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  • Writer's pictureJorge Petit

Leading Through Change: Crafting the Future of Healthcare Leadership [Part 1 of 2]


Leadership Innovation/Image by ar130405 from Pixabay

As we approach the 4-year anniversary of the start of global pandemic in the US—with all its unprecedented challenges and opportunities—as healthcare leaders we are at a pivotal juncture. As the dust begins to settle, we are tasked with navigating through the complexities of a transformed healthcare landscape, marked by rapid technological advancements, changing patient expectations, and an increased focus on public health and the criticality of health-related social needs. Additionally, we are confronting rising rates of overdose deaths, a crisis of isolation, loneliness and other mental health conditions, and all exacerbated by post-COVID workforce challenges, such as burnout, difficulty recruiting and retaining staff, and increased demand for treatment, services and supports with oftentimes limited and/or inequitable access to these.


The opportunities that lie ahead are as daunting as they are exciting. The healthcare sector needs leaders who can navigate through uncertainty, embrace innovation, and build resilience within their organizations. Addressing these challenges calls for a visionary approach, one that prioritizes adaptability and fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement.  The opportunities for transformation are abundant, ranging from telehealth expansion to enhanced data analytics for better outcomes. As healthcare leaders we must seize these opportunities to reimagine healthcare delivery, creating a more equitable, affordable and accessible system of care.


Crafting the future of healthcare leadership in this new landscape will require a blend of strategic foresight, empathy, and a commitment to ethical decision-making, ensuring that the health systems of tomorrow are more inclusive, efficient, and person-centric. The journey ahead demands collaborative efforts, strategic investments in technology, and a workplace culture that embraces change, aimed at improving health outcomes and person’s served experiences in the new post-COVID normal.


I recently came across an article: Facing the Post-Pandemic Challenges: The Role of Leadership Effectiveness in Shaping the Affective Well-Being of Healthcare Providers Working in a Hybrid Work Model [1] that delves into the critical issue of leadership effectiveness in healthcare, particularly in the context of the hybrid work mode that has emerged in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The study closely aligns with my perspective and vision of the strategies and competencies that healthcare leaders must have in addressing employee’s well-being and leading a successful organization. The article calls out the following key leadership strategies: building involvement (such as empowerment and team orientation), promoting adaptability (including change management and organizational learning), and managing consistency through shared values and effective coordination. What I found most interesting was that adaptability emerged as a crucial factor, with leadership strategies that promoted adaptability showing a significant positive correlation with the well-being of healthcare workers.

 

I also went back to look more closely at SAMHA’s 2022 publication on Addressing Burnout in the Behavioral Health Workforce [2], which provides a comprehensive overview of burnout within the behavioral health workforce, its causes, implications, and strategies for prevention and reduction.

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and

  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

 The report underscores the realities we are seeing in our sector: over 50% of behavioral health providers experience symptoms of burnout. This is further exacerbated by staffing shortages, high workloads, severe emotional demands of the job, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on behavioral health services demand and delivery.

 

As healthcare leaders we must heed these trends and intentionally prioritize planning processes to address burnout effectively as well as strategic planning for sustainability to ensure long-term viability.  Leaders will need to adopt organizational strategies that address the root causes of burnout, promote a healthy workplace culture, and implement sustainable practices that support the well-being of their workforce. These strategies will not only mitigate the risk of burnout among healthcare providers but also enhance the quality of care for persons served, thereby contributing to a more resilient and effective healthcare system.

 

As leaders we are responsible for addressing these challenges and ensuring that individuals continue to have access to timely, high-quality and effective care. This will require creativity, innovation, and perseverance given that many of these issues will take a long time to be addressed fully.


Here are a 4 things that as a leader you can do to help your staff…


1.     Create a safe and supportive work environment. This means fostering a culture of trust, open communication, and respect; providing staff with the resources and support they need to manage their emotions and workload. This could include offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), mental health training, and/or offering flexible work arrangements and reduces workload, wherever possible.


2.     Create a culture of support and respect. Leaders must endeavor to create a culture of support and respect where staff feel valued and appreciated, which in turn can help to reduce turnover and improve staff morale. This can include fostering a culture of collaboration and teamwork, providing opportunities for professional development, and offering competitive salaries and benefits.


3.     Be aware of the signs of stress and burnout. Schedule regular one-on-one or team check-ins (i.e.: Lunch-n-Learns, Wellness Webinars, Town Hall Meetings) to give staff a chance to come together, talk about how they are feeling, and how to get support. As leaders we must recognize the signs that staff may be struggling, such as changes in mood, behavior, or performance, and ensure that someone can reach out to staff and offer needed support.


4.     Create a healthy workplace. Leaders must set a good example for their staff by modeling healthy emotional regulation skills as well as emphasis on work-life balance. Leaders can create opportunities for staff to connect with each other, both in person and virtually—host team lunches, social events, or virtual happy hours—and encourage staff to take regular breaks throughout the day, even if it's just for a few minutes. This can help to reduce stress and improve focus and bolster morale.


In today’s environment it is imperative for healthcare leaders to think and act differently than what was the norm 4 years ago. Today we need leaders that are actively engaged in innovative practices and strategies to navigate the post-COVID healthcare landscape effectively. The challenges, including the need to address workforce burnout, the integration of technology innovations, and the delivery of equitable health care, calls for a leadership approach that is adaptable, empathetic, and committed to continuous improvement. By fostering an organizational culture that values involvement, supports adaptability, and ensures consistency in mission and values, healthcare leaders can enhance the well-being of their teams while delivering high-quality care to those they serve.

 

Today’s healthcare leaders must develop new competencies that are attuned to the complexities of managing hybrid teams and fostering a supportive environment that promotes both employee and person served well-being. As healthcare systems continue to evolve in response to the pandemic's lasting impacts, the role of effective leadership has never been more critical. By embracing these strategies, healthcare leaders can be instrumental in crafting a future where the healthcare sector is not only more resilient but also much more responsive to the needs of its workforce and the communities it serves.


 

[1] Oleksa-Marewska K, Tokar J. Facing the Post-Pandemic Challenges: The Role of Leadership Effectiveness in Shaping the Affective Well-Being of Healthcare Providers Working in a Hybrid Work Model. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Nov 3;19(21):14388. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192114388. PMID: 36361264; PMCID: PMC9655828.

 

[2] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Addressing Burnout in the Behavioral Health Workforce Through Organizational Strategies. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP22-06-02-005. Rockville, MD: National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2022.

 

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