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Up Front | May 2017

Chief Medical Editor’s Page

We all know that being in good physical and mental health is of utmost importance to ensure that we perform at our best on a daily basis. Also growing in recognition today is the importance of the individual well-being of our coworkers.

The term well-being—the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy—covers several aspects of the way people feel about their lives, including their own characters and their relationships with the people around them. Therefore, in addition to one’s home and social lives, one’s career is a vital part of well-being.

Recent research shows that employers can influence their employees’ sense of well-being by the way they run the workplace. A study conducted at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace, including mindfulness exercises, gentle stretching, yoga, meditation, and music, dramatically reduced the stress levels of employees working in highly stressful occupations. As part of the study, researchers measured psychological and biologic markers of stress 1 week before and 1 week after an 8-week mindfulness-based intervention program to see whether the coping strategies promoted by the program helped reduce stress and burnout. By the end of the study, participants’ levels of salivary alpha-amylase—an index of sympathetic activation of the nervous system, also known as the fight or flight response—had significantly decreased.1

Stress in the work environment can be difficult to control. It can negatively affect an employee’s health and his or her ability to function in a number of ways. It can produce symptoms of irritability, nervousness, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. It can also affect an employee’s ability to concentrate and remember things properly, and it can generate changes in appetite, sleep, heart rate, and blood pressure.

In ophthalmic practice, we rely heavily on our employees to be friendly with patients and always treat them with a smile. Aside from the basic technical skills required of them, they need to possess the attitudes and character traits that are essential in a fast-paced service industry that can often become highly stressful. When things start to get hectic, it is important for personnel to express genuine compassion for patients and a willingness to help in any possible way. We must also remember to provide them with the tools they need to reduce their stress levels and encourage a healthy balance of work and life.

I recently realized that I must do more for my employees than offer good health insurance, paid time off, and the occasional in-office yoga class. In order to support the idea of mindfulness in the workplace, I decided to take a hard look at the culture of my company, investing substantial time and effort into creating a dynamic and sustainable work environment that people wholly want to be part of.

As executives of our own practices, we must build healthy and happy environments to work in, and we must uphold an underlying belief system that reflects all aspects of well-being. I encourage each of our readers, take a closer look at your own working environment and ask the question: Does it promote healthy well-being for my employees and coworkers?

1. Duchemin AM, Steinberg BA, Marks DR, Vanover K, Klatt M. A small randomized pilot study of a workplace mindfulness-based intervention for surgical intensive care unit personnel: effects on salivary α-amylase levels. J Occup Env Med. 2015;57(4):393-399.

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