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Communicating Through The Crisis: How To Support Staff By Keeping In Touch

May 21, 2020 | Cari Rosenberger

Communicating Through The Crisis_ How To Support Staff By Keeping In TouchThe recent events of COVID-19 have brought a lot of uncertainty—particularly for caregivers working to protect those most vulnerable to the virus, our nation's seniors. Not only are they concerned about the safety and wellbeing of the residents they serve, but their own health and that of their family.

Uncertainty breeds fear and anxiety. And in many cases, that uncertainty stems from a lack of clear, concise and consistent communication.

As providers continue to weather the ever-changing nature of this storm, it’s vital to the safety of your residents and the wellbeing and morale of your staff to make communication a top priority.

Establish A Process—And Learn From It

Documenting a process for communicating during a crisis is a great starting point. However, providers should regularly revisit their strategies, documenting lessons learned as their plans are put into action.

Consider things like how you’re communicating, i.e. the systems you need in place to most effectively get your message to the right people. Consider what you’ll communicate, to whom, and how. For example, if there’s an important policy update, you may want to use a messaging system to text the update to your entire staff. But you may also want to post the update in common areas around the community and have managers and supervisors cover that update during a daily standup.

Continuously document how you’re communicating, what works and what doesn’t. Then use these lessons to update any existing policies and procedures for communicating during a crisis.

Keep in mind that communication is a two-way street and your plan should reflect this. As part of your communication plan, outline tactics for allowing staff to consistently lend a voice.

Timely staff surveys are one tactic many OnShift customers have implemented during this crisis. In fact, in April alone, we saw a 300% increase in the amount of custom surveys sent by our customers via OnShift Engage. They’re measuring staff sentiment on statements like: I feel safe coming to work; I feel supported by my community; and I understand the processes and procedures related to COVID-19.

They’re also using surveys to better understand how they can best support their staff and gauge concerns over things like childcare or transportation issues that may inhibit their ability to come to work.

Your plan could also implement things like mandatory daily team check-ins or twice a week one-on-ones with staff. The goal here is to make sure staff feel heard and informed, and are readily able to have their concerns eased and questions answered.

As your plan evolves, make sure everyone from executives to hourly staff are aligned on how things will be communicated in the event of an emergency and where to look for those communications.

Be Specific, Never Vague

“If your message does not contain specifics, it leaves room for interpretation,” notes Katie Adkisson in a recent article published on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. She says to avoid “the rumor mill” providers should always be as specific as possible in their messages to staff.

Part of being specific includes not ignoring the problems that are in front of you and your staff. If you are short on PPE, collaborate with your staff on what your organization is doing right now to solve the problem. If a resident becomes ill, make sure you provide specific procedures and policies that will be enacted as a response. If a staff member becomes ill, communicate it accordingly and outline the processes that are in place to keep others safe.

Again, uncertainty breeds fear and anxiety. Addressing the hard facts and providing specificity and being as transparent as possible can help ease these feelings.

Sometimes it can feel easier to try and ignore the crisis happening around. However, for the safety of everyone, it’s better to embrace it openly and honestly.

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, one provider sat down with her entire staff to discuss their fears, uncertainties, etc. By the end of the meeting the staff decided they would be warriors and they would fight through this crisis together.

Conversations like this are only possible with an open and transparent environment.

Share Updates In As Close To Real-Time As Possible

During a crisis, in order to feel safe, staff must feel informed. Of course, during a crisis there will be some updates that must be shared with leadership team members before they can be shared with frontline staff. But it’s important to share updates in as close to real-time with everyone as possible.

You don’t want to leave staff wondering what’s happening next. Or, as mentioned before, risk having things get misconstrued through the rumor mill and games of telephone.

Messaging systems like those in OnShift allow providers to instantly send messages to their entire staff. This includes things like real-time updates, training notifications, open shifts and policy changes, as well as updates from leadership providing words of encouragement and support. One of our customers sent a video message from their CEO to staff regarding COVID-19 and the steps their organization was taking to mitigate risk.

Having a vehicle to quickly and easily reach your entire staff is vital during a crisis and the best way to ensure everyone has the information they need, all at the same time.

Sound Like A Broken Record

As Adkisson notes, “If you start to feel like a broken record about how you are responding to COVID-19, you are doing it right.” During moments of crisis or emergency, over-communicating is only a positive.

Repetition not only reinforces the importance of what you need to communicate, but helps ensure as many people as possible hear your message.

In a recent CMS call, one provider shared that they have created a weekly staff digest to ensure they are up-to-date on everything that’s happening—whether it’s a new regulation, a new company-wide policy, safety updates, etc.

This is in addition to sharing those updates as they happen through blast emails and/or text messages, daily team standups and posters throughout the community.  

Adjusting To The New Normal

Communicating during a crisis is essential. However, as we approach a new normal, these core elements of how we communicate at the peak of a crisis should remain in place.

No matter what the climate, staff want to be informed and they want to be heard. As you refine your communication plan during this time, think about how it can translate during times of calm. Consider the tactics you have in place and consult your staff on which have been most useful and beneficial to them.

As you can see, proper communication is a great way to support your staff during a crisis and beyond. Be sure to always keep the conversation going.  

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About Cari Rosenberger

Cari Rosenberger is a Senior Portfolio Marketing Manager at OnShift.

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