Thanks to the pandemic, 2020 felt like a repeat of the same hard day over and over, not unlike the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” starring comedian Bill Murray (or for science-fiction fans, the futuristic “Edge of Tomorrow,” featuring Tom Cruise).
With vaccines being administered and a new year in progress, the pandemic's end may be on the horizon, but that doesn't change the fact your hospital workforce is tired.
Many have been isolated from families or coworkers, working remotely, enduring long shifts with little sleep. Add to that financial pressures and fear for their family's safety—not to mention seeing more death and disease than anyone should have to bear in ten lifetimes. All of this put together has left the frontline healthcare workforce mentally, physically, and emotionally drained.
In the wake of this, you don't want to lose providers to physician burnout (or any of your clinical staff to burnout for that matter) or fail to show your continued care and appreciation.
This post will help. It gives you ten practical tips your hospital leadership can use to get your workforce out of the pandemic-produced 2020 rut and reinspired for the year ahead.
1. Help Your Workforce Rediscover Their 'Why'
We have talked before about the importance of helping providers and clinical staff understand their "why"—why they started practicing medicine in the first place and the purpose that keeps them going—but it's a topic that bears repeating, especially now.
As we said in a previous post, difficult experiences don't need to crush doctors, but it often takes hard work and strong support to help them re-center and refocus on their purpose.
Simon Sinek, author of the best-seller "Start with Why" and the follow-up practical guide, "Find Your Why," offers a course on this topic, which you may want to introduce to your staff (and even set aside budget to pay for it).
Regardless, to get reinspired for 2021, it's not a bad idea to start with helping your staff rediscover their "why."
2. Support Work-life Balance and Boundary-setting
The term "work-life balance" is used so much it's become almost trite—a cliché or aspirational catchphrase. However, there is nothing more important to your providers and staff's wellbeing than helping them establish a healthy work-life balance and set non-negotiable boundaries.
Respect the fact that work-life balance means different things to different people, so let physicians and staff decide for themselves what's best. You can, however, put physician support systems in place to encourage it. Also, consider appointing a "wellness leader," someone in charge of wellness resources for your staff who serves as the point of contact for questions about hospital-provided services.
SCP created a downloadable one-page guide (PDF) that contains essential information to help hospital administrators promote healthy work-life balance.
3. Change How You Schedule Staff
Hospital staffing issues have heightened in the COVID-19 era, which means scheduling needs to take on a greater degree of importance among hospital management.
Adjust staff schedules whenever possible, from high-stress to lower-stress, especially for those directly impacted by the virus. Also, don't flip-flop doctors from day to night and back to day shift in short order. Combine as many of the same shifts as possible and make sure there is a suitable break in-between. Doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff need time to rest and readjust their body clock before changing.
4. Keep Communication Lines Open
Discuss challenges the pandemic has caused, including those faced by clinicians experiencing trauma, whether emotionally, physically, spiritually, or mentally. Also, check-in with staff regularly to listen to their concerns and talk about ways to improve practice management and the practice environment.
Leadership should not only make communication frequent but also open and sincere. Hospital staff are taking note of how employers handle important topics and expect them to act quickly and intentionally.
5. Recognize the 5 Disaster Fatigue & Recovery Phases
In a recent post, Dr. Stephen Nichols, SCP Health's chief clinical technology officer, outlined five phases of disaster fatigue and recovery:
- Threat (perceived or not, with or without warning)
He advised administrators and clinicians to recognize the phases and understand where each person is in the process. He also pointed out the need for everyone to take care of themselves first before taking care of others.
"Know thyself, be honest with yourself, and identify what you can do for yourself," he said, encouraging each person to check their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and focus on fixing any problems that surface.
6. Build Individual and Organizational Resilience
The key to survival in times of crisis can be summarized in one word: resilience. Not only should leaders find ways to build resilience into their staff but the organization as well.
AMA has a checklist for how to build a resilient healthcare organization that is worth reviewing. It lists 17 steps organizations can take to effectively care for healthcare workers during times of crisis.
7. Show Your Trust & Appreciation
One surefire way to motivate workforce engagement is by overtly demonstrating your faith in their abilities. You may not deem that a necessity considering these are trained, experienced, expert medical professionals, but everyone benefits when a culture of trust, explicitly expressed, becomes endemic within the organization.
One means of demonstrating trust is by showing appreciation. The two go hand-in-hand.
According to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workforce study, 67 percent of employees feel more engaged when they feel valued and supported by leadership.
Even small signs of appreciation can go a long way toward inspiring staff members, moving them from a pandemic-induced monotonous rut to greater levels of engagement.
8. Reward Staff in Tangible Ways
Remember the Cracker Jack popcorn box that said, "Free Prize?” Or the children's cereal boxes that contained a toy of some kind? As kids, we dug through the box just to find it, then enjoyed the popcorn or cereal afterward.
Those examples are akin to the Creole-inspired concept of "lagniappe," giving "a little something extra" as a bonus or reward.
Rewarding your staff for their resilience in the face of adversity boosts morale, workforce engagement, and productivity. In fact, employee engagement, productivity, and performance are 14 percent higher than in organizations without recognition, Deloitte says.
Thanks to the pandemic, we already refer to our staff as heroes, so why not show it with something tangible.
These last two tips come courtesy of Healthcare Dive, a healthcare industry news website. We thought they were a good way to round out the list.
9. Broadcast Inspiring Messages
If your Clinical Communication and Collaboration (CC&C) platform has one-to-many broadcast capabilities, send inspiring, motivational, and encouraging messages at the start or end of every shift. "Reading an inspiring quote as you clock in can uplift and motivate your team," Healthcare Dive says.
Don't limit the communication to quotes, either. Letting them know about the number of discharged COVID-19 patients is a source of inspiration itself.
10. Make Counseling Readily Available
Making counseling and therapy more readily available is one way to ensure your staff knows you have their back.
If possible, have counselors on staff who are available to meet with employees, and list the phone number for the hospital's health benefits center. They may be able to offer additional resources.
For more on the topic of recovery and resilience, review these resources:
- How Hospital Executives Can Cultivate Resilient Clinical Leaders in Tough Times
- Looking Forward to a New Year
- Defining and Dealing with Disaster Fatigue