(I want to start out this post by saying that this world would be a better place if employers did more to genuinely recognize and celebrate the efforts of their employees. But that needs to be part of your organization’s DNA – and the recognition should not be generic or canned. It needs to be authentic and genuine. Above all, the praise can’t only come when it is convenient and popular.)
Within a three minute drive of my home, there are two outpatient facilities that have “Heroes Work Here” signs on their lawns. Unfortunately, and perhaps symbolically, the signs are now in disrepair and falling down. These campaigns have become so ubiquitous that they have lost any hope of being effective. Of course, that assessment of effectiveness depends on the campaign’s intended purpose. Was it designed to show appreciation for healthcare workers employed by the organization? That is my hope. Or was it designed to more deeply connect the community with the healthcare organization by holding out its workers as heroic professionals? I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that this pandemic has challenged healthcare workers in organizations across the country, with many feeling as though their health and safety were not priorities. The lack of PPE along with new protocols that required them to re-use PPEs both contributed to this feeling. Healthcare workers would rather receive adequate equipment and support than being publicly celebrated as heroes.
As I said in the opening line of this post, it is great to celebrate your employees. Typically, this is not done enough in any industry. However, there has to be substance behind the praise. I wrote a piece a couple of months ago saying that Healthcare Heroes Campaigns are not enough. These hard-working, mission-driven professionals deserve more meaningful and less contrived recognition. They need leadership rounding on every floor of the hospital, in every unit, and on every shift. They need leadership who listens to their concerns. They need adequate supplies and to feel safe in the workplace. I recently recommended to one of our clients that they send a letter of appreciation from the CEO to every employee at their home address. It’s important for the employee and his or her family members to know that the organization recognizes and appreciates their effort. On its own, this would be one small gesture. But combined with other meaningful practices, it may help paint the picture of an organization that truly values its employees.
Below is an example of a Facebook post from one frustrated nurse:
In an article in Scientific American, Dr. Daniel Barron, a resident psychiatrist at Yale University writes about his experience during COVID-19. Dr. Barron shares that he does not feel heroic. Far from it. “At no point in my life have I felt less heroic than the last five months. And yet, on or about March 2020, people began calling me a hero. I struggle to describe how angry this makes me.” In the article, Dr. Barron goes on to give us greater insight into why he objects to being called a hero:
“Make no mistake, as a physician, I’m grateful that the public recognizes the tireless and heartbreaking sacrifices of health care workers. In calling someone a hero, one conjures an image of courage, perseverance, honor. But the rhetoric of heroism is more complex. When some leaders call health care workers heroes, they abdicate responsibility; they displace their duty to serve and protect and instead rhetorically suggest that heroes alone decide victory or defeat.
I am angry because our nation has forgotten why heroics remain necessary. We have forgotten to ask why the wealthiest, most scientifically advanced nation in history requires health care workers to heroically risk their lives. Or why a system of government meant to represent all of its citizens requires unarmed protesters to heroically face heavily armed professional soldiers in full body armor.
Health care workers and Black activists continue to risk our lives because we have no other choice. We are not heroes because we want to be, but because our government has failed, disastrously, to marshal a concerted, coordinated response; because our government cannot talk to and lead and protect all of our people in our nation.” (Scientific American, June 21, 2020)
I am confident that most of these Healthcare Heroes Campaigns are well intended. And these healthcare workers are heroic. They deserve recognition. My request is that we find authentic ways to recognize employees; through methods that don’t feel contrived. Let’s stay away from syndicated employee appreciation campaigns that come out of a box and can be purchased on Amazon.com. And let’s get these workers the supplies they need to do their jobs safely. I work with several hospitals around the country that are still struggling to acquire PPE for their staff. This has to be fixed.