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Staffing: How to Reinvigorate a Reeling Workforce
Focus on fixing these common concerns among stressed out staff.
Martin Wright
Publish Date: December 10, 2020   |  Tags:   Staffing
STRAIGHT TALK Healthcare leaders earn the trust of frontline staff by communicating with authenticity, empathy and logic.   |   Megan Nolan

Like most surgical leaders, you're probably eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and start fresh with next year's initiatives and goals. The problem is, so many surgical staffs are still reeling from the pandemic that shows no signs of slowing any time soon. COVID-19 has strained the culture of healthcare facilities nationwide and wreaked havoc on the mental and physical well-being of staffs everywhere. Addressing the following needs among your team will help them remain focused and engaged during what continues to be an incredibly challenging environment in which to work, and will prepare both your facility and staff to more readily address future challenges.

1 A feeling of safety
If at any time during the pandemic your staff felt unsafe due to a real or perceived lack of resources and equipment (N95s, gloves and gowns), you need to earn back their trust. One way: Conduct a "lessons learned" review of how your organization responded during the most trying moments of the pandemic. It's essentially an after-action review of what took place, what went well, what responses you want to retain and, of course, what issues you never want to face again (see "Checking in With Your Staff"). The key is to make the review more of an appreciative inquiry, a process that emphasizes the positives, and avoids harsh blame or judgment aimed at a particular person or policy. Once you understand the details and degree of your staff's most pressing concerns, you can craft policies and protocols to address and alleviate them.

2 Emotional well-being
Any type of behavioral change, even subtle ones, could signal something more serious is affecting your staff. Watch for signs of apathy, irritability and resentment — even cynicism veiled in the form of sarcasm. If you see a member of your staff who used to love coming into the OR suddenly lose their connection to work and appear to simply go through the motions, that's a red flag. When staff become rigid and less open to innovation (but we've always done it this way!), that's a sign of emotional exhaustion or depersonalization. Finally, look for alienation, situations where a formerly social staff member begins isolating themselves. Once you recognize the signs of burnout, take the next step: Provide wellness solutions for your staff. Many facilities have ramped up their mental health offerings and made help more accessible to care providers during the pandemic. You should also work to understand and eliminate the stigmas associated with employee assistance programs and other support solutions.

3 Trust in leadership
Regardless of the type of facility you lead — an HOPD for a giant, multi-state health system or a free-standing, single-specialty ASC — it's imperative to put forth a safety-first message in everything you do during this pandemic. But what happens when your staff loses trust in the decision-making and honesty of its leadership? You build and maintain your staff's trust by focusing on these three elements:

  • Authenticity. Be a visible leader by rounding regularly through all areas of your facility. Ask staff members how they're doing with clear, jargon-free communications and make sure you're actively listening to their needs. Not only does this help build trust, but it improves your situational awareness at the frontline of care. Be transparent about your facility's current metrics, issues and plans for the future.
  • Empathy. Provide convenience services for staff (food at work, grocery delivery, etc.); address hardships (enable sharing of PTO for furloughed staff); and promote resilience with initiatives such as oasis rooms, mental health support programs, drop-in counseling and town halls addressing stress.
  • Logic. Provide visible evidence of the safety practices you have in place to protect staff. Remove barriers to process improvements and conduct pulse surveys to assess needs and supports for all staff members.

Each of these elements can be applied to healthcare leadership to build trust among their staff. Consider applying them in your facility to help your staff through these difficult times. OSM

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