Boosting the Well-Being of Women in Healthcare
Thursday, July 28, 2016

Work-life balance issues are often presented as something more important to women. It’s no wonder then that it’s a high-priority for the healthcare industry—given that the latest research from Rock Health finds that 78 percent of the healthcare workforce is comprised of women. For nursing, that percentage increases, with several stats suggesting that the number jumps to nearly 95 percent.

What’s more, healthcare providers have higher stress levels and complaints than employees of any industry, including the professional, business service, and retail sectors, according to a CareerBuilder survey. The data found that 69 percent of healthcare workers reported feeling stressed, and 17 percent reported feeling highly stressed.

The reasons for high stress are obvious: life and death situations, long and unorthodox hours, constant and simultaneous juggling of multiple patients and responsibilities, and so forth. In fact, a 2015 study by Gallup and Healthways reports that the healthcare industry is “both emotionally demanding and logistically rigorous, which can be a recipe for burnout.” Gallup analysts Jade Wood and Rebecca Riffkin add that “regulatory and compliance tasks can create a heavy and sometimes burdensome workload for many healthcare professionals.”  

Work-Life Balance vs. Well-Being 

So what can women in healthcare do to stem the flow of stress and burnout and find more balance?

Beth Cabrera, author of Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being, advises workers to forget about work-life balance. “The pursuit of work-life balance is an impossible goal,” she says. “You might feel like you’ve achieved balance one day, but it won’t last. Work will continue to interfere with life, and life will interfere with work.”

Instead, Cabrera recommends pursuing well-being. In Beyond Happy, she explains that the multiple factors that influence our well-being can be categorized into two main dimensions: feeling good and doing good.

The first dimension is how we feel on a day-to-day basis; the second dimension of well-being is how we evaluate our lives overall. “People who experience more frequent positive emotions have higher well-being than those who feel good less often,” says Cabrera. “People who sense their lives are worthwhile because they are pursuing meaningful goals and making a positive difference have higher well-being than those who don’t feel they are doing good.”

The definition of well-being developed by Gallup and Healthways takes this idea a step further. The Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index encompasses five interrelated and essential elements:

  • purpose: liking what you do and being motivated to achieve your goals 
  • social: having supportive relationships and love in your life 
  • financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security 
  • community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community 
  • physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done.

From an organizational perspective, well-being programs can help improve employee engagement, retain talent, and drive other significant business outcomes. Gallup reports that medical professionals who are thriving in three or more elements are two times less likely to look for a new job than their counterparts with lower well-being. This finding is significant because attendance and retention are crucial components of proper patient care, patient satisfaction, correct staffing coverage, and reduced expenses. 

Strategies to Boost Well-Being  

Talent development leaders in most institutions have fewer resources to impact the financial, physical, and community elements of a healthcare worker’s well-being. However, Cabrera contends that they can influence purpose and social elements. Talent leaders can initiate programs that affect an organization’s culture—helping workers increase their sense that their life matters because they are doing good. They also can rollout strategies to help healthcare professionals live their values, develop their strengths, and make a positive impact.

Pinpoint and Align Values. According to Cabrera, holding certain values does not necessarily mean that people behave in ways that are aligned with those values. In Beyond Happy, she writes, “The sense that you are doing good comes when your actions are congruent with your values.”

To discern whether your actions at work align with your core values (for example, achievement, honesty, learning, respect), she recommends listing your top five values and then rating how consistent your behavior has been with each of your values during the past week. “If you discover that you aren’t acting in ways that promote your values, you have an opportunity to boost your well-being by more closely aligning your actions with your values,” she says.

Identify Your Strengths. In order to do good by developing your strengths, you first need to know what they are, advises Cabrera. One way to uncover your strengths is to take an assessment. Here are three assessments to get you started. 

  1. The Values in Action or VIA Inventory of Strengths is a free questionnaire that measures 24 character strengths. 
  2. The Gallup organization has an assessment called StrengthsFinder. This survey measures 34 signature themes, which represent natural ways of thinking and behaving.  
  3. R2 Strengths Profiler, was developed by the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology. The items in this survey assess 60 strengths based on energy, performance, and use. Results identify realized strengths, unrealized strengths, learned behaviors, and weaknesses.

Connect With Others. Having positive relationships with colleagues can reduce our stress and increase our productivity. Gallup reports that employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be highly engaged than those who don’t. In addition, having friends at work gives us access to knowledge and information that can help us do our jobs better. Working with friends also leads to greater collaboration and less conflict.

“Friends can help us cope with difficulties and bounce back quicker when we face challenges. When we work with people we feel close to it gives us a sense of security, so we are more willing to take risks and think creatively. Supportive relationships encourage us to go outside of our comfort zone, which leads to growth,” says Cabrera.

Check out Beyond Happy to discover more pathways from Beth Cabrera to reducing stress, experiencing greater joy, and finding more meaning in your work life.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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