'Ensuring positivity in times of crisis'

Dimitri Markidis, Associate Partner at Boer & Croon, witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic up close. During the first, second, and start of the third wave, he was interim Director HR at two large healthcare institutions (for, amongst others, elderly and intellectually disabled people). He had to deal with considerable challenges here to keep the staffing up to standard, for one thing. How did Dimitri deal with this and other problematic issues? And which lessons will he take with him to his next assignments?

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What do you remember most about your time at the two healthcare institutions?

"First of all, I would like to emphasise that I have great respect for every employee at these healthcare institutions, from the people working at patients' bedsides, to the support staff in the office. I have seen with my own eyes that everyone is doing his or her best to fight the coronavirus. Everyone is willing to help each other out and jump in where needed, despite all the bureaucratic rules. "The corona crisis is obviously terrible, but it's great to see how people get things done faster and come closer together."

That sounds really positive! Did you also have to contend with any resistance and how did you deal with that?

"The resistance that we encountered was mainly to do with complex rules. Consider, for example, the visiting rules during the first and second waves. The primary care staff saw people gradually becoming lonelier, which led to questions being raised about the fairness of these measures. What’s more, the face masks and hygiene rules, for example, needed to be explained and we had to encourage people to actually comply with them. We have achieved this by taking into account the fact that the client is at the centre in healthcare, but that also, as an employee, you have a responsibility to your colleagues and to yourself; the staff must ensure at all times that nothing harms them or the client. Incidentally, it all went very smoothly, people were well aware of the seriousness of the crisis."

And how did you make sure that everyone was actually on the same page?

"Communication was crucial. There has never been so much communication as during this crisis, across several different stages. We made a lot of use of the intranet and made as much information available as we possibly could. We also did the latter with the help of the managers so that they were able to give extra explanations to the staff, and so that they could speak to the families. This communication was also key in clearing up any uncertainties that the staff had concerning vaccinations, for example. We took all the questions that were raised about vaccinations very seriously and encouraged people to talk to each other, which often allowed us to clear up many of their uncertainties with the help of facts. This has led to an increase in the willingness to be vaccinated."

Solving the duty roster problems that arise as a result of the corona problems seems like a tremendous challenge to me. How did you solve this?

"The outbreaks, which occurred with spikes and dips, were intense. A soon as there was an infection in a location, it often spread very quickly. There were more deaths as a result of those infections, which had a major impact on the employees in primary care. In order to cope with this impact, we encouraged collegial and managerial support amongst ourselves, and we offered internal and external specialists to provide additional assistance. But in addition to these problems, shortages did indeed occur, which we tried to resolve with the help of external staff, a lot of relief staff and good planning. This was all a reactive process, as we had to cater to the level of absenteeism at any given time. Incidentally, it's worth noting that even with those external staff members, we still didn't have enough staff on hand sometimes, which just goes to show how serious this crisis is and was."

In what way did COVID-19 change your assignment?

“At one of the two institutions, I was working on a restructuring of the HR department. The implementation of the new structure was postponed owing to the need to focus on fighting the corona crisis. The rolling out of these changes and everything else was really relegated to the sidelines because of the crisis."

And how did you manage to successfully complete these two assignments despite the changed situation?

"As an interim manager, you have to make sure that you mobilise the right kind of energy and quality of employees to deliver results. An unassuming and service-oriented attitude is important to actually be able to help the organisation -where there are so many qualities and good ideas -to move forward. This crisis was an opportunity for me to use my HR role to put the client and the employee front and centre. I think I succeeded in doing that. We have really made strides, and that has provided some moments of positivity in times of crisis. I also admire the passion that the staff have for their work; helping clients gives them, and therefore also me, a great deal of satisfaction. So I believe that my motto 'Passion, Pleasure & Positivity' fits in with the way I work in these assignments."

What will you take with you from these two cases to your next cases?

"The importance of good communication has been highlighted yet again, as well as the importance of good leadership and transparency. This crisis also showed how important a culture of mutual solidarity is within an organisation. When this is in order, together with all the other basic issues in an organisation, you can get through this kind of crisis much more easily. Those are the things that I take with me to my next assignments."

"The corona crisis is terrible, of course, but it's great to see how people get things done faster and get closer to each other."