Need of the hour: Employee engagement for frontline workers

Recently, our family group had a larger conversation around the spurt in cases in Bangalore. Compared to any other city, we’re having alarming news on the way the city is underprepared in spite of having such low cases early on. 

What sent a shiver down everyone’s spine was this video, where a doctor talks of how he has all the infrastructure but lacks one big set of movers to make the system work: doctors. 

The family group got into a discussion on how there’s an oath doctors take, and it’s their duty like people serving in the armed forces. While it is true and valid, I have a different view. 

While I didn’t study medicine, I became a journalist who tracked hospitals and healthcare for almost five years. I had the good fortune of being under Seema Singh, a very senior journalist, and co-founder and editor at The Ken. I helped her on a big piece on Universal Healthcare many years ago. Unfortunately, the bill was corporatised, and a lot of the creaks we’re seeing in the system today have been mentioned time and time again by authorities in the system and in the report we filed. 

I even worked in the healthcare industry, and know of a senior doctor, who hoped to partner with the government to bring the best care from the US to India, but he was snubbed. He went private and is thriving now.  

There’s also another thing: Some doctors marry doctors. In a pandemic, this doesn’t help, at all. It leaves their entire family, especially if they have small children, and elderly parents, dependent on them while people think it’s their “duty” for both to serve. 

How can they think of serving when their own family is not thought of by the system they serve? 

Even if both spouses aren’t doctors, there are many other problems they face through this time. Another doctor I know was evicted from his clinic because he treats COVID-19 patients. I say this when I know doctor-couples, who have tested positive for COVID-19. Another couple have a child who turned 1 this year, and both of them opted out of working in corporate hospitals as they want to serve the community. But when the community needs them the most, they’re expected to serve with no support from the very same community?

Here’s the ground reality: we need to facilitate doctors, nurses, and any hospital staff through a pandemic like COVID-19. It may be happening in bits and pieces, but it’s high time employee engagement in the healthcare sector matures to really serve their end user: frontline workers.

The problem isn’t in India alone. Even in the US and UK, they face problems around this too. To understand what it’s like in India, please watch this video by Faye D’Souza here. Frontline workers are expected to be covered in a plastic gown for six hours without any water or ability to visit the toilet. 

It’s heart breaking to see what frontline workers have to go through to serve. Personally, I’ve offered support to people I know, but I’ve been told that many people in Bangalore have asked doctors to vacate either their homes or clinics. Since daycare centers are shut, there’s no support on childcare too. I’m not getting started on care for the elderly. 

We need an ecosystem to make this happen. If there’s any good that comes out of this pandemic, here’s hoping it’s a mature employee engagement process for frontline workers. If health and well-being are the top services offered at almost every corporate, how much more should the workforce in those industries be taken care of and respected? 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nilofer DSouza
A former business journalist with Forbes India, Nilofer D'Souza, has, over the years, worked with leaders across IT, healthcare, and retail in the corporate sector. For over a decade, having won various awards, she's learned to deep dive into an organization's culture and drive effective communications.

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