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Strategies for Nurturing Workforce Resilience in Crisis

Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from the Frontiers of Health Services Management article, “Moving Forward to Nurture Workforce Resilience in Crisis,” by Katie M. Owens, CEO, Healthcare Experience Foundation, Pensacola, Fla. The content has been edited down for length. Read the full article here.

Prep Your Workforce

In healthcare, we train for emergencies. We practice drills, tasks and incident command system protocols; we secure supplies and coordinate responses with community agencies. However, we have not adequately prepared our workforce for COVID-19. We have undervalued the practices, training and repetition required to handle workforce anxiety, coping and burnout, as well as the pace that is necessary to innovate. To move forward, we must seed great teams that build on their strengths and recognize their vulnerabilities.

Increase Visibility

Senior leadership must face the task of restoring any trust lost during the pandemic. To that end, amplify your visibility across shifts to reestablish team unity. Create aligned messaging and demonstrate an interest in learning about and connecting personally with employees. Prepare to hear the good messages as well as the tough ones. Tough messages are powerful because they let you know that employees feel safe speaking up. Blind spots exist at all levels in the organization. Seek them out.

Cultivate Effective Managers

Management, particularly clinical management, must be developed to maintain staff engagement, identify early warning signs and symptoms of problems, and convey communication that reflects the senior leadership team’s intent—all especially vital skills during a crisis. These skills must be practiced continuously, because trust is hard to build in the throes of a crisis.

Mitigate Conflict

Any honest assessment will reveal hidden conflicts or fears. Seeking to understand, acknowledging other perspectives as legitimate and building shared expectations are essential at all levels of an organization. Social distancing and PPE complicate interactions, so it is necessary to work more diligently to demonstrate tone and intent.

Establish Non-negotiables

Incivility jeopardizes culture as well as employee and patient safety. Healthy teams share five common attributes: psychological safety, trust, respect, confidence and communication. If these attributes have been compromised during the pandemic, identify the behaviors that demonstrate excellence and those that jeopardize teamwork.

Define Success

Crises open the window for powerful moments of change. Acknowledge your starting point, be intentional about the goals and aspirations for the organization, and be transparent with expectations moving forward.

Review What Works, and Why

At every healthcare organization, there are success stories of innovation and speed in decision-making during the pandemic. Be intentional in documenting and deconstructing the rapid pace of progress. It’s common right now to hear people say, “We did X, which normally would have taken us years.” Or, “We were able to get a decision on Y, which normally would have gotten stuck in our bureaucracy.” The ability to refer back to and replicate such successes can be helpful when similar challenges are faced in the future.

Recommit to Hiring the Right People

When making future staffing decisions, consider the profiles of those who fully showed up during the pandemic with a generous spirit, went above and beyond, and demonstrated compassion with patients and team members. Make certain that those you hire next continue to lift up and restore your entire team.

Final Takeaways

After any storm passes, we can choose the lens through which we see our surroundings. Do we focus on the physical destruction where cracks gave out under the pressure and force of the storm? Or do we choose instead to see the strength of what remains—the structures that did not bend or sway but instead held steadfast in unsettling times?

Millions of healthcare workers in the United States have a tough road ahead. Leaders face the daunting task of steering the journey while caring for the care providers. The way to start is by showing gratitude.

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