Misericordia’s peer coaching proving to be powerful

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Have you ever left for work in a bad mood because of an argument with your spouse or kids? Did your neighbour do something that made your blood boil? Has a comment a co-worker made in jest offended you? Leaving problems at the door before starting work is ideal in theory but practicing it can be challenging. That’s where Misericordia Health Centre’s new Peer Coach Program for staff comes in.

Staff can approach trained peer coaches for insight, advice or direction to address concerns before they become bigger issues.

“It’s easier to fix things informally through difficult conversations before they become a problem,” says Sharon Stanley, Misericordia’s director of human resources. “It’s meant to strengthen our working relationships and give us a better understanding of everyone else, whatever background they’re coming from.”

Having a multi-cultural workplace means having a mix of customs and guidelines for interpersonal relationships. Some Aboriginal people, for example, prefer not to make eye contact as they believe it is disrespectful. Or people for whom English is an additional language may not understand phrases common to Canadian culture.

The misunderstanding is where conflict may occur in the workplace. Awareness, honest communication and proactively talking about a concern sooner rather than later is preferable. Keeping discussions informal is a key element for the initiative, which is sponsored by the Winnipeg Health Region. Staff is encouraged to connect with a peer coach to talk about minor personal or professional concerns.

Similar to chatting with a friend – instead of a manager, human resources consultant or union leader – a peer coach can suggest ways to diffuse a frustrating situation before it escalates into something bigger.

Three registered nurses and a CT technologist recently completed a six-day training program focusing on interpersonal conflict resolution, coaching for conflict and conflicting culture. Soon, health-care aides and housekeeping staff will also participate in training, rounding out a comprehensive group of peer coaches to support Misericordia staff.

A common element among the peer coaches is their natural leadership abilities. Building upon what works and empowering staff with the resources to further share their leadership tendencies is a win-win situation. “We’ve always had those strong natural leaders here so we’ve had peace and harmony, but now we’ve given them tools and the encouragement to go forward,” says Stanley.

Once trained, peer coaches are responsible for being available to respond to staff inquiries. To support this, Misericordia Health Centre has created office space for peer coaches to meet with staff. Karen Chojno, a charge nurse in Urgent Care, found the training enjoyable and helpful in relating to her kids and people she meets on a casual basis. “It’s about taking a moment instead of reacting and considering why someone is doing something,” she says. So far, she’s worked with people on issues of varying complexity. “It’s something they want to do. They’re looking for problem resolution,” says Chojno.

Peer coaches provide options and direction, have staff consider “what if’s” and role play tough conversations they may have to have with supervisors. Posters and brochures promoting the Peer Coach Program are available throughout Misericordia and new staff is informed about this resource in orientation. Awareness about the program is growing. “It’s new, so people don’t know the true benefits of it,” says Chojno.

Human resources staff field inquiries and put people in touch with peer coaches. From that point on, what is discussed is confidential and remains between the staff member and peer coach. Program results – like improved morale – are having a positive impact on staff.

“This is driven by heart and spirit. We really care about the dignity of the human being. I truly believe peer coaches are going to make a difference to individuals,” says Stanley. “Peer coaching will translate into fewer labour issues and better retention.”

Misericordia Health Centre provides an array of specialized programs including our Eye Care Centre of Excellence, long-term and interim care, urgent care, ambulatory clinics, sleep disorder centre, diagnostic imaging, laboratory services and pediatric dental surgery. Misericordia also operates the internationally recognized Provincial Health Contact Centre, including Health Links-Info Santé. For more information, please visit www.misericordia.mb.ca.