A few weeks back, I wrote an article detailing the key hiring strategies to pursue in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We subsequently delivered a webinar to more than 800 registrants to share more on these ideas through a recommended set of strategic actions and tactics.

In the days since, a new issue has emerged that warrants additional consideration in your COVID-19 planning. With the reduction or elimination of elective procedures across the country, many hospitals that are not yet in the midst of a significant local outbreak (and even some that are) are facing serious revenue shortfalls. In response to this financial downturn, some hospitals are reducing hours for nursing staff.

While this strategy is undoubtedly necessary, it also carries real risk:

  • Reduced hours lead to missed opportunities to train and cross-train nursing staff in ways that could be meaningful in the coming weeks and months – whether that’s reinforcing the obvious like infection control or teaching respiratory therapy skills or ventilator skills.
  • These actions could increase flight risk once this crisis is over, if not handled well – insensitive communication or talent strategies could significantly hurt engagement.

This isn’t just a risk – this is reality. I have personally heard from several people close to me who have been affected by the second risk. For example, the hospital reduced an employee’s hours, but also communicated that failure to respond to new assignments or inter-hospital transfer requests will be treated as a “mark” against the employee. Considering the competitive market for quality talent today, it’s important to be thoughtful about how to tackle these problems vs. being reactive to the financials alone.

In the coming weeks, it’s unfortunately likely that many of these furloughed or “reduced hours” workers will be needed full-time or more due to increases in the number of infected patients, so the short-term solution of cutting hours is likely a very temporary scenario. That said, if not handled well, this temporary situation could have lasting consequences in terms of organizational loyalty and long-term engagement.

Another big problem is the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). It has been well documented that healthcare organizations facing higher patient loads are running low on PPE and many are working extended hours. This is an incredibly stressful time for those on the frontlines, even for those who are not yet fully engaged in fighting this full-time. They know what’s coming – they’ve seen the pictures of healthcare workers who can’t embrace their family members or even be in the same room with them.

Given the above, employees will be even more sensitive to any message you deliver. Now is the time to be as authentic, as rea, and as compassionate as you can be in whatever message you are delivering. Messages that may have been perfectly reasonable five months ago may receive a more negative reaction in today’s climate. The degree to which you engage and support your frontline now is the degree to which you will see your dysfunctional turnover increase on the other side of this crisis. It’s also the degree to which your employer brand will improve or take a lasting hit.

In thinking through suggested practices, here are ways to support your team during this crisis:

  • Consider crisis pay increases, especially for those frontline workers directly dealing with COVID-positive patients
  • Be transparent about PPE decisions and rationing, including why certain decisions are being made – healthcare workers, unsurprisingly, understand healthcare and know what equipment they should have under ideal circumstances
  • Support all frontline managers as much as possible – they are the ones caught between organizational mandates and restrictions and worker’s actual needs and well-being; to the extent possible, support them with communications and in sharing ownership of difficult messages
  • Communicate clearly and decisively regarding any policy changes and show empathy and compassion in any decision involving short-term reduction in hours or lack of PPE availability
  • Consider those workers who already have or soon will have childcare challenges – with daycares and schools closed in so many areas, it may be difficult for workers to support normal shifts, let alone extra requests; consider partnerships with local childcare providers that are open or in working with the state or local politicians to designate healthcare-specific daycare providers

Your frontline workers are the heroes in this crisis. We know you are committed to supporting them and doing all you can to keep them safe while also trying to manage an incredibly challenging financial scenario.

The tricky balance lies in showing your team you care while also in some cases, reducing hours.  How you manage this and how you support your first line managers delivering this communication will make a big difference in your team’s engagement now and after the crisis passes.

About David Wilkins

As Chief Strategy Officer at HealthcareSource, Dave leads marketing strategy, overseeing corporate marketing, product marketing, and strategic alliances. Previously, he co-founded the Oracle Sales Academy, a sales enablement organization serving Oracle’s global sales team. Prior to Oracle, Dave was Head of Taleo Research where he was recognized as an industry thought leader in the field of Human Capital Management. Dave has also served as VP of Product Marketing for Learn.com and as Chief Strategy Officer for Knowledge Impact where he spearheaded OEM relationships with PeopleSoft, Clarify, and Witness Systems. In 2010, Dave keynoted the national Training conference, and in 2011, the ATD Chapter Leaders Conference. Dave received his bachelor of arts from University of New Hampshire.