The Forum

5 ways to talk with your staff about PPE

by Alexander Polyak

As the possibility of an autumn surge of Covid-19 cases looms large, so does the continued need to ensure adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). But if there's one lesson workforce leaders have learned about PPE, it's that simply procuring enough PPE doesn't make staff feel safe—you also have to communicate how you're keeping them safe.

5 imperatives to bolster employee engagement amid Covid-19

Advisory Board spoke with Paul van Aken, CNO, and his team at University Hospital Antwerp (UZA), who shared the following five strategies that UZA implemented during Belgium's initial Covid-19 surge—and which all hospitals can implement to stay on top of PPE.

1. Make PPE procurement a standing item at daily operational huddles for frontline staff.

UZA made sure that daily huddles with ward chiefs and leaders included an update on PPE procurement and protections. This approach ensured that the information could then be cascaded down appropriately to the frontline. As a result, frontline staff had the most up-to-date information available and understood that the organisation was committed to transparency around PPE. This strategy also ensured that all units were receiving the same information, helping to reduce rumours and strengthen a common narrative.

2. Be transparent about supply chains and the overall procurement process.

In the absence of information, rumours can run wild and emotions can run high. That's why updates about PPE procurement included full transparency about supply chains and any difficulties in procuring the equipment. Ultimately, even if the news wasn't always what staff wanted to hear, keeping updates consistent and honest—even if that meant saying, 'We're still working on it,' or 'We're having difficulties for these reasons'—strengthened employee trust in organisational leaders.

3. PPE procurement is a problem for all hospitalsso put your organisation in perspective.

As Covid-19 cases surged across March and April, UZA made sure to explain to staff the difficulties that hospitals across the region were facing with PPE procurement. They were able to place their own PPE procurement within a much wider context—a context that many employees were unaware of even if they intuitively understood that all health care providers were trying to acquire adequate PPE.

As UZA improved its PPE procurement processes, it routinely demonstrated lower infection rates among its staff as opposed to other hospitals in the area. Sharing this fact was particularly important to provide staff with a greater feeling of security.

4. Make it clear when you go above and beyond baseline safety recommendations.

UZA linked its PPE and safety protocols not only to those mandated by the Belgian health authorities, but it also tied them directly to the more ambitious standards set by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The organisation took the time to explain to staff what the mandated requirement for PPE was, and then explained how UZA's safety protocols met and exceeded that requirement.

For example, UZA noted that in Covid-19 wards, the standard was full-body PPE, which UZA provided and supplemented with a high-power, special air filtration system. Such examples, when available, demonstrate to employees that their safety isn't just a compliance point for the organisation: It's a genuine priority.

5. When it comes to PPE, being a leader means being visible.

Building off these first four steps, UZA ensured that senior leaders were present on the ward when night shift commenced. While this step isn't exclusively tied to PPE communications, it enabled leaders to directly hear operational concerns (including PPE procurement questions) across all shifts. UZA employees appreciated the visible leadership and visible commitment to ensuring staff safety at all hours.

Effective PPE communications can improve clinician satisfaction and trust

To gain insight into how PPE communications functioned during the Covid-19 pandemic, UZA performed a 360° analysis of organisation performance within different cohorts. Within the nursing cohort, UZA observed a 10% to 25% improvement of nurse satisfaction and trust in the organisation during the pandemic—an impressive accomplishment.

Further, within a pulse survey around PPE for all employees, UZA measured 86.2% positive satisfaction for the statement 'UZA has made sufficient effort to allow its employees to work in safe conditions and to provide them with necessary personal protective equipment'.

5 imperatives to bolster employee engagement amid Covid-19

Most health systems must bolster staff engagement right now, amid historic health and financial crises. Covid-19 has pushed frontline staff to emotional exhaustion, yet executives must still ask them for more to move their organisations forward.

Here we isolate five imperatives for strapped executives to bolster engagement and ready your workforce for the tough trade-offs organisations now face.

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