Workplace morale plays an important role in productivity and job satisfaction, making it a key determinant in an organization’s success. As such, it has become increasingly important for clinical laboratory managers, since low morale can have significant implications for patient safety. Low morale can lead to a dangerous disconnect between employees and their jobs that may cause them to cut corners, not pay attention to details, or simply not care whether or not they do the right thing. Previous issues of CLN’s Patient Safety Focus have discussed research that shows happy and engaged employees are less likely to make mistakes and are more likely to make significant contributions to overall productivity (1,2). In comparison to those with disengaged employees, healthcare institutions with engaged employees also experience 41% fewer patient safety incidents such as falls, medical errors, and infection rates (1). Monitoring and proactively dealing with low morale in the clinical laboratory not only avoids considerable downstream costs associated with absenteeism, re-hiring, and training, but also contributes to a better and safer workplace.
Strategies for Boosting Morale
Social events that encourage staff to interact and build stronger professional bonds are an excellent way to transform a frigid workplace climate and motivate employees during tough times. At University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, we throw monthly potluck-style parties and let the technologists choose a different theme each month. We have found that these regular events help to create a sense of unity in our laboratory.
We also socialize with other hospital departments. One of our most successful efforts is the Christmas in July event in which we pick two wards within the hospital and work closely with them to donate gifts to patients in recovery. This event not only provides our staff with an opportunity to interact with other departments, but also serves as a reminder of how the laboratory impacts patient care. Helping technologists connect with patients is one of the best ways to restore or enhance their sense of purpose.
Managers can also help staff connect with patients without stepping foot outside of the laboratory. We recommend sharing a brief case presentation each week that highlights how the laboratory made a difference in the care of a patient. Another option is to partner with a patient safety advocacy group and invite patients to discuss their personal accounts of how the laboratory helped them.
Our managers have implemented huddles at shift change to share these interesting cases and to disseminate important information about what has been going on in the laboratory that day. We also use these huddles to relay progress reports on concerns raised by staff members in previous huddles, to seek input regarding upcoming changes that will affect the staff, and to explain the reasoning behind management decisions. We have found that including our employees in the decision-making process when possible and sharing news with them as we hear it has had a positive impact on morale.
In our laboratory we also have implemented what we call “Lab Cash” to reward employees who go above and beyond their required duties. Staff members can give this form of currency to thank co-workers for stepping in to help. Managers also use it to acknowledge a job well done.
Recipients use LabCash to purchase hospital merchandise such as water bottles, scrubs, jackets, and hats.
Although everyone working in the laboratory contributes, it is up to managers to set the tone and to deal with problems swiftly. Short-term solutions might raise morale immediately, but they do not get to the root cause. For lasting results, managers must find the sources of low morale and address them proactively as opposed to reactively. Taking proactive measures not only keeps your staff happy, but also promotes an atmosphere crucial for high-quality patient care.
- Harter JK, Schmidt FL, Killham EA, et al. Q12® meta-analysis: The relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes. http://www.aamga.org/
2009.pdf (Accessed November 17, 2014)
- Nahrgang JD, Morgeson FP, Hofman DA. Safety at work: A meta-analytic investigation of the link between job demands, job resources, burnout, engagement, and safety outcomes. J Appl Psychol 2011;96:71–94.
- Astion M. A new model for patient safety: Laboratory huddles—what a great idea. CLN 2013;39(4):13–4.
- Maier CL. Improving patient safety by connecting technologists to patients. CLN 2013;39(7):20–1.
- Astion M. Burnout: A new frontier in patient safety? CLN 2013;39(10):20–1.
- Jaime H. Noguez, PhD
Assistant Director of Chemistry Laboratories
University Hospitals Case Medical Center
Editor, Patient Safety Focus
- Tabitha Barker, MLT (ASCP)
Technical Coordinator of Automated Chemistry
University Hospitals Case Medical Center
Dealing With Root Causes of Low Morale in the Lab
Stress is a hallmark of most demanding careers. The increasing demands on laboratory staff, the workforce shortage, and high turnover can quickly lead to both physical and emotional exhaustion. Technologists who experience chronic occupational stress are more likely to experience burnout. To counter this problem:
- Establish an open door policy with management to share concerns
- Ensure breaks and lunches no matter how heavy the workload
- Match work demands to technologist knowledge and abilities
Lack of Positive Feedback
The importance of praising and thanking employees is often neglected. Managers who are quick to criticize and slow to give praise can have a devastating effect on morale: employees perceive a lack of respect for their time, work, and commitment. To address this issue:
- Celebrate successes due to combined efforts of staff
- Thank people for doing a job well
- Publicly recognize hard work
- Praise staff commitment during difficult times
Lack of a Sense of Purpose
The rapid evolution of laboratory medicine along with a perceived lack of recognition by other specialties can leave technologists with conflicted feelings about their roles. When laboratory staff lose the sense of purpose they had early in their careers, it diminishes their satisfaction with their achievements. Laboratory professionals at all levels need to understand how their efforts make a difference in other people’s lives. To accomplish this:
- Organize events with patients
- Present specific patient cases in which the lab played a crucial role
Lack of Social Support
Not infrequently, technologists experience feelings of social isolation from other healthcare professionals and even from laboratory coworkers. The laboratory often is physically set apart from the rest of the hospital, limiting interaction with other specialties. Even within the laboratory, fast-paced and compartmentalized work means technologists may not get to know their co-workers.
The quality of workplace relationships is a key component of job satisfaction and employee retention. Employees need to feel as though they fit into the organization’s culture and blend with their colleagues. Solutions:
- Plan social events for lab staff
- Participate in interdepartmental events
- Use staff bulletin boards to share pictures of personal interests (family, pets, etc.)
Lack of control
Lack of autonomy can cause stress and dissatisfaction. Feeling as though their voice is not heard or that they are not included in decision-making contributes to employees’ perceived lack of control. Remedy this by:
- Employing routine huddles to share important information
- Providing progress reports on issues raised by technologists
- Confiding in employees about forthcoming changes when possible
- Soliciting staff input about decisions affecting their work
Lack of intellectual stimulation
Performing the same routine or mundane tasks can lead to feelings of intellectual stagnation. When employees feel their jobs offer no challenges, they become less engaged and less satisfied. Left unaddressed, this creates a feeling of career stagnation. Solutions:
- Plan in-service training about particular diseases
- Share interesting cases
- Recruit technologists to participate in new method validations or other projects
- Delegate some managerial tasks to staff and guide them through the process