Can You Stop Pandemic Life From Proving Fatal For Your Healthcare Workers?
With pandemic life changing everything from daily habits to social norms, every industry has seen significant changes this past year. Hospitality has had to shift to takeouts while retail is all curbside pickups and online selling. But, with all these changes, few are as drastic as those faced by the medical sector.
Healthcare workers are not only having to change the way they work but are also having to juggle the lives of patients (pandemic-related and not) while they do so. Add to that the risks they face by putting themselves on the front line, and it’s fair to say that healthcare teams are under pressure on all sides right now.
In large part, this is an inevitable part of pandemic life, and the best management in the world won’t be able to lift that responsibility entirely. That said, the global ‘heroes’ narrative surrounding healthcare workers right now sends something of a challenging message in that it paints such individuals as frontline fighters.
In reality, though, no one in healthcare signs up to face unnecessary risks, and these aren’t soldiers who have bravely volunteered to put their lives on the line. Rather, these are people who are just trying to do their jobs and do them well in the most impossible situation.
With that in mind, it’s fundamental for managers to ensure that they take as much of this load off as possible. Most notably, this involves supplying teams with the equipment they need to stay safe, including ample PPE and hand sanitizer, etc. On a more human level, though, there’s plenty to be done for keeping healthcare workers as happy as possible during this difficult time. And, we’re going to consider that here.
Make life easier where you can
In many ways, every point we’re about to make should contribute towards making life easier for healthcare workers, but this is a tip that deserves a section of its own, too. The fact is that healthcare teams across the world are stretched to breaking point right now. As such, workers are often left with little if any time to take care of themselves. And, for obvious reasons, that could see their work slipping through no fault of their own.
Right now, everything from cooking through to washing uniforms etc. can seem like a chore too far for healthcare teams. For many, it’s the best they can do to get some sleep between shifts.
As we’ll discuss later, there are practical ways that you can offset at least some of this overwhelm, but removing as many chores as you can is also worthwhile. Something simple like arranging for prepaid ready meals or making deals with local restaurant vendors (many of which will already be taking steps to support healthcare workers) can make a huge difference to ensuring healthy diets without adding to the list.
Or, why not remove any excess washing duties by stocking up on Uniform Advantage’s scrubs or similar so that each employee has plenty of kit to see them through the week? These are undeniably small steps, but removing even small tasks makes a huge difference when healthcare workers face to-do lists that never end.
Prioritize stress management
Healthcare industries have always been areas of high stress, and never has that been more the case than in the past year or so. In fact, a cross-sectional study of 1257 healthcare workers in 34 hospitals with Covid wards in China found that a considerable amount reported mental distress including depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
This is hardly surprising given not only the risks they face but also the horrific sights some healthcare workers are facing. With high death tolls and more and more patients arriving each day, some stress seems only natural.
That said, when workers in any industry report high levels of depression, it becomes clear that a focus on health and wellbeing should be a top managerial priority. Do note, though, that availability of talking therapies etc., while still important, is not enough in these unprecedented times.
Rather, healthcare managers need to go above and beyond, setting regular dates for check-ins, debriefing after particularly tough shifts, and actively looking for signs of mental distress. Tough as it may seem, there’s also some evidence that being frank about what teams will be dealing with can help with mental preparation. As such, increased training in Coronavirus-specific situations could help to offset any shock teams feel when they’re in the thick of treating patients.
Onboard new staff/volunteers
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that healthcare teams are fast becoming overwhelmed during this pandemic. This has been the concern all along, hence the introduction of extra wards within warehouses and other empty buildings.
While onboarding new staff and volunteers may seem like an obvious choice, it’s a step that healthcare managers simply can’t afford to skip right now. After all, teams are currently expected to see all their normal patients on top of the pandemic duties that form a full-time position of their own.
While budgets need consideration, introducing new staff or even volunteer workers in any healthcare speciality will prove invaluable right now. While this does mean bringing new workers on board at a time when you could do without the stress, these extra hands could see you adjusting rotas, prioritizing care for everyone (not just pandemic patients) and, most importantly, reducing workloads for your existing team.
This leads us nicely onto our next point, which is the need to segment responsibilities within your rota. Too often right now, we’re seeing healthcare staff trying to juggle too many balls and, inevitably, dropping some. This isn’t good news for anyone, certainly not your team who will feel as though they aren’t being given the tools to do their jobs well. This, mixed with the sheer risk of burnout such pressure brings, can undo all your wellbeing efforts elsewhere.
While you will need to continually reassess as situations change, it’s therefore worth segmenting responsibilities so that each team member has less to consider. This will mean different things to different teams, but you ultimately want to make sure that specific team members are dealing with Coronavirus patients each shift, freeing the rest of your team to tackle other daily responsibilities. Be sure, too, to rotate these rotas often, providing each team member with a chance to get away from this most stressful duty during at least some of their shifts.
Rethink days off
Now is also the ideal time to rethink the time off that you offer. We know this can seem like a readjustment you just can’t manage at the moment, but it’ll be more than worth your while to get to it.
Namely, it’s vital right now to provide teams with more than the one day off in a row that typically comes standard to healthcare rotas. After night shifts especially, one day simply isn’t enough to allow teams to unwind in the ways that they need.
The good news is that you needn’t particularly offer more time off at this busy time. Rather, readjusting shifts here or there should mean that you can provide at least two days off in a row without too many compromises. Do note that you should always check with team members before making a change like this as some may not see this as a help when they’re juggling childcare and other responsibilities. For the most part, though, your team will likely grab this opportunity with both hands and work better as a result.
Sweat the small stuff
When healthcare teams are dealing with such big issues as pandemics, it’s all too easy to forget about the little things. Believe it or not, though, taking the time to sweat the small stuff right now could be the saving grace your team needs.
Most notably, you want to create the best working environment possible behind the scenes, with homely additions including decorations for holidays, plants where possible, and even artwork to make the place look pretty.
Note, too, that small gestures such as the inclusion of a sweet tin in the staff room or even a whole-team takeout can make a huge difference. These are small steps that won’t cost you much out of petty cash, yet they provide priceless morale when you all need it most.
No one said managing healthcare during a pandemic would be easy, and the strain is sure to show sometimes. But, implementing these pointers can at least help you to keep the worst at bay and put the smiles back on your team’s faces.
This is especially vital with this situation worsening at an alarming rate and no real end point in sight. Vaccinations are certainly a positive but, as any healthcare worker knows, we still have a long road ahead. Ease the passage for your team with regular check-ins, positive additions to their days, and steps to make life as easy as it possibly can be. Then, rest easy that your hospital is offering the best possible care.