Strategies to Support Your Team During Uncertain Times

Medical practices across the United States have undergone major transformations in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and administrators alike have been required to adapt rapidly to shifting protocols and unprecedented demands. These healthcare workers are facing multiple stressors, serious safety concerns, and economic upheavals, which puts them at risk for anxiety, depression, and burnout as they work tirelessly to provide services for their patients. Leaders play a vital role in supporting their employees during these particularly difficult times.

In this article, internationally renowned speaker and best-selling author Liz Jazwiec, RN, offers rheumatology practice managers several strategies for mitigating stress, boosting morale, and offering much-needed support to their staff as they navigate the ongoing crisis together. She recently spoke on this topic during the National Organization of Rheumatology Managers 2020 Practice Managers Conference, which was held virtually this year.

The Need for Adaptive Leadership

Ms Jazwiec said that practice managers are now in the unique position of leading their teams through a climate of fear due to the pandemic.

“We have lived through many crises in the past, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, but this is different. Practices may be open today, but who knows if they will be required to close tomorrow as COVID-19 cases spike across the country. Employees are worried about their health, in addition to the well-being of their patients and their own family members, which can be a heavy burden to bear. Therefore, it is important for “leaders to morph into adaptive leadership, which will allow them to manage their practice effectively during uncertain times and keep negativity at bay,” she said.

Ms Jazwiec said that she has noticed how organizations that already had protocols in place to mitigate negativity prior to the pandemic are continuing to see success even during the current crisis, whereas those that did not are facing even greater struggles.

Key Strategies for Success

So, what are some of the key strategies that practice managers can use to reduce the toll of the pandemic on themselves and their staff and keep things running as smoothly as possible?

“It’s important to steel yourself so you can be an effective leader,” Ms Jazwiec advised. “Just like they tell you when you are on an airplane; you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you put it on your child. You need to be in a healthy place yourself so you can help others. Also, you must try to avoid being overcome with guilt. Chances are you are being pulled in many directions and you cannot do it all. No one can,” she added.

Ms Jazwiec went on to say that consistent communication among leadership and team members is vital. She emphasized the importance of having a planned time set aside to inform staff of any new developments or protocols that may affect the practice.

“If you are going to have a meeting every day at 5:00 pm to provide updates, you need to have that meeting every single day at that time. Even if there is no new information, you should still have the meeting. Consistency is key to helping people stay calm. This strategy is always important, even when there is no crisis. But in the current climate, it is crucial,” she said.

Ms Jazwiec also stressed the importance of expressing gratitude to team members, while still being transparent about the uncertainty of the future.

“You need to be honest with your employees and not ‘sugar coat’ things. It is ok to tell them that you are unsure what next week will bring or that you do not have an immediate answer to one of their questions. But tell them that you are certain that, as a team, you will be able to handle any challenges on the horizon. Reaffirm your belief in them and tell them that you have tremendous faith in their abilities. This needs to be repeated often, and you should be specific when you acknowledge them,” she said.

It is also necessary during times of crisis to address any rumors that may be going around the office. Ms Jazwiec advises leadership to actively solicit these rumors from their employees. That way, they can either be investigated to determine whether they are true or, if they have no merit, they can be nipped in the bud.

“You don’t want people who like to ‘stir the pot’ or start rumors to gain credibility or power, which can be dangerous to the culture of the practice,” she said.

Finally, it is critically important to maintain a culture of connection by checking in with team members to ascertain how they are doing and what they may need from you. This requires going beyond a simple “How are you?” and asking specific questions about what types of support would be helpful to them. Actively listen, encourage questions, and practice compassion.

“In terms of potential burnout among employees, I think it is very important to assess it carefully. Employee satisfaction surveys can be very helpful for accomplishing this. We don’t want to guess what people need or what is the best way to help them. We shouldn’t make assumptions. We want to make sure we are fixing the right things,” she said.

Conclusion

Even in the most uncertain of times, the role of a healthcare leader remains the same—to serve as a good example, assess the culture of the practice, and be proactive in supporting team members. This will not only lead to a more positive work environment for staff and management but will result in improved patient outcomes.


Liz Jazwiec, RN, is the author of the bestselling books “Eat THAT Cookie!,”“Hey Cupcake!, We Are ALL Leaders,” and “Service Excellence Is as Easy as P.I.E. (Perception Is Everything).” She is also a sought-after speaker who has a passion for sharing her expertise on leadership and engagement with audiences across several industries. She can be reached at liz@lizjaz.com.

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