Among the many emotional moments captured during the COVID-19 crisis, the outpouring of support for health care professionals from the public, the media and major companies has been among the most moving. While there have been few positives to come out of this tragic time, the fact that dedicated health care professionals are being lauded and embraced by their communities is certainly one of them. Much like the lingering “glow” for police, firefighters and other first responders following 9/11, the love for health care workers hopefully will endure long after we finally get to the other side of the pandemic.
While support from the outside is heartwarming, experience tells us staff members will find the gratitude and support expressed from inside the organization even more important – and it will have a lasting impact on workplace culture long after the current crisis has passed. Now is the time for health care leaders to be at their best in the eyes of their teams.
Understandably, leaders are focused on complicated issues such as PPE availability, bed and ventilator capacity, staffing and adapting HR policies to these challenging circumstances. But adding visibility and the expression of gratitude should also be near the top of a leader’s priority list.
This is a time that can have a positive impact on nurturing the strong, supportive, high-performance culture all organizations desire – or it can leave scars that staff will remember for years to come. Following are several ideas leadership teams should consider when evaluating strategies to make staff feel most appreciated in this moment.
Written communication is not enough
Virtually all organizations I’ve talked with over the past few weeks are sending written updates to staff, often on a daily basis. These updates usually end with a general thank you to the team for their extraordinary efforts. While these updates certainly serve an important purpose, they are not enough. Frontline staff we talk with see these written updates from senior leadership as standard protocol and recognize that they are usually authored by the public relations team.
Staff need to see you more than you think
Smart organizations understand the power of leadership rounding – especially when it is done consistently and in the right spirit. (Several of our past articles/posts have focused on how to make leadership rounding more powerful.) Now is not the time to cut back on leadership visibility. To the contrary, more personal connections with staff will help them – and leaders – during this troubling time.
Many years ago, while serving as CEO of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, a staff member offered a compliment that I’m not even sure she considered a compliment. I was rounding in our high-stress, 92-bed NICU one day, and a group of nurses assured me that they didn’t have any questions after I probed for issues or concerns. I started to walk away when one of the nurses said, “But, Mr. Stamp, I just want you to know that it makes me feel good and important when you come by to check on us.” That simple statement made me realize over 20 years ago just how powerful leadership rounding can be.
We must have each other’s backs
During this crisis, staff who are caring for COVID-19 patients are putting their own health and lives on the line every day. Of course it doesn’t make sense for senior leaders to provide direct patient care. But, suiting up in protective gear to hear directly from ICU staff what it is like to provide care for COVID-19 patients will send a huge message that “we’re all in this together.”
How leadership teams connect with staff during this challenging time will have an enormous impact on the culture of the organization for years to come. Helping staff know just how much they are appreciated will build trust and commitment that might be impossible to develop in the same way during normal times.