Staff Management

Signs Your Staff Needs a Mid-Pandemic Morale Boost–and How to Do It

By Michael Kling, OD

August 19, 2020

We’re nearing the nine-month mark of the pandemic in the U.S., and it’s no wonder many of us have hit what some have called a “pandemic wall.” With crisis fatigue setting in, your staff may need a morale boost. Here are signs morale is flagging, and some of the ways I keep my employees’ spirits up so they are primed to provide the best care possible to our patients.

Early Excitement
When we first reopened, both doctors and staff were excited to be back, energized that we didn’t have to lay anyone off permanently, and eager to serve patients again. We started off with a practice-wide meeting with all 28 support-staff employees. We brainstormed the many difficult scenarios employees could encounter in reopening, including dealing with patients who did not want to comply with the new mask-wearing and social distancing mandates. Everyone left fired up and ready to go.

Reality Sets In
Fast-forward weeks after returning, and the reality of the new protocols, including the extra work and added time to get things done, is setting in. The new reality can be especially hard to accept given that none of us knows how long COVID-19 and the new protocols are going to be with us.

Employee-to-Employee Strife & Petty Conflict
The two other doctors I practice with, a practice partner and an associate, reported to me that they were noticing employees bickering and becoming testy with each other over little things, like who was last to do a particular task. They described it to me as a subtle undercurrent of stress and unpleasantness that they worried would eventually be picked up by patients.

Acknowledge Mutual Strain & Need for Mutual Respect
I have always favored a direct communication with employees, in which I share with them my concerns and discuss together how best to allay those concerns and address challenges. I called a staff-wide meeting in which we discussed why we all might be feeling strained, including the sometimes trying new protocols required to maintain safety, and how we should vent together as a team rather than lashing out at one another. I noted that the strain is mutual, but the need for respect also is mutual–that we needed to be sympathetic with one another since we are all likely feeling the same frustrations.

Facilitate Employee Recognition–and Fun
We use Slack to communicate within the office, which has allowed us to set up communication channels for different purposes. Two of these channels are devoted to employee morale-related communications. One is a social channel in which we communicate about staff office contests that are just for fun–like some of our employees’ participation in the Spicy Noodle Challenge–and another which we call our “Shout-Out” channel, where we recognize co-workers for small achievements. Recognition is often for the little things that make patients’ experience in our office more hospitable and enjoyable.

For instance, recently one employee recognized another employee for picking up a patient’s water bottle when it had dropped. Sometimes recognition is for an employee managing a difficult patient situation well. For example, one employee recently recognized a colleague for gracefully managing a loudly coughing patient, who was making other employees and patients nervous.

We also try to get together as a team socially once or twice every couple of months outside the office. Across the street from our office there is a restaurant with a large outdoor patio where we have been able to meet for socially distanced drinks and appetizers.

Celebrating Our Patient Experience–and Sharing it
We are fortunate to have a full-time marketing employee, whose whole job is promoting the practice, primarily through social media. Part of her job is shooting videos that celebrate our highly performing staff and how the work of that staff results in happy patients.

For example, with patients’ permission, she might shoot a video about the dispensing of a new pair of glasses in which the patient shows off her old and new glasses, sharing on video how much she loves her new glasses. Sometimes in the videos, the patient might even allude to the great service they experienced from one of our employees.

Editor’s Note: Before sharing photos or videos, or any information featuring patients, in your marketing, it is important to have patients sign a HIPAA Marketing Authorization form.

With the right support, and the right balance of work, fun and recognition, you and your employees can push past the pandemic wall to continue providing topnotch service to patients.

Michael Kling, OD, is the president of Impact Leadership and the founder and CEO of Invision Optometry, a Vision Source practice in San Diego, Calif. To contact him:  


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