Healthcare is a sector that was going through breakthroughs and changes even before the advent of COVID-19 and the global pandemic. Although the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus could be blamed for interrupting these developments, in other areas, the pandemic has precipitated the implementation of improvements. The potential of online health services and telehealth were finally brought to the forefront and genetic data could be studied in real-time to understand the effects of long COVID.
However, even after the rollout of the various vaccines available and continued waves of different strains, the pandemic is taking its toll on frontline workers. With staff members providing round-the-clock patient care to those experiencing the worst responses to COVID-19, burnout has been common. Healthcare providers have had to juggle the demands of regular and routine care as well as the immediate patient needs of those in life-threatening conditions.
How can team leaders ensure that staff motivation stays stable in an increasingly challenging work environment? Those who work in healthcare tend to be committed to working for the greater good, and caring for those in need. But in a crisis it can be difficult to know what incentives will keep team members going and how to ensure that work continues to have meaning beyond hitting targets. Leadership at these times is extremely important as is strategic decision-making in managing teams.
Healthcare systems rely on a steady intake of health workers. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects an estimated shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030, mostly in low- and lower-middle income countries. WHO cites “the chronic under-investment in education and training of health workers in some countries and the mismatch between education and employment strategies in relation to health systems and population needs” as contributing to continuous shortages. Alongside the 18 million more health workers needed, there is a requirement for an additional 9 million nurses and midwives for all countries to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3 on health and well-being.
In the USA, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the healthcare sector has lost nearly half a million workers since February 2020. A survey research company, Morning Consult, reported that 18% of healthcare workers have quit since the pandemic began, while 12% were laid off. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses found that 66% of acute and critical care nurses have considered quitting nursing entirely. These figures are representative of the need for leadership in healthcare to help bolster retention internationally.
A survey of nurses in the UK suggested that retirement, personal circumstances and too much pressure were the most common reasons for leaving their register. Out of the nurses who had left after the start of the pandemic, only around 14% said that the pandemic influenced their decision. Workplace culture was the fourth most common. More than one in eight staff members (13%) reported that they had experienced discrimination at work in 2020. An NHS staff survey reported that 12% of respondents experienced bullying, or harassment, or abuse from managers in the previous 12 months. These are all factors that require healthcare leadership to act by developing the management skills needed to support and motivate staff in a more equitable work environment.
There are many factors that contribute to better retention rates, from work environment to job satisfaction, to effective leadership and chemistry amongst colleagues. Salary does of course play a significant role too, and unions are raising the issue of better pay in the wake of some of the most intensive periods of the pandemic and their effects on healthcare employees.
Teamwork is vital for intrinsic motivation; taking part in work for the sense of satisfaction or reward that it brings. Knowing that as an individual you are part of something bigger and that others rely on you in the same way that you rely on them keeps healthcare professionals feeling connected. Employee motivation is reliant on the kind of cohesion within teams that comes through authentic leadership, which in turn nurtures a healthy and dynamic culture from the top-down. There are some key areas which foster this kind of culture with the right care and attention.
Leading effectively involves the ability to delegate effectively. Spreading key jobs across staff members helps them to build confidence and pride in their abilities. Trusting that staff can and will do a good job is much more likely to leave them feeling enthused to take their responsibilities seriously than by micro-managing them.
Trust is inherently linked to transparency, which is crucial for medical staff to be able to do their jobs. Being honest with them around expectations and equally, listening to their feedback leads to open communication. Real-time updates, including online and face-to-face staff meetings, keep everyone on the same page.
For healthcare and nursing staff, caring for the sick is hard work, but it is meaningful. In stressful times, reminders about the core purpose of healthcare help teams find focus again. Offering awards for which co-workers can nominate each other, and facilitating private social media channels that will allow teams to celebrate milestones, can also boost morale.
Professional development benefits all, and understanding how team members want to progress based on their performance reviews can help them find their expertise. Conversations about mental health and well-being should be encouraged too with training on coping mechanisms and support readily available.
When the pressure is high, simply acknowledging this can help the team feel supported and that leaders are present and observing what is happening. Involving staff in decisions on what happens next demonstrates that their views, skills, and knowledge are valued.
Leadership in the healthcare sector is a predictor of quality outcomes. More healthcare providers are realising how authentic leadership and management skills set the tone for robust health services and resilient healthcare employees. Discover how you can be part of this important movement with an online MBA Healthcare Management from the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) and inspire healthcare staff to be the best they can be.