Elevating employee wellbeing in healthcare − insights from WHC 2023 Plenary Session 2

Date:  21 December 2023

Elevating employee wellbeing in healthcare − insights from WHC 2023 Plenary Session 2

The challenges of healthcare professionals have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic and it is urgent to address employees’ wellbeing. On 26 October 2023, Plenary Session 2 of the IHF’s 46th World Hospital Congress shone a spotlight on this crucial aspect. Here’s a reflective exploration of the key takeaways from the session.

Prioritizing employee wellbeing

The session opened with a powerful message on the importance of prioritizing employee wellbeing, especially post-COVID-19. Dr Preetha Reddy emphasized that wellbeing should be embedded into every organization’s strategy. She described her father’s belief that people are the heart of healthcare, before technology and money.

“It’s the people who make a difference. It’s the people who count, and it’s for the people that you do what you have to do.”

Dr Preetha Reddy
Executive Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Limited (India)

Building a culture of wellbeing

Beyond legal obligations, employees value being looked after by their employers. It is important to build systems where work−life balance is a priority and where employers propose benefits to support their employees’ physical and mental health.

“If you have happy employees, you’re going to have happy clients and healthy patients.”

Dr Graccho Alvim Neto
Director, Association of Hospitals of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Psychological safety

Creating a psychologically safe workplace where staff can communicate freely, share ideas and also report issues without fear of retribution is key. Fostering a non-punitive approach in healthcare is necessary so that leaders can take informed decisions based on the full picture.

“What brings me joy is the possibility of working with human beings who care and who are in the ethos of serving.”

Mr Pedro Delgado
Vice President, Institute for Healthcare Improvement (USA)

Empathy for effective communication

It is important to “put people first”. Empathy is a powerful tool for effective healthcare management and it relies on five principles: ask rather than tell, listen to understand rather than to respond, listen to every voice, prioritize problem-framing over problem-solving, and accept when you do not know. There is value in asking employees directly what matters to them and understanding their challenges. Be curious!

Compassionate leadership and employee empowerment

The concept of compassionate leadership recognises that every role in a hospital contributes to patient safety and wellbeing. When employees are engaged in the decision-making process, their commitment and job satisfaction rise significantly. It is essential for the quality and safety of patient care that employees feel heard and valued.

“If we want to create cultures of high-quality compassionate care, then we need leaders who embody the value of compassion.”

Mrs Raquel Chantre
Board Member, APAH, and Executive Board Advisor, Central Lisbon University Hospital Center (Portugal)

Balancing technology and human touch

While technological innovations and digitization greatly support healthcare, we need to remember that healthcare is mainly about people. The human touch should always be at the heart of every interaction: between employees and with patients.

“The management team is here and feels responsible for [the employees] and for their family’s stability, which is a major issue in our activities.”

Dr Henry Gallardo
Treasurer, IHF and Director General, Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá (Colombia)


The panellists in Plenary 2 presented several examples of actions to elevate employee wellbeing in healthcare. Healthcare leaders have a role to play in rethinking management strategies, promoting empathy and embracing innovative initiatives for the wellbeing of their staff. These insights from global leaders can serve as a roadmap for creating a more resilient, effective and compassionate healthcare environment.

If you attended the World Hospital Congress in Lisbon, you can listen to the recording of this session by logging in to your WHC mobile app account here until the end of February 2024.

Written by:

Katherine Bennett

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