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France — In an effort to facilitate employee retention and prevent psychosocial problems from affecting their healthcare professionals, the French hospital centers of Créteil and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges have implemented initiatives aimed at increasing quality of life in the workplace. Over the past 4 years, the Val-de-Marne Territorial Hospital Group (GHT) has taken steps to improve the well-being of its caregivers, integrating access to personalized services (massages, how long does celecoxib take to work hairdressing, fitness facilities), housing assistance, and psychological support.

Cocoons and Bubbles

Having difficulty attracting workers is an unprecedented situation for public hospitals. For several years now, they have been struggling to recruit nurses, nurses’ aides, and physicians. The pandemic hasn’t helped matters. Still, management continues to seek out the winning formula for improving their teams’ everyday experience. Such efforts are being made at the Intercommunal Hospitals of Créteil (CHIC) and of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in the Val-de-Marne, just outside Paris. The two GHT Confluence facilities took the bull by the horns and, in 2018, established a quality of work life (QWL) department. Initially made up of two social workers (one from each hospital), a psychologist, and a disability specialist, the team was rounded out in 2020 with the addition of a health and safety officer. “At the beginning, we found ourselves dealing with a situation where we had a number of employees out on long-term sick leave — and then the challenges that come with their return to work — as well as a high absenteeism rate among caregivers,” explained Daniel Wahl, staff social worker and manager of the QWL department.

While the health crisis did disrupt the program, it also gave rise to new initiatives. “We set up two welcoming spaces for the teams to use: the Bubble at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, and the Cocoon at Créteil,” noted Wahl. The hospitals’ 5000 employees now had places on site where they could go to relax and take a break from their trying and difficult workdays. They could get a massage and have a reflexology session. They could take a snooze in one of Nap&Up’s “micro-napping cocoons.” They could even get a haircut. “During the pandemic, staff members greatly appreciated the fact that the focus had shifted from meeting the needs of the whole to meeting the needs of the individual. In 2022, we made that focus a priority,” stated Aurélien Stival, CHIC’s director of human resources and human resources coordinator for the Confluence Hospitals group.

Beyond Well-Being, Training

In addition to providing that personalized attention, the QWL department is looking for ways to apply its strategies as closely as possible to its caregivers within the framework of mobile teams. “We’re keeping a lookout to see what these teams need the most, taking into account various indicators, such as absenteeism, musculoskeletal disorders, and returning to work after training, just to name a few,” Wahl said. With its interventions, the department seeks to go beyond simple actions focused on well-being. “What we’re trying to do is teach, offer guidance, provide some useful training. For example, how to improve on time management, how to sleep better,” he specified. At the hospital in Créteil, the QWL department also opened a fitness center that teams can use 7 days per week at no cost. As for soft mobility projects, the department is in the process of setting up a bike shop as well as arranging classes to teach the rules of the road.

So, the idea is to help caregivers and staff members feel better over the long term. Wahl went on to say, “We want to be more about preventive actions, adapting the workplace so that people look forward to coming to work.”

At the moment, the QWL department does not have a dedicated budget. It has, however, received funding from the two hospitals and, on a project-by-project basis, financial support from entities such as the French Education General Mutual Insurance Company, the French Health Sector National Mutual Insurance Company, and the French Civil Servants Mutual Insurance Company.

Housing and Day Care

The QWL department can also help employees who reach out for psychological support. “At the height of COVID, a lot of people were going to psychologists,” Wahl pointed out. “The pandemic brought about many breakups and reports of domestic violence. As a result, there were a lot of people looking for apartments.”

Although the options are limited, the QWL department also offers assistance to facilitate access to public housing at rates around 25% lower than market price.

To make day care easier for CHIC’s caregivers, two new centers were scheduled to open on June 1. They will have 90 cribs (30 of which are set aside for nonemployees).

According to the manager of the QWL department, all the initiatives that have been set in motion are bearing fruit. “People are staying on,” Wahl stated — proof that, beyond salaries, the quality of the work environment is essential to make the hospital setting appealing to caregivers once again.

Persistent Labor Shortage

When asked, a union representative at CHIC applauded the actions taken by management to improve quality of life, particularly during the pandemic. “You can see that there’s a genuine focus on the staff, with all the efforts made to improve the everyday. That’s undeniable. Everything from arranging for food trucks to be available during the pandemic to installing benches where staff could sit and have a picnic in the afternoon.”

Despite all these initiatives to make their workplaces more appealing and to differentiate themselves from the Paris Public Hospital System, the two Val-de-Marne hospitals are still finding it difficult to recruit. “There’s a labor shortage and, still, a high absenteeism rate,” the union representative noted. “The pace is just as fast, with overtime and difficulties taking time off as planned.”

Indeed, regarding the work environment, one of the most important issues is the pace of the work itself. “So that they’ll have more days of down time, young people want to punch in for the 12-hour shifts, not the 7½ shifts. Hospitals are increasingly implementing this scheduling in order to recruit employees, but not everyone is happy with it — especially parents who would like to be able to spend more time with their children.” Work pace will surely be one of the issues to be addressed at the national level to make hospitals more appealing to people seeking employment in the coming years.

This article was translated from the Medscape French edition.

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