The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated many of the things the healthcare industry does well: healthcare providers are dedicated to their patients and jobs, and they’re willing to do whatever is necessary to help others.
Unfortunately, it’s also shed light on areas that need improvement. Burnout has been an ongoing issue in medicine for years, and the pandemic has only exacerbated it, with many healthcare providers working around the clock to take care of COVID-19 patients. Then there are those providers who have been furloughed, laid off, or had their hours cut due to low patient confidence for other medical services.
My company’s parent, CHG Healthcare, recently brought together a group of experts in the physician wellness space to discuss how healthcare facilities can improve employee engagement and wellness. Three key points include communicating, showing understanding, and building trust.
Communication Is Key
The one thing that every single panelist touched on was the need for good and constant communication. It often doesn’t matter how bad things are, if you at least tell people what’s going on, they’ll be more engaged. Another benefit of sharing difficult news is that it gives your employees the opportunity to suggest ways to fix things you may not have realized.
Karl Whitemarsh, a researcher for the Advisory Board, shared this advice:
“Don’t sugarcoat the challenge ahead. If you do that, you’re going to alarm staff members that perceive, ‘oh my goodness, my leader doesn’t appreciate the severity of the situation right now.’ And then plan for your worst-case scenarios so that you don’t go back on even one commitment, such as keeping people whole in this moment. If you’re going to make that commitment, you better be sure that you’ve done your due diligence about what potential worst-case scenarios look like.”
Rita Manfredi, associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, shared some ideas about what leaders can do right now:
“Talking sessions, having town halls, focus groups – those are all really, really, good, but it’s got to go beyond that, where teams and individuals can come together, and they’ve got to process their experience. And then we’ve got to learn how to go forward from there.”
Understand What Your People Are Going Through
You can’t understand what is going on with your people if you don’t experience it yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to do their jobs, but you should understand what they deal with by spending time with them and trying to experience what they’re experiencing.
“I think leaders should understand what’s happening on the frontline. I would like them all to imagine taking a straw and putting it in their mouth and then breathing through that,” Manfredi said. “That’s how we breathe every day with our N95s on, our mask over that, we don’t get to wear pretty clothes. Then we have layers and layers of stuff on. So, I think it’s really important for leaders to understand that it’s just not the inconvenience of a simple surgical mask. Most of us in the emergency department or somewhere where we’re interfacing with COVID-19 patients every day have permanent bumps on our nose.”
Understanding experiences like Manfredi’s helps you identify ways you can help. There may not be anything you can do about necessary PPE, but there may be ways that you can ease your employees’ burdens in other ways.
For example, Ochsner Health in Louisiana set up decompression spaces throughout their facilities. These are places dedicated specifically for employees where they can step out of the chaos of their daily jobs and simply sit in a quiet place. They also made walk-in therapy and wellness resources available to all their employees, so they could talk to someone when it was convenient for them.
Trust Builds Engagement
Trust is built by listening and then acting on what you hear. At Weatherby, we foster trust by scheduling regular one-on-ones with all our employees. That time is dedicated to them and there’s no agenda, it’s whatever they may want to bring up with their leader. It can be related to a work project or sharing something else going on in their lives. When issues do arise, they’re more willing to bring them up and help find solutions.
Dike Drummond, founder of TheHappyMD.com, says trust is built over time. “Trust is based on touches. You’ve got to get to five to one positive to negative touches with each of your frontline providers from their physician leaders,” he recommends. “Because if at your organization, the average leader walks in the room and the doctors go, ‘Oh, man, what did I do now?’ because that’s the only time that leader comes to see them – you cannot build a wellness culture based on that kind of lack of trust.”
Whether you already have a highly engaged workforce or one that could use some work, today is the time to look for ways to improve. Start by listening, then take actions that will help you build trust and empathy.
Luke Woodyard is president of Weatherby Healthcare, part of the CHG Healthcare family of companies. He has spent more than 17 years in healthcare staffing including permanent placement, travel nursing, home health, and locum tenens.
Last Updated March 26, 2021