While medical practices are understandably focused on financial survival, keeping up employee morale amid the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is equally important.
While medical practices are understandably focused on financial survival, keeping up employee morale amid the fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is equally important, practice leaders say. And the keys to that are ensuring that employees feel safe and valued, and above all, building trust through regular communication.
“We’ve been communicating, communicating, communicating (since the start of the pandemic),” says Susan Coker, practice administrator of Tri County Internal Medicine in suburban Atlanta. That communication takes the form of daily huddles that she conducts with front-office staff and that the medical director conducts with the practitioners. They use the huddles to discuss everything from upcoming reductions in hours to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Coker says employees use the daily huddles to ask questions, voice concerns and offer suggestions. “We always start by asking how everyone’s doing, and they’re good at communicating back to me,” she says.
At the Center for Primary Care-McDuffie Medical, part of an eight-practice independent practice consortium near Augusta, Georgia, physicians met daily with the practice administrator and key staff members during the first weeks of the crisis to assess how things were going and address problems and employee concerns, says Jacqueline W. Fincher, M.D., MACP, one of the practice’s five physicians.
Following those meetings, their administrator would participate in conference calls with the practice’s other seven administrators to share information and coping strategies. “Communication is so important for making people feel valued, giving people a sense of, ‘We’re going to get through this together, and we’re going to do it safely,” says Fincher.
In addition, the practice has been letting employees take off Friday afternoons or Monday mornings. “It extends the weekend a little and provides an additional break from the intensity of the job,” she says.
Owen Dahl, MBA, CHBC, a medical practice management consultant and principal of Owen Dahl Consulting in Texas, suggests practices sponsor employee games and offer perks such as gift cards and catered lunches as morale boosters. Bringing in lunch has the added benefit of keeping employees in the office, thereby reducing their chance of becoming infected with COVID-19.
Dahl also recommends looking for ways to provide staff members a sense of engagement with the practice beyond their own job, such as participating in task forces to create policies for working from home and other changes the pandemic is likely to bring about.
“The more you can get your staff involved and committed to the culture change that’s going to come,” he says, “the better off you’re going to be.”