The pandemic has left healthcare workers across the country not only physically, but also emotionally exhausted. And sadly, some have been left almost completely broken by the sheer devastation of the past year. One recent survey found that 93% of essential healthcare workers are experiencing stress, 86% have anxiety, 77% feel frustration, 76% face burnout, and 75% note they’re simply overwhelmed as a whole.
With continuing vaccine rollouts, there’s certainly hope on the horizon. Nonetheless, recovery requires us to pay a great deal of attention to these selfless healers; after all, they need to hear words that inspire them to continue in their chosen profession — even when that career places them at risk of experiencing similar devastation again. For essential healthcare workers, returning to a place of inspiration will be a long and arduous path.
Although I can’t map out this path for each individual, I can speak to something that helps in times of loss and hardship: gratitude. Acknowledging an individual’s contributions has a way of spurring change. Just a few grateful sentiments can inspire positive emotions — emotions that can boost happiness, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. They can make people feel more optimistic, purposeful, and even understanding.
Besides this, given that gratitude often begets gratitude, a simple “thank you” can encourage the recipient to express similar sentiments to others. The combination of receiving and expressing appreciation can be magical. All of a sudden, people stop and realize exactly what they should be grateful for. When applied in a healthcare setting, such levels of positivity and gratitude can turn an ordinary patient experience into an extraordinary one.
Expressing Gratitude Through National Nurses Week
As we express appreciation for nurses throughout National Nurses Week (May 6-12), let’s also make sure all essential healthcare workers are given the time and resources necessary to heal. Sometimes known as National Hospital Week (May 9-15), this holiday can serve as a call to build up our tired, mentally exhausted healthcare teams and propel them forward into a brighter future.
With all of this in mind, then, what are the most effective ways a healthcare system can express thanks and gratitude to teams? The following are great places to start:
1. Make sure gratitude flows from patients to staff. No doubt, good leaders have been pouring on praise and appreciation for a long time now. And though formal expressions of gratitude are always a great way to bring attention to employee contributions, ramp up the thank-you touchpoints during National Nurses Week and National Hospital Week. Notes from patients and families to all essential healthcare workers on the floor are a perfect way to achieve this. They’ll mean as much — if not more than — a job-well-done note from a CEO.
2. Involve the local community. As we like to say, extraordinary times call for extraordinary gratitude. Besides involving patients and families, you can also involve the local community in both National Nurses Week and Hospital Week by encouraging the public to send notes of appreciation. Invite local television stations to do features, encourage local radio stations to promote a card shower (where the public inundates essential healthcare workers with thank-you notes), or place posters outside of hospital doors for passersby to write their personal notes of thanks.
3. Give employees the hero status they deserve. Providing healthcare during a pandemic is much different than providing healthcare at any other time. The job suddenly became much more dangerous. From now on, these essential healthcare workers are like veterans — a close-knit group with an unbreakable bond under their belt. Give awards, honors, or anything else that recognizes the lives employees saved throughout this ordeal as well as the grit they showed.
4. Bolster employees’ support systems. Nurse appreciation — or any recognition of healthcare workers, really — should extend beyond the individual to also include family members and friends who provided support. During National Nurses Week and Hospital Week, make a plan for how to extend your gratitude toward those dear to your team. An email of thanks, an invitation to join a socially distant celebration for staff, or a gift card to a local business are good places to start.
5. Make appreciation a two-way street. Healthcare systems should express gratitude to essential healthcare workers and make it easier for staff to express gratitude toward each other. At Hallmark Business Connections, we call this “get one, give one.” An employer gives two cards: one that expresses its gratitude for the employee and a blank card for the employee to express his or her gratitude to someone else on the team.
“I got several phone calls and a few emails from my staff saying they really appreciated the cards,” explained Laura, a clinical manager using Hallmark cards to show appreciation to nurses, administrative staff, and social workers. “I think it made them feel cared about. They felt very appreciated. It was a special way to reach out to them as individuals to let them know they’re seen. A few of them told me they teared up when they received the card in the mail.”
Although the pandemic isn’t yet over, the future looks brighter for those on the front lines. The timing couldn’t be better to show a bit more appreciation for the sacrifices of essential healthcare workers.