“It’s going to get easier, right?” I asked my friend Scott in a text message.
“I wouldn’t say it gets easier. But it does get more manageable,” he replied.
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It was about two weeks after my twins came home from the hospital, and the stress of providing round-the-clock care was starting to take its toll. I had reached out to Scott, a fellow twin parent, seeking reassurance. I wanted him to tell me that the toughest days were behind me and it was smooth sailing from here.
But Scott wouldn’t indulge me. Maybe it was because we’d been friends for well over a decade and he genuinely wanted to help. Or maybe it was because he knew that if he lied to me, I’d hunt him down and demand an explanation. Either way, he opted to be honest, but in a kind way.
“You will adapt, and it will get better.”
I did adapt — we all did. My babies eventually started to sleep in longer stretches and eat less often, and I found that, with practice, doing things like unfolding the gigantic double stroller and giving baths didn’t sap me of every last bit of energy. With time, caring for two babies had somehow become more manageable. But I’d never use the word “easy” to describe any part of the experience.
Scott was right. And even though a big part of me wanted him to lie (or at least embellish a bit), I was glad he didn’t. It helped me to temper my expectations and see things in a more realistic way.
I can’t help but think that IT leaders face the same dilemma when their exhausted staff members pose the same big question: When is it going to get easier? In a recent blog, John Halamka, M.D., — whose insights into industry trends never cease to amaze me — identified his top health IT concerns for 2013. Among them was managing increasing levels of employee stress. “Implementing Meaningful Use Stage 2, ICD-10, Accountable Care, Compliance requirements, and keeping the operational trains running day to day puts enormous stress on staff at all levels,” he wrote. “Balancing the scope of projects, the resources required, and the timing which keeps staff excited but not overwhelmed requires continuous course correction.”
In order to keep the trains running, CIOs and other senior leaders must constantly take the temperature of their staffs to ensure morale hasn’t sunk too low and everyone is all in. And part of that means managing expectations by being honest — but kind. Instead of applying a short-term fix by telling weary staff members that brighter days are right around the corner, perhaps it’s a better idea to acknowledge that it’s not going to get easy anytime soon. The health IT industry is in the midst of a transformation that is going to require an intense effort for a prolonged period of time. Every member of the staff needs to realize this.
But in the meantime, leaders can take some steps to help make the journey a little bit more manageable for those who are putting forth so much effort.
That might mean occasionally letting the staff work from home, as Linda Reed is doing at Atlantic Health. It could mean forming an employee activities committee and establishing retention programs, as John Bosco is doing at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. It could mean something as big as investing in staff education programs, or something as simple as throwing parties to celebrate team successes, as Bobbie Byrne is doing at Edward Hospital.
What it doesn’t mean is applying a band-aid that provides only temporary relief.
People may want to hear that the workload is going to lighten up soon; that it’s all going to get easier. But that isn’t the case. And a good leader; a good friend, won’t take the easy way out. A good leader will be honest — but kind and, in the long run, it will be greatly appreciated.