Employee Engagement in Healthcare – In Times of COVID-19
Healthcare as a ‘calling’ has always held an emotional appeal and inspired its service providers. Yet, today, healthcare organizations are faced with the daunting task of motivating frontline service providers – doctors, nurses, technicians and even housekeeping staff – to fight against a deadly unseen enemy, COVID-19, at immense risk to their lives and well-being.
In this context of a common enemy, it may be pertinent to draw a parallel with the selfless dedication that motivates soldiers to put their life and limb on the line, almost on a daily basis. Are there lessons to be learnt here around talent engagement, organizational culture and leadership in the management of healthcare?
Many studies have highlighted the fact that the single largest variable in patient mortality rates is the engagement scores of service providers. Hence, more than ever before, the following aspects need urgent consideration:
Clinician Leadership: The three most important factors that will boost the motivation of healthcare workers is ‘leadership, leadership and leadership’. There is an urgent requirement of leaders who say ‘Do as I do ‘and not simply ‘Do as I say’! Motivation will flow from role models who are actually in the trenches and at the forefront, and not from Administrative Managers, who are generally at the backend. Therefore, building and nurturing Clinician and Nursing Leadership assumes utmost importance as, under the circumstances, they are in a position to influence frontline service providers.
Clinical Competency: “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” – a quote from the US Marines. The proverb underscores the importance of continuous medical and nursing education. Clinical competency is probably the most important factor that will ensure the safety of doctors and nurses, when they get inducted into the Corona battlefield. Sound knowledge about key aspects such as clinical protocols for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and septic shock, handling of ventilators and infection control measures, etc. will be crucial in determining life and death.
Organizational Culture: Healthcare institutions need to build a strong supportive environment, where the work force knows that professional and personal help is always at hand, and they can rely upon the organization to see them through a crisis. This would mean that there is an inherent institutionalized culture – to go out of the way and lend a helping hand. Camaraderie, peer bonding and a familial work environment are factors that will make the workforce put the patient first always, even at considerable risk to one’s own health.
Espirit de Corps: Nothing can be better than a feeling of pride and shared loyalty in a group – it inspires, drives devotion, establishes an identity as well as evokes intense regard for the honor of the group, as a whole. This is the binding factor amongst soldiers, that prepares them to make the supreme sacrifice, for the sake of the ‘izzat’ of their Unit or Regiment. It bolsters a fighting spirit – so necessary to face the current worldwide health crisis.
Occupational Hazards: Healthcare workers need protection from biological, chemical and physical hazards. Yet, because their job is to care for the sick, they are often viewed as being ‘immune’ to illness. Unsafe working conditions, shortage of Personal Protective Equipment, overwork due to lack of staff, non-adherence to safety protocols and inadequate training can lead to work related sickness. In the COVID scenario, the consequences of taking the safety of healthcare personnel for granted can be deadly. While organizations must ensure inoculation and prophylactic treatment where necessary, concerted action taken for ‘force protection’ will not only stem the contagion, but will also instil confidence among healthcare workers, who are the first and only line of defence against this relentless enemy!
Over the recent years, healthcare has been managed more like a business… and its people more like ‘human resources’. Diseases have become ‘markets’ and healthcare services have become ‘products’. The COVID crisis gives healthcare management the unprecedented opportunity to humanize care. The ability of people to maximize their efforts in order to provide safe, compassionate and high quality service will depend on it.