient. Later in the recovery room I saw her little patient snoozing, calm, comfortable, safely swaddled in some warm blankets. When I saw my colleague in the conference room, I said in passing, "Hey, nice job with that pediatric case."

"Thanks," she said with about as much enthusiasm as I've been responding to compliments about my work lately. There was something in her voice that made me wonder if she was having a "blue period" of her own - a lot of us seemed to be.

"Does it give you satisfaction? I mean, getting patients safely through surgery, so they're comfortable afterward, and relatively happy?" I asked.

Our eyes met and we both smiled knowing what her answer would be.

"No," we both said at the same time, with a chuckle of resignation.

"But it should, shouldn't it?" I continued. "Logically speaking. We should get a lot of satisfaction from successfully keeping people safe, easing their pain and anxiety, and doing right by them. Right?"


"So how come we're feeling like this?"

Truth be told, my "blue period" has persisted. And I think it's because there's been a lot of non-clinical as well as clinical stress at work lately. A LOT. Morale has been abysmal, so even the things that should brighten our day, or remind us of why we love our work, don't any more.

The training program I came from would sneer at the prioritization of morale as an influential component to productivity and work satisfaction. I felt while I was there that the only important thing was for the work - and there was plenty of it - to get done, and done fast. How we felt was irrelevant. We just had to get the work done.

I think this kind of atmosphere can be very damaging over time. I have no doubt they would see my "take" on that as way too soft. But I think I'm right.

I try to believe in the transcendent as well as the practical value of my work. That is, for me the practice of medicine, though grueling and at times discouraging, is intrinsically beautiful and meaningful because I see it as more than just helping patients get through some difficult physiologic and emotional events. I see the connections formed during those events, temporary though they may be, as spiritually significant - ways of extending invisible grace into the world through tangible means.

So although workplace morale has taken a dive lately and we haven't been able to feel much satisfaction from even the good work we do day to day, I try to tell myself to look beyond all that, rise above the pessimism and discouragement, and try to live in hope. Not frivolous, superficial hope, like, "I hope the situation gets better," but rather the deeper hope of people of faith that says, Know that even in the desert you are not alone, and even in darkness there is good, there is always good.

Photo: U.S. Army Capt. Cristal Horsch uses a stethoscope to listen as she examines an Afghan child during a Cooperative Medical Assistance mission in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan on Aug. 18, 2004. Task Force 325, Task Force Victory and the Asadabad Provincial Reconstruction Team provided people and animals with medical care. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Vernell Hall, U.S. Army.


Anonymous said...

Great post.

I've thought about this as well. In my training the whole concept of morale was never addressed, and we moved from rotation to rotation so quickly that I felt immune to any inherent stressors of any work site.

Now that I've been in practice for a few years, I'm amazed at how much the morale of the workplace influences my work satisfaction. My current situation (at a refugee clinic) is a happy one, with wonderful colleagues sharing a common goal, a great collegial atmosphere and plenty of optimistic work chatter when we go out for lunch. I'm grateful.

Loved your line about showing grace in tangible ways.

Hope things improve for you!

Anonymous said...

Morale among RT departments is chronically low and I don't know why. I've worked at five different facilities in three states as an RT, and everywhere I go the departments are miserable. I'm not sure if it's something about the personalities that respiratory care attracts, or if it's something about the way hospitals tend to store us and manage us. I try to interact more with the happy people when I can find them, because they're an all-too-rare blessing when they come.

T. said...

Out of curiosity, where are the happy people in the hospital? I wanna find them too...!

I think RTs, by the way, are so cool and so incredibly valuable. I'm always grateful to have one beside me and be able get his/her input. Do you think part of the low morale among RTs and anesthesiologists might stem from our work being poorly understood, largely ignored, and most of the time under-appreciated?