In this issue, she recommends the three ‘C’s – clarity, communication and care – for improving the power of your people and managing your team through this difficult period.
It is the people within them that make companies and businesses work, and this is especially true in healthcare. Despite huge advances in technology, including the automation of many administrative processes such as the incorporation of robotic surgery and the use of artificial intelligence in diagnosis, it is still fundamental in all healthcare businesses to have the right people, with the right skills and attitude in the right roles. There are very few examples of services or businesses where one person can do everything and, in most cases, it takes a team effort.
Sense of achievement
If you are a surgeon, for example, there may be moments where you feel you are alone, but caring for your patients is a communal effort and requires the commitment and dedication of a group of people with varied skillsets working together.
A well-performing team is a joy and being part of such a team is fulfilling on many levels: the sense of achievement and belonging, the feeling of being respected and of making a valued personal contribution. But for every high-performing team, there is an opposite, less successful example. Most of us have experienced at least one team in our career that is verging on dysfunctional.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were already aware that, in the UK, people were feeling under pressure and struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Of greatest concern in this current climate is the increased pressure that people are experiencing in both their personal and professional lives. Everyone is attempting to handle the uncertainty of Covid, coping with the lack of control, worries about their health, finances and the health of their friends, families and colleagues.
Relying on adrenaline
In a crisis, we rely on adrenaline to help us perform and, in most cases, the crisis is short-lived and this short-term solution is appropriate. To continue to rely on adrenaline on a long-term basis is potentially damaging and we expect this to cause numerous longer-term issues.
In the early days and weeks of the pandemic, business owners, including those in private healthcare, focused on survival. What do we need to do to get through this? At the time, there was a sense that this would last for weeks rather than months.
The Government announced measures to support employers in the form of the job retention scheme alongside various loans and grants, to support us in achieving the goal of survival. Many individuals were furloughed from their positions and some continue to be furloughed at the time of writing due to a further extension of the policy. While being furloughed may sound like a pretty good deal, many have suffered from increased stress due to job insecurity and anxieties related to financial and career impacts. In the worst-case scenarios, we have seen an increasing number of people being made redundant and there is an expectation this will continue as the Government schemes eventually come to an end.
For those individuals who have worked throughout the pandemic, we are seeing signs of burn-out.
Tension between colleagues
However, one unanticipated symptom of furlough is a tension between work colleagues where those who have continued to work perceive their furloughed colleagues to have had the easy option, leading to an underlying resentment. Many of us have been adapting to working from home either on a part-time or full-time basis and this brings about a new set of challenges. Initially, it was the logistical issues of home-working that focused our attention. Setting up secure IT systems, adapting to working in a paperless manner, talking to one another via Zoom and so on. As the weeks and months have passed, our focus has shifted to the reality of working remotely long-term, managing teams of remote workers and ensuring everyone remains motivated and productive.
Bringing staff back
Clinics and offices have faced the challenge of bringing their employees back in a Covid-safe manner and adapting the physical environment to ensure it is safe and compliant. Space limitations have reduced the number of people who can physically be in the workplace on any particular day, leaving members of staff continuing to work at home on a part- or full-time basis. Some people have been reluctant to return to the office, either because they love working from home or they are scared to come back, particularly if their commute involves public transport. The current crisis looks set to continue for some time and, as leaders and managers in healthcare, we need to take action to address these issues and support the people that make up our teams so that they continue to be high performing. With that in mind, how do we create high-performing teams in this current climate? It is a challenge!
This month, my initial recommendations for improving the power of your people and managing your team through this difficult period are clarity, communication and care.
Clarity helps to alleviate a lack of control and improving clarity may help many people to deal with the current environment. Many of us may feel that we need to regroup and rebuild, and we are faced with the challenge of doing this in difficult circumstances, as the immediate future is not totally clear to us. In times of uncertainty like this, it is often valuable to go back to basics and consider the way in which we manage people, to review our responsibilities as employers and improve our policies and processes from a people perspective.
We adapted our workplaces very quickly to allow our organisations to continue to operate and survive the crisis. Our teams accepted this and changed quickly too, but, in our haste, we may have lost some clarity regarding roles and responsibilities. We need to reconnect with our teams to understand how the changes have affected them, how they are feeling about these changes, what is working well now and what needs addressing. Ensuring that everybody has clarity on their individual responsibilities and how their role impacts on others within the team will enhance both individual and team performance. A positive way to do this is to review each team member’s objectives so they have absolute clarity of what is expected of them in the short term, the next month and quarter.
Good leaders communicate with their teams, both individually and together, on a regular basis. If in doubt, over-communicate. In a time of crisis, we all need reassurance, and communication is vital to provide this reassurance. Ensuring everyone is aware of the current situation and what changes are happening is important, even at times when we are not entirely sure ourselves. Many people are interacting less with work colleagues as well as in their personal lives and this can lead to feelings of isolation.
If your team is working remotely, communication is even more important. You can communicate in a variety of ways including emails, video and phone calls. Not all communication needs to be formal and you may want to recreate the office atmosphere by agreeing a regular, perhaps weekly, opportunity for a general chit chat over a cup of tea.
Caring for our teams and providing additional support will pay dividends in the short and long term. The topic of mental health is being discussed more openly than ever and appropriately so, given the number of individuals in the UK who are suffering from some form of mental health problem. Again, we were aware that this was a big issue prior to Covid, but this has exacerbated the situation in a big way. Absence from work due to mental health has increased over the last few years, which has led to mental health becoming a boardroom discussion, as it impacts on the productivity of an organisation. As employers, we have a ‘duty of care’ and a responsibility to do all we reasonably can to support our employees’ health, safety and well-being.
If a member of our team has a mental health issue, we need to talk to them to determine what support they might need. If an employee feels they are well supported, the issue is less likely to build up, which results in less time off, improved morale and greater loyalty.
Creating a culture where mental health can be talked about as openly as physical health will allow individuals to raise their concerns and worries before they become significant.
You could consider running an employee survey, asking specific questions relating to well-being and mental health and collecting responses in an anonymous way to give you a true picture of how your team are feeling. Having one-to-one discussions with each employee allows an opportunity for personal issues to be raised and discussed in a safe environment. Consider creating a mental health or well-being champion for your organisation or making mental health training available. Leaders who address well-being and mental health will allow their team to succeed and will also benefit from greater loyalty on a long-term basis.