Mad Hot Politics in the Healthcare Workplace: How to Manage the Matter

No matter if you support the President-Elect or are “still with Her,” all of us who work in healthcare are wondering what is going to happen next.

Talk of the ACA going BOOM or reinvented is fodder in boardrooms and the talk over watercoolers, but with conversations about policy changes are also discussions of the candidates and it is here that things can get heated.

As all good managers know, you can’t legislate your co-worker’s feelings and opinions. You can try to set up rules about what is an appropriate workplace discussion, but these rules are hard to enforce. Moreover, is it right to stymie healthy conversations about policies that might bring significant change to the healthcare industry? A workplace edict coming from the CEO or President that does not allow this discussion is the start of a powderkeg, and the last thing anyone wants now is another fracture in the workplace.

The real challenge for managers is how these talks can take place in a meaningful way? How can leaders steer the workplace zeitgeist so as to avoid it becoming toxic?

The Difference Between Policy and Ideology

Providing leadership around what is “policy” versus “ideology” is the starting point. Policy discussions are specific and focus on rules and guidelines put into place to benefit (hopefully) an organization. People can and should have opinions on policies that affect them and their livelihoods. Allowing and facilitating exchanges can strengthen relationships and bring understanding and promote team building.

Ideological discussions are a slippery slope and can easily split a staff. Like a brush fire, tempers can flair and repairing these types of rifts are often impossible. Senior level managers must have a clear understanding of the difference between policy and ideology before they attempt to facilitate meaningful discussions with their staff.

The best forum for these talks is in small group settings, with ground rules set at the start of the meeting. Start by making sure that people understand the difference between policy and ideology. While ideology often drives ideas into policy, remember they are not the same. Use a white board to illustrate the differences. Be quick to stop the conversation that moves towards the ideological. Likewise, discussing campaign promises or attacks on either candidate are not productive. It is easy for people to go off topic and move from concerns about healthcare policy to other concerns, this is not appropriate for a meeting, give a gentle reminder that “off topic” discussions are not allowed.

The goal of the meeting should be clear from the start, and it should be relevant. If there is workplace anxiety, then the goal should be the reduction of it. If there is workplace division, the goal is to unify, not the ideological differences, but rather to get everyone back to the mission of the work. It is often useful to tell people that sometimes workplace consensus is impossible. Showing people that no resolve is, in fact, resolution can be a powerful way to ease tensions. There are no losers in a ceasefire. People are allowed to have convictions, but the drivers of healthcare are policies, ethics and the delivery of medicine.

The value of working with staff members about the difference between policy and ideology in healthcare is critical. When changes to our healthcare policies come, those of us operating in this industry might face challenges of shifting revenue cycles, patient concerns, and delivery settings to name a few. Change is difficult, but it is made even more so when people who work together harbor negative feelings about differing ideologies. Helping people discern the difference between policy and doctrine can be the needed bridge that those with polarized views might need to be able to work together again after such a charged election that focused on healthcare.

Managing and providing your staff’s successful communications after this election will not only reinforce that your workplace is a safe place for the exchange of ideas but it is also a good setup for success when change does comes. It will be more of a “been there done that” and not “Oh No! What are we going to do?”

Joshua Powell
About the author: 

Josh Powell is the Chief Executive Officer at Capital Region Special Surgery, a medical practice in New York with Neurosurgery, Ear, Nose and Throat, Ear Institute, Neurology, Pain Management, Sleep Wake, Physical Therapy and Diagnostic Imaging practices.  Previously Mr. Powell was the Chief Executive Officer at Northeast Neurosurgery.  Josh earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree from the State University of New York (SUNY).  Follow him on Twitter.