hen hospital executive Jim Casanova gets stressed, he likes to think about a little refrigerator magnet he received as a gift a few years ago.
The top of the tchotchke is imprinted with the phrase, Control what you can, while the rest of the magnet is a mirror reflecting the viewers face.
Its a little corny, but I think its a good lesson. You cant control things, but you can try to control your reactions, said Casanova, who is chief executive officer of 195-bed Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee. Its not that we shouldnt try to solve problems. But you can control yourself and your approach to things and your plans and attitude. Not always, not easily, but you can.
Stress control is becoming an important issue in healthcare provider C-suites, experts say, as the tough months that ended 2008 give way to gloomy prospects for at least the first half of 2009, if not beyond.As a healthcare executive, how are you reducing work-life stress? Take our pollSuch times demand good leadership. CEOs and their executive teams could face some of their thinnest balance sheets and most challenging decisions in recent memory as they contend with issues of financial performance, market share, customer satisfaction, and difficulties in the credit and securities markets, said Jim Gauss, president and CEO of Witt/Kieffer.
We are clearly operating in a time of diminishing resources, Gauss said. Executives are going to have to be smarter, faster, more thoughtful than they were before.
It might be easy for an executive to downplay his or her own stress level when down the hall patients lay in operating rooms and emergency rooms with their life or death hanging in the balance.
But theres good reason for executives to resist that kind of thinking and take care of themselves. Thomas Dolan, president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives, said researchers have ample evidence linking prolonged stress to a host of negative physical and mental side effects.
Its hard to feel bad for people who are making six-figure salaries, Dolan said. But its important that they deal with stress effectively, because their stress can affect the whole organization. Its well-documented that stress affects your focus and decisionmaking.
One of the most direct ways to alleviate stress is to fix the problems causing it.
And despite the dour financial picture at many organizations, several observers said a bad economy can create opportunities for organizations that are prepared to act, from staff training to joint operating agreements to renegotiated deals with suppliers, physicians and banks.
But sometimes thats not enough. Obviously we can do very little about changing the stress itself, the economic problems, etc. What people can do is protect themselves from the effects of it, said Herbert Benson, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, Boston.
In addition to the basics like getting exercise, eating right and doing relaxation exercises, executives turn to stress-relief strategies like building strong teams to share the load, focusing on the benevolence of a hospitals mission and striking a realistic balance between home and work life.
Above all, leaders look to project the sense of calmness and confidence that they want to see in their workers. When stress levels are at their peak, executives have to perform at their highest level.
Thats part of the job. Suck it upthats the job you have, said Beth Krehbiel, president and CEO of 149-bed Fairview Ridges Hospital, Burnsville, Minn. Theres enough stress without the leader being in a frenzy and worried.
Lee Huntley is facing stress, but so is his whole management team.
Huntley, president and CEO of 309-bed Leesburg (Fla.) Regional Medical Center, said his teams stress derives not from individual challenges so much as the act of adapting to shifting circumstances in order to stay financially solvent.
Change, just the sheer rate of change, creates stress for the team, Huntley said.
It was a topic much on Huntleys mind in late December, as he and his senior staff attended an all-day planning retreat and came to terms with the challenges facing the healthcare industry.
Though the scale and rate of the changes is steep, Huntley said his team is less likely to fragment when everyone works together and shares the strain, which takes the pressure off him personally.
Huntley said hes a great believer in the power of attitude and positive thinking, and he was not afraid to use a phrase like Taking us to the next level of team to describe his staff-building efforts.
This is really serious work, and this is a great time for us as a senior team to really pull together. Not just for growth, but to show support, Huntley said. I dont mean to get all mushy. But its important that we care for each other.
Dolan said employee cohesiveness is especially important at times when workers are looking to their leaders for even the smallest clues about an organizations performancesituations that can often lead to miscues and inaccurate conclusions.
But reaching out to co-workerseven sociallytends to become harder as office tension rises, even though its also more important at those times.
In times of stress I know I become insular, Dolan said. I get strength from interacting with my staff and friends. I think its a time to reconnect.