By Sara M. Foster, RN, MPH, Director of Content Services, Greystone.Net
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard. Healthcare has been especially hard hit – trying to provide patient care while also trying to provide a safe working environment for staff. Unlike many businesses, it wasn’t possible for healthcare providers to shut down completely, even though many elective and non-urgent services were suspended temporarily.
In a pandemic caused by a new virus, lack of knowledge was overwhelming. In the early stages of the pandemic, as scientists struggled to understand the virus and learn how to treat and contain it, people turned to their providers for credible information and recommendations. Call centers became a lifeline for many.
The difficulties and challenges encountered at all levels of healthcare during the pandemic have been widely documented. What hasn’t been discussed as much is dealing with the stress the pandemic has caused for staff.
It wasn’t just trying to manage an extremely virulent new disease entity that created stress. It was also having to manage personal and family lives that were upended with work and school shutdowns that lasted for all of 2020 and several months into 2021.
As Covid vaccines rolled out and rates of sickness and death decreased, many businesses and schools have reopened to one extent or another. But life is not yet back to “normal,” and stressors remain. It’s important for organizations to not only realize this but also take steps to acknowledge it with employees and address it.
How can organizations like yours deal with employee stress? Some mitigation means include:
- Show genuine appreciation and recognize employee efforts. Lack of appreciation and recognition is known to contribute to low morale and decreased motivation. It’s important to not only express appreciation for staff efforts verbally, but to also show appreciation in a tangible manner. Where possible, visit staff in person, but with many people still working from home, this may not be feasible. In those cases, make sure you clearly ask your employees how they are doing – more than just a passing “How are you?” Listen to their answers and see if there are ways you can help.
- Visibility and being approachable matter. It has always been important to be visible to your staff rather than staying holed up in an office all the time. In the Work From Home (WFH) environment, this is even more important. While staff may not be able to drop in to talk over an issue or just have a chat, you should remain available virtually. It’s also important to remain accessible. WFH creates a sense of isolation, so it’s crucial that managers and leadership are available to maintain engagement and team spirit.
- Maintain communication – and be transparent. Open and honest communication helps to boost morale and improve engagement. In the early months of the pandemic, information about the Covid virus changed rapidly as scientists learned more about it. This led to frequent updates in treatment and prevention guidelines. These constant updates often created confusion, especially when agencies and organizations put out conflicting information, which just added to the chaos. It’s vital that organizations have communications that are consistent across the board.
- Recognize and support the whole person. Humans are integrated biological, psychological and social beings. For purposes of this discussion, that means that it’s not enough to provide just an adequate physical work environment. At any time, it’s important to consider the overall wellbeing of employees, but in a crisis like the pandemic, it becomes crucial. Taking care of your staff leads to increased productivity, engagement and wellbeing. If your organization has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), make sure your staff know about it and its services. If there is no EAP, find sources for related services to offer your staff.
- Offer assistance and support for the long haul. The Covid pandemic turned the world on its ear. One of the most devastating results of the pandemic was financial havoc. Even though most healthcare continued for urgent and emergent care, many services were shut down for a time. And once those services resumed, the volume was lower than before. Many jobs were put on hold and there were staff cutbacks. Even those who continued to work were often affected, as their hours were decreased, or a spouse or partner’s job was cut back or eliminated. Offer staff a way to help with financial savings, for example, like an employer match for savings accounts or other incentives. This may be difficult to do with budgets stretched very thin, but consider the options, when possible.
And realize that this too will pass, and until it does, we need to work together to move forward effectively and to remember to be kind to each other. All have struggles in their own way.
Call centers have been at the forefront during the Covid pandemic. How has your organization recognized its staff? What advice do you have for call center leaders? If you have a success story, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know more at email@example.com.