As the owner and primary physician of a dermatological practice with multiple locations, I have made a patient-first approach the defining tenet of my business. For me, this means listening to patient feedback on everything from services to TV channels in the waiting room, remaining engaged and connected with them through the entirety of their visit, and providing them with security of knowing as they continue coming to us for years, they will see the same smiling faces greeting them. Almost my entire nursing staff has been at my practice for over a decade, and I chalk that up to the calm, rewarding work environment I have created at my practice.
A tranquil work environment equally prioritizes business success and employee happiness, and over the past two decades operating my business I have gone through a great deal of trial and error in learning to not only be a good physician to my patients, but also a good employer to my employees. I have worked to make sure my company’s culture encourages a healthy work-life balance, that my staff feels welcome to come to me with ideas or feedback, and that I have reasonable policies for vacation and paid time off.
When building on the environment of your own workspace, there are important questions to consider such as: Do your employees have enough space to complete their work without taking up somebody else’s space? Are you giving your employees proper privacy while ensuring they remain transparent about how they’re using their time on the job? Are you offering spaces where employees can take breaks or discuss work matters with their co-workers? What opportunities do you provide for gathering your employees outside your office space for fun group activities that can increase team morale and help achieve your company’s mission? Are your employees clear on what your company’s mission is?
These are all questions that can aid in developing an easy and peaceful work environment, but by valuing the individuals you have chosen to put on your team and using empathy, common sense, and tact to interact with them, you will inevitably set yourself on the right track. Below are some of the ways I found to ensure my practices were serene, pleasant places for both patients and employees.
Make your workplace a comfortable one
I think everybody at one point in their lives has had the unfortunate experience of entering a doctor’s waiting room to find outdated wallpaper, some soap opera playing on a small television, and harsh fluorescent lights. I am of the opinion that visiting a doctor’s office is a stressful enough experience on its own, so I have made an effort to make my offices as serene and soothing as possible — for my patients’ and employees’ sake.
One of the simplest changes you can make to your workspace is lighting. Inadequate lighting can overwhelm the environment of a quaint and productive space. Lighting plays a vital role in workers’ performance and attitude. Studies have shown that exposure to natural light improves mood, energy and mental health, greatly impacting focus and productivity. I have tried to find locations that offer as much natural light as possible, but where that hasn’t been doable, utilizing light bulbs that have been specifically formulated to emulate daylight can be a great substitute.
Another way to (literally) enliven your office space is the introduction of greenery. Plants have been shown to significantly increase workplace satisfaction in employees, heighten self-reported concentration levels, and even improve how people perceive the air quality. The color green can create feelings of well-being and relaxation which is infinitely important in a waiting room and doctor’s office, and by bringing the outside in, you can even emulate the feeling of being away on an island vacation, feeling relaxed, tranquil, and simply existing.
Even if for some reason natural light and greenery aren’t possible to bring to your workspace, a clean, attractive office can still have tremendous effects on the relationships between co-workers. I’ve made sure to purchase the most comfortable chairs possible for our desks, and I encourage them to make the space in the back their own through decorations and mementos. Although the practices can be small, I also make sure no matter what there is some designated space where employees can go to take a break, grab a snack, and recharge.
Practice open and effective communication
Some years ago in my practice, I made the decision to forego electronic patient records in favor of taking and transcribing notes manually. I had noticed the computer screen was inhibiting me from placing my full attention on my patients, and so I removed the factor, enabling myself to focus entirely on my interactions with them. In doing this, I have also tried to extend the same courtesy to my employees. One of the easiest ways you can create a peaceful environment is to ensure good communication is occurring in both directions — both to and from your employees.
When it comes to myself, I try and be as forthcoming about my expectations as possible to my employees from the get-go. I send out a yearly newsletter providing updates on the state of the practice to both my employees and patients, and over the years I have honed my skills at empathy so that if a staffer is having an issue, they feel comfortable coming to me knowing that I will reserve judgement, as well as expect and encourage the best in them. I am also constantly reminding them of the value they are creating in the work they are doing — we are helping patients with often painful and scary skin disorders by providing them the kindest and most professional care. By giving them specific examples of how their role positively impacts our business, I help them see the individual meaning and purpose they bring.
The transaction goes vice versa, as some of the best changes we’ve made to my business over the years have started with ideas from my nurses. In fact, It was one of my nurses who initially suggested I do away with electronic records when she heard me complaining about them for the umpteenth time. If she hadn’t felt comfortable enough with her position and status within my practice, we may have continued operating in a way I knew wasn’t working for much longer.
Hire great employees (and don’t be afraid to let the bad ones go)
Finally, one of the most important components of a tranquil work environment is having the right people on your team. It is important to make sure all of your employees are professional and team players, even if that means evaluating those who are currently on board and finding someone wanting. It can be like a domino effect — when employees work with toxic people, they are more likely to become toxic themselves, tumbling your business into a toxic work environment.
In the past, I have personally made the mistake of being too lenient on employees who actively pursued interoffice conflict. It can be difficult to navigate, because they were highly competent within the scope of their role, but with experience I’ve learned that there are many people who work well as individuals but are unable to integrate with a team. We work hard as a team, and as a medical practice we cannot get caught up in insignificant squabbles and personal issues without losing focus on prioritizing the patient.
99% of my employees have been stellar, which is one of the reasons they have stuck around so long. We operate symbiotically as physicians and nurses, and it is usually quite clear when there is someone who isn’t meshing. You can watch firsthand one bad attitude negatively affect the mood of the entire staff, hurting the productivity of the office as a whole. Letting an employee go is never easy, but I have learned to consider what is best overall for my team when making staffing choices rather than giving a poorly performing team member the benefit of the doubt to the ultimate detriment of the team as a whole.