Improving Staff Morale

If you ask any health professional how they are and how have things been the past year, you may hear one common phrase or response…. “I’m tired/I’m exhausted”, or something similar. We cannot deny that this past year and moving forward, working within the health center sector has been exhausting. As professionals we’re busy; figuring out workflows to maintain social distancing, vaccine distribution methodologies, understanding Covid-19 variants, and meeting compliance with the HRSA Program Requirements. While these tasks are important, one of the biggest goals for health center leaders should really be improving staff morale and keeping staff safe from burnout and fatigue. This isn’t easy but must be done. Low morale and staff burnout can be costly for community health centers as it leads to high turnover rates (which means hiring new staff), can decrease provider productivity and even decrease quality of care.  According to The Center for American Progress, “it can cost up to 25% of a disgruntled employee’s salary to replace them”. [1] While we may not be able to change the duties of the job, health centers can work to foster an environment that is more rewarding and favorable to staff. The following are a few tips which may be helpful:
  • Practice Effective Communication: The biggest complaint within staff satisfaction surveys is a lack of communication, which at times stems from the top down. As our employees are our biggest asset, treating them with respect is high on the list. Sending emails may not be effective as inboxes get bombarded and the average person usually reads the first 5 sentences of an email. Effective communication includes questions such as, “How are you feeling today?”, or “What challenges are you facing with your patient case load today?”. While at times we can’t change the number of patients, staffing may provide a challenge that we can fix such as additional support staff, catering in lunch or ensuring that room supplies are fully stocked. With bigger health centers, communication may become difficult, and the message may not get to some; in fact it may be like playing a game of telephone; what was communicated is not what was said. Having all staff meetings, at least quarterly, would be beneficial. Close the health center for half a day or even a full day (yes, eat the cost) quarterly or bi-annually to ensure that all employees understand the direction that the health center is going. This would be a perfect time to provide training and have some fun. During the other months, newsletters, bulleted emails or even face to face listening sessions with smaller groups would be helpful. Finally, listen to staff satisfaction surveys, ask employees for input, and follow through on suggestions.
  • Appreciate Employees’ efforts: When was the last time an employee was thanked; and not through an email or text message? Crazy days turn into weeks, turn into months, then years and before long we don’t even notice the small things. Recognizing an employee, whether it’s the facilities staff for ensuring that extra cleaning due to Covid was completed, or a front desk patient advocate for helping a patient fill out a form because the patient had difficulty, is key. Remember, ALL of us feel good when we are recognized for our hard work and in turn makes us want to continue to do better. Kindness goes a long way; whether it’s bringing in food trucks for our employees at various sites, whether it’s baking a cake, providing a gift card for groceries or gas, or even 2-3 hours of additional PTO, something small goes a long way.
  • Improve Workspace: How often have we heard “I can’t complete my job because…” We may not be able to redesign the workflow of exam rooms or ensure that the health care team is set up in a pod so they can all sit together, BUT fix what we can fix. How old are the computers that staff are using? With almost everything being electronic these days, having a computer that is fast may make life just a little easier. This past year, health centers have had to update computers, platforms for tele-conferencing/tele-health and even get headsets to provide care to patients. It should not have taken a pandemic for employees to receive equipment to complete their jobs. As a best practice, each department can provide a list of supplies and equipment needed to complete their tasks and during the completion of the annual budget, supplies and equipment can be allocated. Improving ergonomics. such as better chairs for backs or providing standing desks may also lead to workplace wellness.
  Improving staff morale truly sets the tone for the entire organization. Remember, patients can sense when something doesn’t seem right or if employees are disgruntled. As leaders of health centers, whether you’re the CEO, middle management or anyone in a leadership position, establish a culture that is a team based approach and ensure feedback is received, reviewed and if possible, implemented.

[1] CostofTurnover.pdf (

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