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3 Common Challenges Healthcare Leaders are Facing During Crisis

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Now more than ever, healthcare leaders, nurses, and the entire healthcare team are being called to serve the public more than they ever have been called before.  And to serve now means to put your own life at risk. How in the world could you, or any of us, have prepared for this? Leaders need help to tackle the unintended challenges COVID-19 has brought.

Caring for patients – we’ve been doing this for centuries.

Leading your team during a global pandemic – we’ve never done this in our lifetime.

Healthcare Leader Challenges

As the leader you have your own concerns, anxieties, and fears about what’s happening out there.  You may have kids at home who need home schooling, a spouse who got laid off, or an elderly parent who is at risk.  Yet, when you cross the threshold of your workspace you have to put your game face on for your employees.

Employees look to their leaders for an indication of how things are. Depending on how the leader shows up, the leader reassures them or validates their fears. That’s a heavy burden to carry knowing that your employees are so dependent on you and how you show up every day.

Common Challenges Leaders Face During Crisis

I’ve been talking with a lot of leaders over the last few weeks who have reached out asking for advice on how to lead their healthcare teams during this COVID-19 crisis.

Here are just three (I know there are many more) challenges leaders are facing and how you can handle them in a way that inspires and motivates your team:

1. Breaking promises

It’s easy for the leader to try to alleviate employee fears by promising them certain things. One leader promised her surgical center team that they would remain open and that nobody would be asked to cut their hours. One week later, she asked more than half of her staff to take PTO time because they were reducing their cases by 75%. Ugh.

This leader had good intent but has increased anxiety and stress for her staff and broken trust with them.

Don’t say, “Nobody is going to be cut back on their hours, everything is going to be fine!” Say this instead,

“Right now, we don’t expect to ___________. If that changes, I will let you know as soon as I know.”

Bottom line: Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

2. Rapidly changing information

You just shared information during your morning huddle about how new cases are being handled. An hour later after returning from your COVID-19 meeting, you re-huddle and say, “Scratch everything I said an hour ago, we’re handling them this way…”

Your staff is getting frustrated and acting out because you keep changing everything! You apologize over and over again and then walk away feeling like you’re not doing a good job leading your team.

Here is a better way:

Be proactive. Let your team know that you’re sharing information with them as you’re getting it and that this crisis is evolving rapidly.  Therefore, the information you’re giving them now might change in an hour and that they need to be okay with that.

Say this…

I need you to trust that our administrators, the leaders in our organization, are making the very best decisions based on the information that they have now. We know that might change in an hour or three hours or tomorrow, and I need you to trust that we’re doing everything that we can to keep our patients and you all safe.”

Bottom line: Prepare your team now to expect frequent changes so that when it happens, it causes less anxiety and stress.

3. Staff behaving badly

As you know, we’re seeing the best in our people and the worst. Even though healthcare professionals are being recognized across the globe as heroes right now, we are seeing a dramatic uptick in disruptive behaviors. Nitpicking, pettiness, and complaining are still showing up but now when it does, it feels like adding insult to injury for the leader.  “Really? You’re really going to complain that you’re being asked to adjust your schedule by an hour when we’re in the middle of a global crisis???” Of course, said with your inside voice.

We try to accommodate, defend, rationalize or ignore these behaviors when they show up. However, there is a better approach.

When you’re dealing with employees who are nitpicking and petty, say this:

“During crisis, we see the best in people and the worst. Your coworkers and our patients need you to be your very best. Because neither you nor I have any extra energy to give to pettiness, complaining or comparing. Not today.”

And then say this, “Can I count on your to be YOUR very best TODAY?”

Bottom line: Don’t ignore it – call it out!

One last bit of advice

Many people – your staff – are forecasting into the future and all they see is gloom and doom. They watch the news (on their phones), read every post on social media and if not careful, these negative messages can increase fear leading to panic and hysteria (toilet paper…really?)

Remind everybody that WE have control over TODAY.  And to focus TODAY on doing the very best that we can for these patients and for each other.  It’s not easy. However, remind your staff that unprecedented times call for extraordinary courage, compassion, and commitment – TODAY.  

Click here to watch a webcast on how to stay mentally fit during crisis.

You know they say 2020 is the year of the nurse? Well, who knew that it truly was going to be the year of the nurse?  Not only the nurse but physicians, respiratory therapists, support staff and everybody on the healthcare team.  That this is your opportunity to show the world what we do best. 

And so I hope that helps you. 

We’re praying for you, we care about you, and we are sending all of you air hugs.  Take care!

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