Leading with Heart: Kindness in Infection Control

With stress and burnout from staff shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic, infection prevention auditors need to remember kindness and compassion.

Let’s chat about why kindness matters in infection control and why it needs to be a part of every conversation. As a manager in infection prevention and control in a hospital system in central California, I have always striven to lead with my heart when I take on any task. Time is a precious commodity, but time is also what we need to ensure we comprehend the issues faced by our teams and build sustainable solutions.

When my team or I are auditing on the floors, it is important for us to remember kindness first when we see opportunities for missed hand hygiene. Performing “Speak Up” through shaming and guilting creates an environment of discomfort and defensiveness and can lead to fear in the HCW, which cannot build strong teams.

Let’s consider the scenario when a HCW who has their hands full of supplies and is unable to perform hand hygiene before entering the patient’s room. Now an infection control auditor who is not leading with heart may abruptly prompt or even scold the HCW to perform hand hygiene then move on to another task. However, an auditor who keeps kindness in mind will listen to the HCW’s rationale for why they didn’t or couldn’t use the hand sanitizer. Listening to their reasoning leads to a barrier being identified and solutions being found, such as having a surface to place items on prior to entering the room, so the HCW can perform hand hygiene. Understanding when and why a HCW is noncompliant with hand hygiene, for example, is not only important for strengthening the team, but also can identify barriers, so solutions can be offered.

We, as infection control auditors, need to recognize the humanity of our frontline staff and respect their perspective. This involves listening, understanding, and explaining the various aspects of infection control. When we offer an ear to listen and explain “the ‘why’ behind the ‘do it,’” the HCWs are not only better equipped with knowledge, but we also show we see them as a individual and not just someone to direct orders to.

Now, I am not saying that it will take days or even weeks to find solutions to all the opportunities we identify, but if we start with kindness, the doors of communication swing open, and individuals are more apt to listen. Starting with scolding and accusations accomplishes nothing except bitterness and closed doors. Individuals inherently want to do the right things; they just may be unaware of how to do them, and we, as infection control auditors, may be unaware of the obstacles that prevent them from performing the necessary action, such as hand hygiene. Once we have open and transparent conversations with our frontline teams, they are more apt to listen and be motivated to come up with solutions. If they have input, they will be invested in the process and own the outcomes.

Another important aspect is to ensure we reach out to the respective leader and keep them informed of issues in their units and collaborate with them on the solutions offered by their teams. The leaders value this approach and appreciate the inclusion and respect for their position.

How we communicate matters. In the last 2 years especially, HCWs have all faced burnout, short staffing, and unimaginable stress, and individuals will gravitate to kindness. In my practice, I have seen the positive outcomes when my heart leads the conversation.