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September 24, 2020

Why Texas Medical Center doesn't call frontline workers 'heroes' (and what it says instead)

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Sept. 17, 2021.

    Throughout the epidemic, frontline health care workers have been portrayed as "heroes" by their employers, their community, and the media. But while this term is meant to celebrate workers for their herculean efforts, some health care professionals feel it minimizes their lived experiences with shortages of personal protective equipment, high rates of stress and burnout, feelings of being left behind, and more. For example, as one nurse explained in Slate, "the wartime [hero] rhetoric allows for things to seem like the deaths of health care workers and the illnesses of health care workers were inevitable and unavoidable."

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    So how can you celebrate your employees while not coming off as tone deaf? We recommend organizations skip the hero language and instead focus on messaging that amplifies the voices of their frontline staff. For example, Texas Medical Center News, the news outlet for Texas Medical Center (TMC), is highlighting the lived experiences of individual staff members during Covid-19 in an occasional series called "In Their Own Words: Voices of the Covid-19 Crisis."


    We like a lot of things about this approach, including how it:

    • Tells stories from the employee's perspective Each story is told in the first-person; the individual employee gives the reader a well-rounded and personal understanding of their particular experience. TMC's writers help employees share their experiences in their own words by conducting interviews and transcribing their answers in an article format. For example, a recent article on rehabilitation programs is written in the voice of the doctor who shared his story with a writer.

    • Features a photo of the individual employee Each story includes a photo of the employee, bringing that person to life for readers. Having the context of a photo is also important to celebrate the diversity of TMC's interviewees.

    • Doesn't shy away from the challenges While it's difficult to be vulnerable and share challenges, transparency in your messaging will offer the most complete perspective. For example, in one of the interviews, a Houston-based doctor describes how difficult it is to bond with patients given his PPE. In response to how he's handled this challenge, the doctor explained, "Usually, I just try to sit next to the patient. When they have questions or concerns, I address them and hold their hands if they are worried. It's just simple things like that." Through this description of his selfless actions, it is apparent to readers that the organization is grateful for its employees without explicitly using the "hero" moniker.

    • Shares the same stories externally and internally One final tip? Align your external messaging with what is shared internally to maintain trust with your employees. When sharing these messages externally, we commend using a variety of channels including your career website, local press coverage, and social media.

    How is your organization celebrating your health care workers? Please email us at HRAC@advisory.com—we'd love to learn from you!

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