With global COVID-19 fatalities reaching 247,000 as May began, the recent pandemic has caused unprecedented stress on traditional healthcare facility operations. Fluctuating demand for care, supply chain-related shortages and staffing concerns has forced the industry to adjust. Proper human resource management remains crucial to keep operations running, not to mention ramping up productivity as areas of the nation continue through a phased reopening.
HR and COVID-19 in numbers
A recent AON study about response to the COVID-19 crisis yielded these insights:
- Crisis management or business continuity planning was cited by 70% of HR leaders as the main challenge during the crisis.
- Only 42% believe their HR department has been adequately trained, equipped and ready to face the current crisis.
- Merely 8% feel they are correctly prepared to deal with all the challenges posed by the pandemic.
- On a positive note, 88% of HR leaders claimed the crisis has allowed them to highlight the importance of proper staff management strategies to mitigate people’s risk.1
Five strategies for a calm staff management amid the COVID-19 crisis
1. Safety arrangements in your facility
Your staff needs to feel safe in order to perform. Writing for Financial Review, Julie McKay, PWC’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, said that employees feeling safe are more productive in their daily routine.2 With the staffing concerns the healthcare industry faces in this time of crisis, it is vital that your facility employees perform close to their best after the pandemic.
Right off the bat, be proactive and ensure you implement infection prevention measures per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance:
- Establish policies for required use of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) at the workplace. This should include noting which staff should be donning PPE and the intervals at which to change them to ensure safety and establish a PPE burn rate.
- Plan ahead for sourcing PPE and sanitization products that your facility may need for the next few months. Actively reach out to your suppliers to find a flexible re-supply mechanism in case of shortages.
- Ensure your staff is aware of sick leave policies and encourage any employee showing symptoms (COVID-19 or other) to stay at home instead of coming to work.
- Discourage employees to use common areas such as lunchrooms and enforce social distancing guidelines where feasible, as set by the CDC.
- Regularly screen your employees for symptoms related to the coronavirus and provide treatment and guidance accordingly.
- Daily and weekly cleaning and sanitizing of office premises, using disinfectants recommended by the WHO.
- General office areas including workstations, high-contact surfaces, common areas, washrooms and isolation rooms should be cleaned at regular intervals daily.
- If a person showing COVID-19 symptoms has left the office, a thorough decontamination of the areas where the person had access should be done.
2. Set up a dedicated crisis management team
Get a dedicated crisis management team up and running as soon as possible. Build this team with representatives from every hierarchical level of the organization. This will allow you to delegate key responsibilities to members of the team and establish buy-in to ensure no one feels left out.
One easy way to build a team is by segmenting your members into three main channels, according to their skillset:
- The legal and regulatory team: The legal and regulatory team works to ensure compliance for all business aspects of your company. Normally, this team will audit your organization’s risk exposure and liabilities during and after a crisis. Ultimately they should be able advise on appropriate responses to regulatory and legislative changes.
- The communications team: This team is there to deal with public relations and internal message delivery. The members actively respond to customer queries and make sure the right message reaches the right person. They also handle your organization’s image across both traditional and digital media communications.
- The operations team: Your operations team are responsible for smoothing out routine operations of your facility. Generally, they are closer to your front line workers and address their concerns. These members also assess the feasibility of your business goals to manage expectations and help you adjust your objectives accordingly.
3. Educate and encourage safety measures
Senior leadership and the HR team should have a strong and trusted voice. After this time of crisis, pushing out regular memos and announcements will reassure your workforce. Providing transparent and concise information to your staff about the measures you are adopting to protect them is crucial.
Educating your workforce about the following best practices will lead to a safer and calmer workplace:
- Emphasize health hygiene as a key strategy for slowing the spread of COVID-19.
- All used PPE need to be properly stored pending cleaning for reuse (when possible, in accordance with your practice’s policies) or properly disposed in waste bins. Touchless bins are useful, in that they significantly reduce direct contact with the surface. Special precautions should be taken when handling these bins; ensure your policy on use of gloves and/or hand sanitizers matches your facility’s equipment.
- Users must sanitize their hands before entering an elevator and after if they have touch buttons inside or outside the elevator.
- Anyone using stairs should not walk side by side and should observe at least six feet between them.
- Employees are advised not to touch handrails or disinfect their hands promptly if they do so.
- Employees using public transport should observe all lawful instructions of the authorities regarding physical distancing and road safety. It is advisable that employees disinfect their hands and any personal belongings which have been touched during the trip once the public transport has been disembarked.
- Employees should be encouraged to conduct self-monitoring of their health. Employees displaying COVID-19 symptoms should not report to work and should inform their supervisor.
4. Manage access to the premises
Properly managing access to your facility is a must if you are to get back in business. According to sherpadesk.com, 68% of small businesses and 30% of all businesses do not have a disaster recovery plan.3 Having a solid business continuity plan is critical to a business’ ability to endure a crisis and transit back to its original level of performance.
- Establish effective controls at all points of entry before granting access to their premises. Some facilities may consider a single point of entry to the building for all entrants to go through a sanitization/decontamination process before proceeding.
- In the event that someone with a likely case of COVID-19 requires transfer to an emergency department (ED), make appropriate travel arrangements for the safe evacuation of that person, considering physical distancing measures in the vehicle used for transporting the employee. Also ensure notification of the receiving ED and your local health department.
- In common areas employees and patients will have to wear masks and comply with all floor markings and demarcation instructions to ensure physical distancing. As far as possible, the number of employees and visitors in common areas should be limited and patients should complete necessary paperwork prior to arriving at the facility.
- Fingerprint access control devices, if any, should be cleaned at regular intervals. Anyone using the device should properly clean their hands before and after use..
5. Be supportive and flexible
Several aspects of employees’ personal lives are impacted by the pandemic. New and unexpected hurdles emerge in their day-to-day routine, and understanding these roadblocks can make tough situations easier on your staff. Childcare for parents has been disrupted by school and daycare center closures. In many cases, there are no family members or services they can turn to due to the lockdown.
In some cases, households may even have gone from double income to single income, as some companies have had to implement temporary layoffs. Whenever possible, allow for more compassion and flexibility for your employees in these times of uncertainty. Any form of relief or aid — information on financial assistance and workplace scheduling flexibility, for example — can genuinely help an employee facing a downturn.
Allow for alternative shifts, time off or modified schedules. This should not be much of a hassle if you are using an app or software to schedule medical staff. In a time of crisis, getting support from an employer can dramatically improve their loyalty and motivation.
How we live and work may have changed forever. The way different industries tackle the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely impact business models for the next decade. While the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on most economies thus far, the lessons learned may be pushing us beyond the crisis and into a new industrial revolution.