The Ivory Tower Syndrome

I was casually chatting with a ED clinical manager at a recent consulting gig and she kept complaining that the hospital management did not “care” about her or her employees.  I asked her to explain what she meant by her comments.  She explained that she had been with the system for many years and the amount of work expected from her and her staff has grown exponentially but yet…  I expected her to start complaining about her salary or other financial related issues…

On the contrary, her issues had nothing to do with finances.  She felt that the leadership of the organization did not care about her or her employees anymore.  They did not care about the fact that missing lunch was now routine because of her work load.  They did not care enough to stop by the department when they are regularly being overrun by patients in the waiting room and holdovers.  They expect results but do not care enough to stop by and evaluate the working conditions in her department.  She felt that, even though some of the leadership team had a clinical background, they were making decisions that did not reflect the current clinical reality.

“Do something wrong and they will all show up and be all over you” she bemoaned.

This is what I call the “Ivory tower Syndrome”.  Leadership that fails to engage its frontline employees by staying high above the fray.  As a practicing physician, I can assure you that healthcare is too physically, psychologically, emotionally demanding for any leader to remain above the fray.  The frontline troops must know that their leadership cares. They must know that their leadership is aware and empathizes with their daily challenges.

The only way to do this is to be physically present.  Carve out 1 hour or 2 of  your day and go and talk to the members of your crew.  Shake hands, give people a pad on their backs, heck, pay outlandish compliments, ask people how you can help them succeed, tell them that you understand their challenges.   When you leave that department, I promise you, they may have 90 patients in the waiting room and 100 holdovers, but they will be certain that the leadership of their hospital system cares. This will help decrease burnout, it will reaffirm the reason they joined your system in the first place and make them more engaged.  “If the system does not care about me, why should I care about my work, my patients?”