Since its outbreak in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has reached over 200 countries with over 16 million cases recorded (Financial Times, 2020). For healthcare leaders, responding to the pandemic has undoubtedly proven to be one of the most challenging times in their career, having to deal not only with the effects of COVID-19 on themselves and their families, but also with the stress and pressure it is creating within their organisations.
The continued response to COVID-19 will require multidisciplinary healthcare workers, often with little experience of working with each other, to come together and provide rapid support wherever it is needed. This working environment, combined with a lack of information and increased workloads, is likely to present an unique set of challenges.
Some of the responsibility for mitigating these pressures will inevitably rest with leaders; they will be responsible for assembling, managing and guiding teams through the response. Despite best efforts, this is likely to be a difficult process. Leaders will encounter a variety of challenges, such as motivating their employees throughout the pandemic to minimise disengagement and burnout, as well as ensuring the safety of both themselves and their colleagues at work.
In a recent interview with the Kings Fund (2020), Don Berwick, President Emeritus at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), gave his thoughts on how leaders can best manage themselves and their teams in their response to the pandemic. Here are our three top takeaways:
Make your personal wellbeing a priority
Leaders do not just provide stability and guidance within their organisation; they also act as role models for their colleagues. Given the long-term nature of the response to the pandemic, leaders will need to find a sustainable approach which both allows them to do their job effectively while also safeguarding their own physical and psychological wellbeing. By taking positive action to look after their personal wellbeing, be it through ensuring they get adequate rest or taking the time to visit loved ones, they are likely to see their efforts mirrored among members of their organisations.
Don’t go it alone
In a new world of remote working and social distancing, it can be easy for people to slip into a mode of individual working with little collaboration and communication. While face-to-face interaction has been, and will continue to be, significantly reduced, there are many platforms through which leaders can access support and share ideas and encouragement. By reaching out to the healthcare community and talking about the challenges and difficulties faced, leaders will be better able to understand the psychological stressors faced not only by themselves but also by their colleagues.
Take time to reflect
As a leader, constantly ask both yourself and the members of your organisation, “what matters to you?”. Especially in times of crisis, it can be difficult to take a step back and objectively review the situation, assess what has been working well and refine your approach. But by taking the time to ask this question, you may uncover a shift in priorities, allowing you to set new goals and collaborate with your colleagues to define the correct way to achieve them. Organising regular meetings or huddles with your teams can be a useful starting point; by taking this feedback and making small refinements each time, you will begin to see micro-improvements adding up.
Financial Times. 2020. Coronavirus tracked: the latest figures as countries reopen. Available here.
King’s Fund. 2020. Responding to the Covid-19 crisis: Professor Don Berwick. Available here.