Pandemic Impact on Healthcare Staff and Management Relationships

Understanding negative & positive consequences

Hospitals around the world are certainly used to the complexities associated with caring for the sick and injured, making sure quality and safety systems are effective, appropriate allocation of human, equipment and supply resources and operating so that finances are stable. This typical balancing act can be a challenge in the best of times.

The 2020 pandemic hit the healthcare industry with unimaginable new levels of complexity and it’s important for healthcare leaders to consider the impact on the relationship between staff members and management teams.

Depending upon the individual organization, there are sure to be some positive effects from how the pandemic response was led but there are surely negative effects on morale that should not be ignored.

An article published by the International Hospital Foundation identified four key factors to keep staff engaged and satisfied during this stressful time:  Protection and Support for Well-being, Education and Training, Communication and Guidance & Personal Encouragement.

The 2020 pandemic hit the healthcare industry [...] and it’s important for healthcare leaders to consider the impact on the relationship between staff members and management teams. 

Of course every healthcare organization has its own culture, priorities and history, but here we review a list of likely issues that should be considered as providers prepare to continue to adjust to pandemic pressures and plan for a post-pandemic world. 

Negative Impact Issues

Loss of Control

As management teams attempted to respond to pandemic demand and risks often in a hurried fashion, it is common that some decisions were made without staff input and some of these decisions were not well received by staff.

Decisions on who works at home and who doesn’t, who gets more Personal Protection Equipment, whether staff can continue to work in their role or be reassigned to a similar or different role were areas where staff members could easily feel that their control over their work was taken away. No matter what the reasons were for any of these types of decisions, without time and interest in gathering fresh staff insights, the risk for resentment and disengagement is real.   

Personal Safety Concerns

There is no avoiding the fear associated with staff having potential exposure to a highly contagious virus.  Organizations that didn’t communicate and demonstrate that staff safety was top priority will certainly face a dissatisfied workforce.

In addition to the obvious PPE needs, if leaders forgot to attend to issues such as staff member burnout, insomnia, dehydration, visitor violence, refreshed training and other similar stressors, staff can easily feel unvalued, unimportant and resentful. Even if a healthcare provider tended to extensive staff safety and personal protection issues, if repeated, respectful and clear communications strategies were not in place, staff may never have received the message. 

Hypocrisy

Although there may have been good reasons for some rules to apply differently to different groups, the perception of pandemic response policies being required for some groups and not for others can easily break trust between the staff and managers. 

When executives are permitted to work from the safety of their homes while the frontline faces everyday strains and risk to their personal health and wellbeing, disengagement will grow over time.  As work site decisions are made, it’s important to weigh the impressions that will be made alongside the practicality of each decision. 

When staff feel their leaders are by their sides, truly understanding and able to empathize with their concerns, trust can be maintained.

Positive Impact Opportunities

One Team Syndrome

When any group faces a crisis together, the shared experiences can strengthen long term bonds. The pandemic has certainly tested the strength and commitment of everyone in the healthcare industry and when staff and leaders face these types of pressures as one supportive team, the lasting impact can be very positive.

Ways to promote this positive impact during a terrible crisis is that leaders stay visible and available to staff throughout the crisis. That staff who are worried or struggling know they can easily reach out for help and won’t be ridiculed for doing so.  Staff seeing leaders assisting “in the trenches” from time to time sends a strong message that everyone in the organization is part of one awesome team.

If the seeds of a strong unified team are planted during the pandemic, there will surely be great benefits to the culture and future performance of the organization. 

Unveiling New Star Performers

In almost any grand crisis, people rise to the occasion and impress their co-workers with their previously unknown talents, their commitment, dependability or rigor.

During the pandemic leaders should be on the look-out for staff members who went above and beyond to make a difference for patients or for the greater good of the organization. The complexities of the pandemic lead to many situations where a single individual could make a tremendous difference for the greater good.

Although there are many tasks to be done, leaders should make a deliberate effort to take note of Star contributors during this stressful time to recognize them during or after the crisis.  These people should be identified as high-potential contributors for future leadership roles. Leaders should also set aside time to show appreciation in big and small ways to all those who stood out as star performers during this unprecedented emergency. 

Diane S. Hopkins

Diane S. Hopkins

Senior Leader Healthcare Practice for Extens Consulting

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