Don’t I already have enough to do?

Yes. But the coronavirus is the elephant in the room. No one can do their work as effectively under the psychological and physical stresses of the pandemic. It’s legitimate and vital that you invest time and energy in wellbeing. It’s ethical and practical – staff will work more effectively if their stress is taken seriously.

How do I look after myself?

Employees learn most from what you do, not what you say. If you role-model self-care strategies, this sends a message that this behaviour is valued by your organisation. Don’t be a sacrificial hero for the team as this creates dependency or self-destruction. Make sure you are sleeping enough, eating well, getting support for yourself and are spending a bit of time each day on self-care tasks such as exercise, listening to music, meditation and mindfulness practices

How can I prepare my staff?

Tell staff in advance that the challenges might lead to failures and compromises. In a crisis like this things will get messy and decision-making will evolve with each new challenge. Nothing will be perfect but the team will keep trying to solve each problem to the best of their human abilities.

In this regard, normalize feelings. In word and deed accept feelings of fear, failure, anxiety, shame, denial and anger.

What about the moral challenges?

International experience suggests that what caregivers must do in a pandemic crisis requires a fundamental shift in moral perspective: to go from dedicating oneself to the good of the individual patient to striving for the best outcomes among many patients. No clinician finds this reorientation welcome or intuitive. What we most fear in a pandemic is death, and survival is what we hope for. It is a good that can be wished for every person without any need to decide that some lives are more worthy of being saved than others. And by choosing this as our common goal, many other decisions fall into place. Help staff, especially junior staff, face the inevitable moral injuries that will come when the limits of our power to help are evident.

How can I help staff with their fears ?

Adopt a balanced, fact-based tone. Focus on tolerating uncertainty rather than making it go away. Neither minimise fears nor exaggerate the crisis. If you minimise fears your team will not cope with unexpected crises and if you exaggerate the situation you will drain people of their capacity to cope. By casting aside false promises or gloomy predictions you also establish yourself as a calm centre of the storm. This battle will be won in the long run, not in a sprint, led by a manager who tries to do the next right thing, moving forward, trusting in the future.

What about communication?

Clear, regular communication keeps everyone on track and prevents misunderstandings and rumour-mongering. For example, a morning flash meeting provides necessary information. Explain clearly and often what is required, such as what protective measures are expected. You can even draw attention to small victories or good actions you have noticed.

Set aside other times, separately, such as an end-of-day team huddle, for staff to raise concerns and express fears.

Now what?

Once instructions are issued the real work begins. Observe and assess what is going on in your team. Set aside some of your time to go out into the spaces where your staff are working, observing and noting if someone is not coping. If you become aware that someone is struggling,
either because of the work or personal issues, step in to help by providing support or assigning rest.

Sometimes a listening ear is enough.