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What Healthcare Workers Need From Leaders in COVID-19 Crisis

What Healthcare Workers Need From Leaders in COVID-19 Crisis

by Vibhas Ratanjee and Dan Foy

Story Highlights

  • Data show healthcare workers need more support from leadership
  • Focus on transparent communication, innovation and wellbeing
  • Leaders can facilitate their employees' success

Healthcare professionals are exhausted and under-resourced -- and they're putting their lives on the line like never before.

They are struggling to handle intensifying patient loads and death rates. COVID-19 is a long, uphill battle with an end that's barely visible on the horizon.

An online, probability-based Gallup Panel survey conducted March 13-April 14, 2020, revealed troubling data:

  • Just 47% of healthcare workers strongly agree that their employer has communicated a clear plan of action for COVID-19.
  • Only 36% of healthcare workers strongly agree they are confident they will be safe if they follow their organization's health policies.
  • 78% of healthcare workers feel that COVID-19 will have a somewhat negative or very negative effect on their workplace.

As leaders do everything in their power to beat COVID-19 and ensure their hospitals survive the crisis, they must urgently safeguard employees' needs. Leaders must facilitate healthcare workers' success.

That is, this crisis calls for world-class people leadership. Healthcare workers need to know their leaders have their back.

To care for caregivers, leaders should take the following steps in the next 30 days.

1. Communicate more.

Nearly one in five healthcare professionals (19%) feel their employer has communicated too little about COVID-19.

Appropriately, healthcare leaders are focused on immediate threats. They're communicating in regular briefings and huddles. But Gallup's data suggest that employees need more.

As leaders navigate the pandemic, they must ensure employees know exactly what to expect. Without these expectations, employees' growing uncertainty can hinder their workplace engagement -- creating performance losses that undercut even flawless surge plans.

Healthcare workers need to know their leaders have their back.

Leaders also need to be transparent. For example, employees know that critical resources such as PPE and medical equipment are in short supply, and they need a realistic picture of what's coming. Honest leaders can promote an employee's sense of security and stability, helping them stay motivated and engaged in their work.

Every day, leaders should ask themselves whether they've delivered meaningful, transparent messages. While they can't answer every question or predict the future, leaders can build invaluable trust by sharing what they know.

2. Innovate to better support employees.

Only 54% of healthcare employees feel well prepared to do their job -- even fewer (37%) feel very confident they'll be able to successfully do their job if the outbreak continues.

As COVID-19 challenges workplaces in unprecedented ways, leaders must employ new strategies and partnerships to equip employees with the resources they need.

A Formula One team, for instance, partnered with engineers and healthcare experts to quickly develop a CPAP machine, a breathing aid used to treat COVID-19 patients. And researchers at the University of California San Francisco are using smartwatch technology to devise an early detection system for COVID-19.

Innovations like these require an extremely agile approach, which can be challenging to employ under normal circumstances. But leaders who intensely accelerate innovation can do far more than provide equipment -- they can demonstrate their dedication to alleviating the pandemic's emotional toll on caregivers.

3. Support employee wellbeing holistically.

Caregivers' physical wellness is a priority for leaders. But leaders who address all five elements of employee wellbeing -- career, social, financial, community and physical -- can optimize healthcare workers' resilience during COVID-19. In fact, Gallup has found that leaders who cultivate holistic employee wellbeing can shield workers from burnout and promote exceptional performance.

Unfortunately, only 44% of healthcare workers strongly agree their organization cares about their overall wellbeing, according to Gallup's Panel data.

Employees' wellbeing affects their performance and engagement. For instance, if caregivers strongly agree their employer cares about their overall wellbeing, they are more than twice as likely as those who do not strongly agree to report that they feel well prepared to do their job (72% vs. 30%).

Leaders who cultivate holistic employee wellbeing can shield workers from burnout and promote exceptional performance.

Leaders should immediately implement practical strategies for cultivating employee wellbeing, such as confidential counseling services and enhanced internal recognition that creates an atmosphere of community and positivity. Since managers play a pivotal role in employee wellbeing, leaders must hold them accountable for supporting employees through COVID-19.

Further, leaders must identify and remove barriers to wellbeing. By maintaining ongoing dialogue, they can reaffirm their commitment to their employees.

COVID-19 may give healthcare leaders a deeper appreciation for the importance of an engaged, supported workforce. This pandemic has made healthcare workers' critical role -- and their heroism -- clear. When they struggle, everyone struggles. Right now, healthcare leaders have an opportunity to fully support their most valuable asset.

Get the support you need to lead through the COVID-19 crisis:


Vibhas Ratanjee is Senior Practice Expert -- Organizational and Leadership Development at Gallup.

Dan Foy is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.

Bailey Nelson and Sangeeta Agrawal contributed to this article.

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