The pandemic has stretched everyone to the max—but for health care workers, it’s been even more stressful.
Renown Health, a locally governed, not-for-profit integrated health care network serving northern Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California, knows this all too well. And they’re taking active steps to prevent the alarming levels of burnout that have hammered hospitals around the world.
According to Suzanne Hendery, Renown’s chief marketing, communications & customer officer, an uptick in empathetic communication has been a cornerstone to keeping employees engaged during such a tumultuous time.
“We have dramatically increased our communications to all audiences, internal and external and with new partners, to successfully educate, inform and advocate through the pandemic,” she says.
For Renown Health, COVID forced an immediate shift in comms tactics. Hendery and other hospital communicators printed out key talking points and brought hard copies of important messages directly to frontline workers. Hospital communicators were also conducting “hourly update calls for key groups, holding daily town hall meetings with our CEO for all employees, updating our websites and intranets constantly with new updates and using secure text messaging with our medical providers,” Hendery says.
New messaging initiatives arose when COVID cases started spiking, including an email newsletter called “Daily Determination,” which is now sent to all 6,500 employees. The newsletter provides top media headlines and stories that Renown has been mentioned in, employee reminders, and requests for story ideas. Hendery adds that Renown’s CEO, Dr. Anthony Slonim, now holds regularly scheduled “virtual town hall meetings where all employees are invited to participate and answer questions.”
Gathering firsthand feedback from the front lines
Renown closely monitors employee engagement, feedback and sentiment, and this heartfelt concern starts at the top, says Hendery. Renown’s senior leaders “encourage employees to reach out to us with any questions or concerns so we can provide answers or an explanation.”
“We have a feedback link to every story on our intranet,” Hendery explains, “asking for comments and questions; we ask for employees to ask questions and engage with our CEO and senior leaders through virtual town hall meetings, and conduct regular Employee Opinion surveys as well as pulse surveys to be sure we are monitoring and responding to employee needs for communications.”
To gauge messaging success, Hendery “loves seeing numbers,” such as how many employees attend virtual meetings, the number of comments or questions on intranet posts, or the phone calls and emails received from employees.”
But nothing compares to gathering information firsthand. To reach Renown’s frontline heroes, Hendery says she prioritizes “rounding with a purpose,” or checking in on frontline staffers providing care, adding, “Nothing beats being on the frontline, thanking the employees for their service, and asking how you might be of help, providing updates, asking questions and providing answers.”
That close contact with employees—and keen listening to their concerns—is a great way to uncover hidden storytelling gems. It’s also a smart way to discover what, exactly, employees need to be happy on the job.
In this case, that’s meant showering employees with gratitude through the hospital’s “Everyday Amazing” recognition program—and providing a slew of well-earned benefits.
Announcing new benefits
Hendery says Renown has been consistently asking its employees what the organization could do to “make their lives and their careers most fulfilling.” Caregivers on the front lines understandably have been sharing serious concerns about COVID-19 exposure and not having enough PTO. In response, Renown’s leadership provided an additional two weeks of sick time to every employee. Hendery says Renown’s nurses also formed a “Resiliency Committee,” which asked if employees might use some of those days as “mental health/self-care days.”
She says the hospital’s CHRO and CEO approved the request. And then some.
Renown’s leadership has recently announced a number of additional employee benefits, including $100 gifts for frontline workers, gratis chair massages and free mental health counseling visits.
CEO Dr. Slonim recently shared with Renown Health employees:
“To honor you this holiday season, we have added to your comprehensive benefits package to help you achieve well-being, realize greater financial security, advance your education, enjoy enhanced life balance, and when needed, face illnesses and setbacks with the greatest possible peace of mind.”
Michelle Sanchez Bickley, Renown’s CHRO and a 2020 honoree in Ragan’s 2020 Top Women in HR Awards, added:
“By listening, recognizing and honoring our team member’s emotional health, we are looking to help each other process these experiences, grow from them and emerge more resilient and available to our patients and families. This could include taking a day off to refresh and recharge or taking advantage of confidential, mental health counseling visits at no charge. We have updated our policy to include mental and emotional well-being as eligible for use of sick leave.”
Dr. Slonim ended his letter to employees by saying, “This year, as we readjust, realign and restore our way to a new world, I have never been prouder to ‘Be Renown.’ Thank you for standing by us, offering your time and expertise, and helping us emerge stronger people, and a stronger organization through a very challenging time. Please enjoy this holiday season with family and friends, and know you are appreciated.”
As for 2022 goals, Hendery says Renown’s strategy is “always to create raving fans of Renown Health.” To do so, she aims to continue uncovering what Renown’s employees want fixed—along with an ongoing pursuit of working to streamline the patient experience.
Hendery also hopes to continue “inspiring our team” as the hospital enters another uncertain year.
Finding that spark of inspiration is a crucial weapon in the fight again burnout, which is fueling the ongoing “Great Resignation” that’s roiling employers all over the U.S. It’s an especially acute issue facing health care orgs.
It’s a tricky, complex problem to solve, but to Hendery, fighting burnout starts and ends with love. In her words:
“Love your team, love your customers, love the energy and the excitement of the situation—and do the best you can.”