I love plants. I would happily spend all day out in the yard, working in flower beds, digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and enjoying the beauty of my garden. I can't stand to see a plant wilt, or worse, die. And I go to great lengths to have someone take care of my garden whenever I travel so that my plants don't suffer. My kids call me crazy, and hate it when I task them with the "chore" of watering. But, I find that working in my garden helps me relax, helps me focus my thoughts, and I've even come up with a blog idea or two while I'm out being the "crazy plant lady."
So when I ran across this meme the other day, my gears immediately started turning. Sure, it's funny. Every plant isn't brightly colored, fragrant, and drop-dead gorgeous. Some just look kinda boring... and maybe a little dead.
But knowing the difference is critical. Knowing how to take care of the various plants in the garden, watering them appropriately, fertilizing as necessary, and giving them the appropriate amount of sun or shade leads to healty growth and happy plants. (And, dare I say, a happy gardener)
Why are we talking about plants?
Because, they make a great analogy to our staff in the operating room. No analogy is perfect, but there are several things we learn in the garden that we can apply to our staff.
Know your plants. Know your people.
You can't know what your garden looks like, how your plants are growing, or if there are any weeds that need to be pulled, unless you're out in your garden, assessing what's going on.
The same holds true for the operating room. There is no way that an OR leader can TRULY know what's going on in the department unless they're in the rooms, talking with staff, helping do the work, and paying attention. Yes, meetings are important, office work has to be done, schedules must be created, and decisions must be made. But, if those leadership tasks monopolize your time to the point that you're never on the floor, then how are you going to know what's going on with your staff? Just like you don't know how your plants are doing if you don't lay eyes on them, you don't know how your department is running unless you see it with your own eyes.
A visible leader, with a regular presence in the operating room, will be able to recognize when their staff no longer looks like the vibrant, green, healthy plant on the left. Hopefully they'll recognize the wilting staff member before they "die" and leave the operating room, or the medical field altogether, due to exhaustion, burnout, or moral injury. It's definitely too late for that poor plant on the right, but investing in your staff, tuning into the cues that they may be struggling, checking in on them and asking how they're doing, and giving your staff a voice to offer suggestions for improvement can help prevent this from happening.
Even Cacti Need Water...
Cacti are lovely succulents. They're generally easy to grow, they're heat tolerant, and they don't need constant watering. Sure, they're a little prickly, but they're tough, resilient, and can stand up to pretty much anything.
Sounds like our OR staff, doesn't it? We're a tough crowd, generally speaking. But even the toughest of us all still needs attention. Complete lack of attention and awareness from leadership will kill the team every single time.
How do we give them the attention that they need?
Visibility of leadership - your staff need to know what you look like. And, like I said already, you need to know what your staff and your department looks like.
Opportunities to grow - this is the fertilizer of the professional world. Provide oppportunities for learning in a way that's engaging, and more than just the boring point and click of a power point.
Having a voice - empowering your staff to speak up (respectfully, of course) and listening to their struggles and suggestions is a powerful way to help them feel invested in the success of the department. Everyone can have a bright idea. It's up to you to listen to them and initiate change as appropriate to improve the workload in the OR.
Work-Life balance - This phrase gets thrown around all the time, but balance in all things is fundamental to our ability to function. I've heard management say before, "Why do they need a day off, they only work 3 12's..." Well first, 3 12's is exhausting. That person does in 3 days what others do in 8, and usually they're working longer than just 12 hours. But also, if a person regularly works 3 12's, then their scheduled days off are usually already full. Getting the gift of an additional day off, one that's usually taken up with work, can go a long way in giving employees a much-needed break. I've also seen staff get guilted into giving back vacation days and made to feel bad when they request a day off. Staffing sucks right now. It absolutely does. Guilt trips and lack of vacation time are not the way to solve this issue long-term, and they certainly won't buy you any loyalty from your staff.
Pull the weeds - Weeds will overrun a flowerbed or garden in no time, killing the plants and creating an ugly landscape. Our departments are no different. Keeping the "weeds" simply because we are short-staffed or afraid of conflict only allows the toxic employee to continue to poison the team. Tolerating the toxic employee only increases dissatisfaction with the rest of the team. It's not worth it.
Water Your Plants
Pay attention. Be visible. Be present. Keep an eye on your staff and recognize the signs of burnout, exhaustion, or moral injury and adress them as needed to keep your team healthy. Invest in their professional education and growth. Listen to their feedback and suggestions to make improvements or changes when possible. And, don't let the work in the office cause you to forget to water your plants.
Until next time,
Want to learn more? Tune in to our podcast for Present and Accounted For: The Importance of Visible OR Leadership