Studies show that increased levels of employee trust lead to higher performance levels. Yet during the COVID-19 pandemic, when frontline medical workers are putting themselves at risk of not only contracting the illness, but also of being exposed to the mental and emotional horrors of a disease that has killed nearly 1.4 million people worldwide, employee trust can easily erode.
As the pandemic continues and beyond, it’s critical that healthcare facilities take the right steps to build a supportive and trusting environment in the workplace.
In this article, we take a look at how healthcare leaders can build trust with their staff during a crisis.
Encourage Balance and Stress Management
Supporting employees in effectively managing the stresses of work, family and personal life during the pandemic can go a long way in building trust. According to the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, employers can positively impact the mental health, psychological safety and participation of employees in the following ways:
Encourage staff to take entitled breaks and holidays
Help staff to identify coping strategies and resources to draw on when needed
Provide appropriate support for shift employees such as limiting split shifts, providing advance notice of shift changes and permitting shift trade-offs
Offer personal and family supports for both child and elder care, such as comprehensive benefits, daycare, fitness facility access, health education, or family responsibility leaves
During peak work periods, offer opportunities to earn time off to use during lower workload periods
Develop parameters around communication, availability, and technology use during off-work times
Systematically review work and HR policies to see where opportunities exist to improve how policies impact psychological health and safety
A "Wobble Room"
For staff at the Vancouver General Hospital, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic brought on a level of stress never encountered before.
In response, the hospital created the “wobble room,” a time-out space open to emergency department team members at any hour of the day to unwind, vent or connect as needed. Inspired by similar spaces in U.K. hospitals, the wobble room allows for staff to gather together while maintaining physical distancing. Open to nurses, unit clerks, care aides, housekeeping, physicians and residents, social workers and other staff, the wobble room houses a large screen TV, an encouragement wall for messages, and Zoom support meetings.
Open and Consistent Communication
Open and honest communication between staff and leaders can foster a culture of trust while also reinforcing psychological safety in the workplace. During these difficult and trying times, staff members are concerned about their jobs and their families. Leaders who empathetically support staff by acknowledging these fears and verbalizing how the organization will play a role in modelling coping strategies will allow staff to process complex emotions and build faith in their leaders.
A Clear Path Forward
Studies have shown that one driver of whether an employee trusts their boss is the extent to which employees feel that their boss has responded constructively when they shared their work problems.
Healthcare leaders must work to provide clarity during a crisis by being specific and vocal about what is being done and why. Providing clear guidance and instruction is especially important in building staff trust during a pandemic. Reducing confusion and having a shared understanding and definition of accountability can help to prevent a culture of mistrust and blame when situations do not go as planned.
Being proactive whenever possible about the future may also ease staff stress and create a common vision. Conducting “what if” conversations in both one-on-one meetings and in facilitated larger group settings can inspire positive reflection. Wherever possible, leaders should take a step back to focus on the big picture of why they are doing what they are doing.
Demonstrate Trust and Ask for Feedback
Trust from leadership can nurture employee loyalty; when employees are empowered to bring their best selves to work, it gives them a sense of autonomy. Employees also want to know that they are being heard; collecting employee feedback is crucial to understanding the employee experience, understanding potential issues and then improving on trust by taking action where necessary.
Given the immense uncertainty that will continue to permeate healthcare communities during the pandemic’s second wave, it is critical that healthcare facilities take the right steps today to build a trusting environment with their staff long into the future.
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