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Management: A Guide to Supporting Front-Line Staff During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Artistic illustration of a healthcare team
MONICA ROA SZWARCBERG/123RF.com

While the media (both standard and social) is buzzing with shows of love and support for front-line healthcare workers, management seems to quickly be making its way into the enemy zone. A major lack of proper PPE, constantly changing policies in order to conserve, wild changes in scheduling, and fear and panic over a virus that we don’t quite understand has everyone on edge and looking to superiors for answers. Sadly, the longer the pandemic drags on, the larger the divide between staff and management grows. Without intervention, the gap will likely cause massive staffing exodus and shortages in the coming months/years. Some have already walked away. But management still has time to turn things around and boost morale. While a few of these suggestions may be difficult to hear, they are incredibly important during this difficult time and can make a vast difference in the milieu of each organization. 

 

  1. BE HONEST. This is, without a doubt, the number-one thing that management can do to gain respect. Regardless of what upper management, the legal department, or other staff says, be honest and straightforward. Healthcare staff don’t live with blinders on. They see the reality of the situation. Honesty breeds an atmosphere of respect and teamwork, but scripted responses to questions, vague statements, or skirting the issue makes workers feel as if their organization is hiding things from them. 
  2. NOTIFY OF EXPOSURES. Always notify staff if/when they are exposed to Covid-19. While HIPAA may protect names of those who test positive, staff need to be told when the virus has hit their building, unit, or co-workers. Throw away concerns about causing panic because they WILL find out eventually. Having to hear through the grapevine of their exposure leads to fears over why the information was hidden and a feeling that management does not care for the safety and well-being of frontline workers. If HIPAA compliance is a concern, be willing to ask the person(s) testing positive if they would like to share with the staff. Many are willing to share information if it means that others can benefit. Side note: Please don’t tell staff that management is “testing” them for CV-19 daily by taking temps AM/PM. They need to know ASAP if they have been exposed and waiting for symptoms to arise is not an effective means of controlling spread. 
  3. DON’T INSULT THE INTELLIGENCE OF YOUR STAFF. Healthcare staff are educated. They are trained by accredited schools. They went through their facility’s courses. Rest assured, they haven’t forgotten their infection control training, and in spite of the ‘recommendations’ that have come out, they understand that the virus can be airborne, that surgical masks cannot protect from an airborne disease, that in order for an N-95 respirator to work properly, it must be fit tested, that cloth masks do not protect from disease (in fact, can do more harm than good when worn for extended periods), that there is no way to keep a mask sterile or clean when shoving it in an envelope, and that sterilizing disposable PPE probably is not effective. So, when these recommendations arrive from above, do not insult the intelligence of staff by trying to convince them that they are best practice. They know that they aren’t. THEY. KNOW. Real comradery with staff happens when management is straightforward with them. Let them know where the recommendation is coming from. Be understanding of their reservations when giving directives that are not evidence-based but are motivated by the shortage. While company policy still has to be followed, a mutual understanding that everyone is working under less-than-ideal conditions makes management a respected part of the staffing team.
  4. TRUST YOUR STAFF. Prior to Covid-19, staff was trusted to use critical thinking and judgement when it came to many aspects of patient care, including when to use PPE and what PPE to use. With the current shortage, many management teams have taken to hoarding and locking up PPE, forcing staff to make formal requests for and signing to receive items. Healthcare workers feel as if their superiors don’t trust them, and a line has been drawn between “us” and “them.” Open up the supply rooms. Make and post policies. Show staff that they are trusted and respected. They won’t let you down. 
  5. PROTECT HIGH-RISK STAFF. Covid-19 is more likely to be fatal for those with underlying conditions and those over the age of 65. Maintain an open-door policy and ask staff to drop by if they (or someone they directly care for at home) is high risk. Allow them to voice their concerns, and then make adjustments to protect them and their health. Can they be temporarily floated to a different area? Is there a way to make sure they don’t directly care for patients with Coronavirus? Caring for them during this difficult time will create a long-lasting, committed relationship with workers. 
  6. LISTEN. Staff are overwhelmed with information and concerns right now. When they need a listening ear, be there. Take the time to sit down, face to face, and just listen. Hear what they are really saying and try not to take anything personally. Sometimes they just need to vent. But, if they have genuine concern, let them know that it’ll be followed up on, and then update them when it is. It isn’t possible to fix every concern, but a listening ear can go a long way to calming anxieties and fears.  
  7. ADVOCATE. Remember landing that management position after working so hard on the floor? Remember the motivation to make a difference in the lives of those still on the front lines? Now is the time to kick into gear and be that manager! Being an advocate for staff, whether from middle or upper management, can go a long way in building a solid relationship. Workers need to see real actions. They need to know that their needs are taken to decision-makers. They need to know that someone is working for them while they are working for so many others. 
  8. BE PRESENT. Currently, our country is under a quarantine and anyone who can work from home is doing so. While it’s important for everyone to do his/her part to stop the spread of Covid-19, credibility is lost every day that supervisors are working from home while the staff is not. Seeing superiors being protected while they are not sends a message about whose health is more important. While this may not be the intended message, it’s happening anyway. Make a change. Be present. Be available. Remember the number one rule of being a manager: never ask them to do something that you are not willing to do yourself
  9. THANK, DON’T PRAISE. Especially during times like this, it can be difficult to find the words to show thanks for things that others do. For this reason, “You’re a True Hero” signs are popping up all over. While the sentiment is nice, it often has a negative effect when coming from management. These well intended messages tend to feel a bit patronizing, and leave staff feeling uncomfortable or frustrated. Give thanks and give it often but do try to keep praise to a minimum. 
  10. SHOW GENUINE THANKS. Showing genuine thanks can be a real challenge. While healthcare workers are thankful for the pizzas, cookies, water bottles, lotion, and other promotional gifts, they really don’t need it. They aren’t in this for the pizza. They are in this because they care. When brainstorming about how to thank the amazing staff who are working so hard, consider who they are as individuals and try to show appreciation in a personal way. For instance, shoving a generic “Thank You” card into each mailbox that isn’t even addressed to the individual is a waste of time. Addressing each card personally and writing a sentiment that notes a detail of that person’s efforts means a great deal more.

 

This pandemic has proved to be a difficult time for us all. Staff is stressed and management is taking the brunt of the frustration. But, with genuine efforts and care, a strong sense of camaraderie can be achieved and the workforce will be stronger having gotten through this together! 

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About Tammy McKinney, RN

Tammy McKinney is a Registered Nurse from Pennsylvania. After earning her Business Administration degree, she went on to earn her degree in nursing from Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. With a background in Infectious Disease Nursing, Agency Nursing, and Hospice Care she enjoys sharing her experiences through her writing.

With years of experience in article creation, copy writing and editing, and marketing, Tammy’s freelance career began long before she became a nurse. She continues her work in these areas with a focus on medical writing in an effort to positively inform and impact the nursing community.

Connect with Tammy: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tammy-mckinney-097982191/.