Authentic leaders hold space for people to be imperfect
Updated: Apr 22
I’d been waiting for a moment to catch my chief of staff all morning, and I finally had her attention. My headphones were on, and I didn’t notice my office door open until a glitter-encrusted magic wand was thrust in front of my video camera. I was mortified, but her response was gracious. “I have kids too.”
So much has happened in healthcare over the past few years, and while there’s been a lot of tragedy and strain, there have been some positive changes too.
COVID has normalized conversations about moral injury and burnout. It also ripped off the veneer of professionalism that was papering over the humanity of healthcare professionals.
We are people too. No one of us is an automaton not impacted by the daily stressors and strains of regular life.
We are parents. We arrive at work late. We see patients when we are grumpy, tired, and hungry. We get frustrated with employees who don’t appreciate the big picture. And we are all doing our best to make it through the day while providing excellent care and not killing ourselves.
I sat down with Dr. Mayan Bomsztyk, an internal medicine physician & executive leader in a public sector healthcare system. We explored some of these challenges from her perspective as an executive leader. She shared her perspective and a few lessons she has learned about reconnecting with and reprioritizing what matters to take better care of employees in healthcare.
Here are four of her lessons learned about how to make a difference for your people:
1. Rebalance workload so your people thrive.
When frontline staff are overloaded by nonessential or irritating tasks, they lose their connection to the life-giving elements of their work. This increases their risk of burnout and workplace disengagement.
Talk with your team. Consider which of their tasks are painful, irritating, or nonessential to providing safe patient care. Ask your employees to share which elements of their work are inspiring or life-giving. Collaborate with your employees to improve the balance between painful and life-giving tasks.
to increase the life-giving elements through one tiny change at a time. You may not be able to eliminate tasks they don’t enjoy. But taking a creative approach and considering the match between employee strengths and interests, may allow you to shift the mix of duties just enough to create meaningful work for each employee.
Research from the Mayo Clinic clearly demonstrates that physicians are much happier with their career fit when 20% of their time is focused on tasks they enjoy and find meaningful.
When you think about it, 20% of a clinician's time is a tiny proportion of their work. It is
Ask yourself: How can I offload painful duties from frontline staff and benefit our patients simultaneously?
2. Make room for humanity at work.
The challenges impacting you are also impacting your employees. Are you working from home with your kids or elderly parents in the background? Are you arriving at work with yogurt-stained pants? Are you fielding calls from your childcare about your sick kid? So are your employees.
COVID shifted the way that we perceive ourselves and our work-life balance. It also normalized showing up imperfectly at work. This is a shift that we need to embrace. No one in healthcare is an automaton.
You are a fragile human, and your employees are too. We are all impacted by our environment, organizational pressures, and relationships. Making space for people to show up less than perfectly promotes engagement and empowers them to bring their authentic selves to work.
3. Consider big-picture processes when reviewing metrics.
Metrics matter, but they are not an end unto themselves. Metrics are a sign of how well your processes are working.
Think about how patient care has been impacted by the past few years of stress, uncertainty, and disrupted access to care. There are probably many reasons mammogram screenings are down, or rates of hypertension are up in your population.
Work with your people to consider how you might tighten up the clinical processes measured by your metrics. If the process is robust, the signal will improve. Eventually, your metrics will look better.
Look for patterns across programs and facilities.
You may need to get creative. For example, is there a way to bundle preventative care so that all of their screening and prevention needs are met the next time a patient walks in the door? Can processes be structured so that patients are automatically enrolled in preventive care measures and have to opt-out if they’re not interested intentionally?
The US government plans to use the automatic enrollment strategy to increase the retirement savings rate. If it's good enough for the government, maybe it’s also good enough for your healthcare system.
4. Dig deep to re-engage employees.
If your employee engagement, burnout, or turnover indicators look terrible right now, take a step back and then take a deeper look at your employee engagement processes.
Don’t settle for surface-level tactics. Yes-I’m talking pizza parties and pretty breakrooms here. Surface-level changes won’t promote lasting improvements in employee workplace satisfaction. They won’t, and you’ll exhaust yourself applying surface-level fixes.
Your people metrics are an equally important signal that there are problems in your employee processes.
Scoring higher on the Best Place to Work Scale or the Employee Engagement measure is not an end.
Take the time to investigate what is going on. Talk to your people and let go of your efforts to make your people metrics look better. Once you address the underlying challenges, your people metrics will naturally improve.
Think about what your people are struggling with right now. And collaborate with your team to make tiny adjustments to help them feel more secure, valued, and cared for by your healthcare system.
People are tired of being equated with their productivity outcomes.
Think about what you can do to adapt how you engage with your people so that they are better equipped to provide high-quality patient care while taking care of themselves.