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“I just feel there’s a real communication problem”: Perceptions of Public Health Communications by Women in Caregiving Professions in British Columbia

Submitted by:

Kaylee Byers

Email:

kaylee_byers@sfu.ca

Author(s)

Kaylee Byers, Rosemary Morgan, Anne-Marie Nicol, Julia Smith

Institution of primary author:

Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University

Background:

The COVID-19 pandemic has put significant pressure on people in caregiving occupations. By working on the front lines, they have been at increased risk of infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and have faced rapidly changing protocols and stressors in the workplace. Together, this heightened risk and changing information necessitates effective communication strategies to manage and mitigate health threats for employees and their patients. The aims of this study were to understand how information about COVID-19 was shared with people in caregiving professions, and how uncertainty and modes of sharing impacted feelings of trust and confidence in workplace protocols and management. 

Methods:

This work was conducted as part of the COVID-19 and Gender Project, which focused on the experiences of women in caregiving professions during the pandemic. From January 1 – March 25, 2021, we held focus groups and in-person interviews with women working in Community Health and Care, Long Term Care, Midwifery, and Nursing. We facilitated 14 focus groups (n = 63 participants) and 16 in-depth interviews. Interviews were analyzed using a descriptive thematic analysis to summarize findings aligning with three themes: 1) Sources of Information; 2) Perceptions of Changing Information; and 3) Impacts on Trust and Confidence.

Results:

We found that participants across occupations faced similar challenges regarding how they learned about COVID-19 and the steps they needed to take to reduce their risk. Communications strategies ranged from passive modes (e.g. email) to active modes (e.g. in-person workplace huddles with supervisors and managers). While email communications were common and helpful for those who wished to revisit information, emails were also criticized because they were excessive, time consuming, and often filled with links to external websites with limited or tangential applicability. Comparatively, in-person huddles in the workplace were viewed as beneficial because they offered employees an opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions, although many felt that their voices were not heard by those in positions of power. All participants experienced rapidly changing workplace protocols and recommendations that made it difficult to anticipate their workday. This ever-changing information increased fear for some, particularly when the reasons for the changes were unclear. Participants appreciated managers who were transparent and worked to investigate and answer their questions. 

Conclusions:

During health emergencies, information changes quickly. This can lead to uncertainty which may decrease trust in the recommendations of health care authorities. We found that women in caregiving professions expressed increased confidence in the information they received when uncertainty was acknowledged and addressed. Participants highlighted the need for transparent communication that includes the rationale behind changing recommendations and that provides opportunities to ask questions, voice concerns, and feel heard. Given the abundance and frequency of healthcare information shared with people in caregiving occupations, streamlining written communications to stress the most relevant content could improve accessibility. Together, integrating passive and active forms of communication that acknowledges uncertainty, addresses employee concerns, and responds in a timely way to questions even if the answer is unknown, may enhance employee confidence in information.

Kaylee Byers slides

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