In responding to the pandemic, senior living providers have had to ramp up communications with so many audiences — state agencies, regulators, hospitals and families, among others. But one audience too often is overlooked, and that audience is, without question, one of our most essential in protecting the company’s goodwill for the long-term. Your front-line and direct-care workers are your organization’s most effective and critical ambassadors. At the same time, they also can be your biggest critics.

Let’s be honest. In this current landscape, it’s easy to get whiplash. It can be difficult to prioritize communications when operational needs change by the minute. We’re swimming in new regulations and, at times, conflicting guidance from officials. We are safeguarding against unpredictability. We are sitting on endless video calls. More than that, many of us are grieving suffering and loss of life within our communities.

In all this, maintaining even a baseline of employee communications – simple messages with updates about test results, procedure changes and general information – already can feel like an unmanageable burden. But keeping your staff members engaged and ensuring that team morale remains high is paramount to preserving goodwill and, to put it pragmatically, your bottom line.

Although there is no silver bullet to keeping your staff engaged during this challenging time, consider the following tips.

Communicate understanding

In a time when America is celebrating healthcare heroes – from yard signs, to donated lunches, to synchronous moments of applause – much of the fanfare rests on acute-care providers and first responders. Our own healthcare heroes, regrettably, may feel excluded, despite their bravery in challenging, often untenable circumstances.

Make a deliberate effort to acknowledge the struggles your staff members are facing. Recognize the difficulty of working during the pandemic. To have this resonate, communicate with the staff members that you understand the sacrifices they are making. Taking an empathetic tone will help employees be receptive to your other messages. By acknowledging the challenges – while offering a measured level of praise – you demonstrate your ability to listen and understand what is happening on the front line. 

Do not be afraid to repeat this theme over and over again. Reinforcing a message of compassion – not only for residents and families but for your team members – goes a long way in making an employee group feel valued and appreciated.

Focus on small wins

You can help tackle morale issues by focusing on the small wins. Think about little considerations you can give, and recognize individual staff members’ contributions. Consider ways to make parking easier, bring in food, or send treats to your employees’ homes. Showing that you care in small ways can go a long way. Moreover, don’t let the day-to-day little victories and random acts of kindness slip by without taking time to acknowledge and showcase uplifting actions or exemplary work; it is worth the effort.

Move beyond the letter

Our default position is to communicate via letter, but we need to use channels that can show our humanity and sense of compassion. Video messages can help, but the best way is to take the time to have one-on-one or small group exchanges with our folks. Doing so lets them know that leadership shares in their struggles.

Consider having senior staff members call members of the direct-care staff to ask, “How are you?” Unexpectedly reach out to your staff and listen to their concerns. Truly listen and ask questions. Ask whether there are things that can be done – no matter how small (think better break-room snacks, for example) – to help make their work more amenable to today’s new difficulties or help make their shifts more enjoyable.

Consider having your executive director hold stand-up meetings to reinforce your positions and offer opportunities for team members to ask questions about future plans. Frequency, repetition and clarity can stave off a loss of hope and engagement.

These small but important steps may help keep your staff members dialed in. The importance and power of communication with your staff is essential to maintain morale and protect the goodwill you’ve earned with our most important brand ambassadors.

Christopher Lukach, APR, is the president of AKCG – Public Relations Counselors, a public relations firm with expertise in crisis planning, crisis management, media training and media relations.