In the pandemic and post-pandemic times, case management leaders can take many steps to help their staff prevent mental health issues, like trauma, stress, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others.
“Trauma has become such a big deal, and all of the healthcare workforce is traumatized by what they see,” says Ellen Fink-Samnick, LCSW, CCM, CRP, DBH-C, principal with EFS Supervision Strategies, LLC in Burke, VA.
Fink-Samnick offers these 10 steps leaders can take to save their staff from emotional overload:
• Pay attention. “Demonstrate attention to the health, safety, and well-being of your staff,” she says.
• Staff creatively. Case management leaders should consider creative staffing, including providing flex time, remote work when feasible, and other alternative options to give employees more flexibility.
• Create predictability. “It’s important to create predictability and stability where you can,” Fink-Samnick says. “These are uncertain times.”
Leaders can combat the unpredictability of a crisis period by creating consistent workflows, including holding huddles and communicating well with staff, she adds.
• Explain. “Make sure you have two-way communication that tells staff both what to do and why it’s happening that way,” Fink-Samnick says. “Staff gets very stressed out when they don’t know why something has to happen in the way it does. It minimizes some of their stress when you tell them why.”
• Support PRN (pro re nata). The term “support PRN” refers to checking in with staff as needed to ensure they are doing well emotionally. This might entail bringing employees a cup of coffee or rolling up one’s sleeves and skipping a meeting to help case managers when they are overwhelmed with work. It also means showing the leader cares and shows compassion for what they are going through, she says.
• Recognize limits. “You need to know both your own limits as a leader and those of your staff,” Fink-Samnick says. “Brainstorm together to figure out the next steps, how to fill the gap, and how to work through this together.”
• Express gratitude. “Everyone gets stressed, and they forget to say ‘Thank you’ or let someone know they really appreciate them,” she says.
• Maintain visibility. Case management directors should be visible to staff, and case management team members should be their neighbors’ keeper.
“Make sure you see each other,” Fink-Samnick says. “Team members can observe each other and know when folks are feeling burned out, tired, and they can reach out to them.”
Most leaders take an active role in trying to support staff, she notes.
“Because it’s so engrained in staff that they have to be tough, they often don’t accept the help, or they feel like they would be penalized if they asked for help. We need to get rid of that culture because it’s not helpful,” Fink-Samnick adds.
• Be mindful. “Be mindful of the team’s needs,” she suggests. “Take time to stop and listen.”
Organizations have tried asking for an anonymous wish list from staff, but they need to follow up and respond to these wishes.
• Know hot buttons. “People have to give themselves permission to stop, sleep, take time off, hydrate, or dance around to music to recharge,” Fink-Samnick says. “What are the feel-good stories in the pandemic? How do employees celebrate successes? Do they actively talk about things that are not work related? Have they set up virtual happy hours, or do they share a meal?”
Talking about each person’s daily lives, including pet adoptions, graduations, weddings, and more, can help improve morale, even if the conversation is five minutes or less, she adds.