This is health care professionals’ finest hour. It can be leadership’s finest hour, too.

Among many emotional moments during the pandemic, the public’s outpouring of support for health care professionals has been among the most moving. Few positives have come out of this tragic time, but dedicated health care professionals being lauded by their communities is certainly one of them. Unfortunately, the public’s appreciation for healthcare workers may be short-lived. Smart leadership teams are focused on effective employee engagement ideas to sustain their teams during this trying time.

While support from the outside is heartwarming, experience tells us that gratitude and support expressed from inside is more important. Smart leaders are looking for employee engagement ideas that will have a lasting impact on workplace culture 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, especially as the threat of burnout increases.

Understandably, leaders are focusing on complicated issues such as PPE, bed capacity, staffing, and adapting HR policies. But visibility and expressions of gratitude should also be near the top of a leader’s priority list as key employee engagement ideas.

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 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. But frontline staff we talk with see these written updates from senior leadership as standard protocol. They recognize that a member of the public relations team has authored them.

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.

When I was CEO of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, a staff member gave me a compliment that I’m not even sure she considered a compliment. While I was rounding in our high-stress NICU one day, a group of nurses assured me they didn’t have any questions or issues. I started to walk away when one of the nurses said, “But I just want you to know that it makes us feel good 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 caring for COVID-19 patients are putting their own health and lives on the line. Of course, it usually doesn’t make sense for senior leaders to provide direct patient care. But, suiting up in PPE to hear directly from staff sends a huge message that “we’re all in this together.”

How leadership teams connect with staff now will have an enormous impact on workplace culture for years to come. Expressing sincere appreciation will build trust that might be impossible to develop in the same way during normal times.

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