Actions for Workforce Recovery - October 2022

Actions for Workforce Recovery - October 2022

The American Hospital Association (AHA) has put out an extensive report on addressing the healthcare workforce crisis. One nugget in it, the Healthcare Rescue Package: “The Wellbeing Five” suggests refreshingly accessible actions:

  1. These are non-normal times: adjust expectations.
  2. Get rid of stupid stuff (GROSS).
  3. Get radical to shore up staffing.
  4. Designate a well-being executive.
  5. EAP (Employee Assistance Program) is not enough. Do more.
Quick-start a little room for your recovery with the first two on that list:

1. Adjust expectations. You may bristle, thinking I mean “lower your standards.” High quality is still expected, but the same output is unrealistic when resources are low. The exhaustion is real, and as I heard at a recent conference, “We can’t bubble bath our way out of burnout.”

✓ Maybe now is the time to expand your comfort with the word no. At least consider, “Not right now.” Is it really the time to start new projects, create new teams, or develop a new service line? Maybe it is exactly the time to do so if that is where the enthusiasm is. But then it is time to let something else go.

✓ Try this exercise with your team: Brainstorm a list of all the projects and duties that you do. Estimate the amount of time each week those things take (it’s a guess, but you can always fine-tune it). Match it up to your available FTE to do a reality check. Categorize the work in buckets of “Do, Delegate, Delay, Ditch.”

✓ Create a communication system for expectations. Perhaps it’s a green/yellow/red hierarchy where you identify as green those things that just need to be done, but they don’t require agonizing (e.g., keep notes from meetings limited to decisions only vs. details of discussions or worrying about spelling errors). Yellow implies a basic standard must be met (e.g., tasks that you do that are important and helpful to do, but if delayed a bit, won’t cause a problem). Red means there is no wiggle room on an expectation’s highest quality (e.g. respect; it is never ok to swear at a patient). Consider also as “red” those things that are your important, but not urgent items. Maybe you’ve missed your professional networking/roundtable meetings the last year, and 2023 is your re-commitment to professional development. What can be moved off so that you can?

✓ Enough is enough. Help your team of normally high achievers (and yourself) recognize that it is ok to rest. “But I’ve always been a high achiever, delivering above and beyond.” You might drive your car 400 miles on a tank of gas, but with half a tank, you’re only going to go 200. This logic applies to us as humans. Maintain a focus on what you can do vs. what you can’t.

2. Get rid of stupid stuff - GROSS. My favorite. If not “stupid,” then superfluous or selective. Are you quite certain that there is nothing your team does that can go away? This may be a belief vs. a fact. Just about every team can find things that continue to be done only because you’ve always done them or someone else thinks you need to. Challenge this.

✓ Ask employees to be in charge of GROSS. Autonomy is a key driver of motivation. Have them explore, “What do we do that is redundant, wasteful or non-value-added?” Follow with, “What would be the downstream effect if we stopped doing it?” Some things can’t be eliminated, and they’ll learn why in this process.

✓ Assume there is waste. Pick one area of work and use a lean tool to explore where you have wasteful steps you can eliminate or reduce. (Learn more about Lean at RWHC).

✓ Stop working on days off. One of the AHA toolkit’s most provocative suggestions is putting a vacation out-of-office reply like this: “My employer cares about my well-being, so much so that while I’m on vacation, all emails will receive this message that your email will be deleted from my inbox. If your matter is urgent, please contact xxxxx. If it can wait, you may certainly re-send when I am back receiving emails on (date). Thank you for understanding.” I’d love to know if you try this and how it works!

*Download the whole AHA report, “Strengthening the Healthcare Workforce: Strategies for Now, Near and Far,download PDF.




Jo Anne Preston In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
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