7 Ways To Improve Your Human Services Organization in 2021

Although a new year won’t magically transform everything that was difficult about 2020, it’s safe to say that most of us are ready to ring out the old and ring in the new. While we’ll still have to navigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in 2021, we’re more willing to greet the coming months and challenges with a renewed spirit and fresh perspective.

To help health and human service organizations get ahead in 2021, we’re sharing action items for the new year. While not exhaustive, this list may get your creative juices flowing as you think of ways to update processes to fit your particular team and clients.

1. Lean Further Into Telehealth in 2021

One of the more positive healthcare developments that came from the pandemic is the shift to telehealth. Telehealth offers many benefits to organizations, providers, and persons served. When the crisis abates, some temporary regulatory measures that made telehealth adoption easier may fade away. Yet it’s important to continue focusing on security, privacy, and improved telehealth processes in the coming year.

Beyond enhancing security, your organization can also further educate staff and clients on telehealth best practices.

In a recent interview with Social Work Today, John Jay, Strategic Product Marketing Manager at Relias, said, “As organizations adapt to and become more accustomed to delivering telehealth, telehealth is going to be more prevalent in behavioral health moving forward. You’re going to see from organizations a mix of best practices when you’re engaging via technology and also best practices for face to face.”

If you need resources to help your staff get up to speed on telehealth, check out the free Relias telehealth course series.

2. Focus on Meaningful Appreciation

Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has distressed individuals around the world. During this crisis, healthcare staff, including those working in health and human services, have felt a deep impact. As a leader or manager, you can make a difference in your staff’s professional life by showing appreciation for their work and ideas.

Research shows that offering employees recognition and appreciation has the power to transform such critical issues in the field as turnover and burnout. In fact, in a 2019 Relias-conducted survey, 45% of direct service providers, who work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said showing appreciation for their work and experience could make them stay on the job.

But what does showing appreciation look like? How can you make it clear to your staff members that you value them?

Trauma-informed care teaches us to show care by shifting power. Offering even your least senior staff members a real seat at the decision-making table communicates respect by demonstrating that their voice matters.

So give opportunities for honest feedback, such as via surveys. Then take that feedback into consideration. After all, your staff knows best what they need. And if their needs are being met, they are more likely to choose to stay employed and engaged with your organization.

3. Offer Flexibility With Support

In 2020, staff members struggled to find work-life balance, fight against vicarious trauma, and adjust their daily lives to the pandemic. Research on best practices for workforces during the pandemic offers some ideas for how your organization move can forward in 2021. You can provide opportunities for individuals on your team to voice their specific needs as well.

For some employees, such as family caretakers and some people with disabilities, working from home constitutes a welcome accommodation to their needs. A remote workforce also cuts costs for organizations. But some of this cost-cutting can shift the burden to employees, when they pick up the tab for expenses like electricity or office supplies. One solution is to provide a work-from-home stipend.

Also consider some of the perks you previously offered. Did your brick and mortar office sometimes have catered lunches or free coffee? Send gift cards to your staff members’ houses instead. Mini-celebrations can still occur outside the physical office space.

4. Preserve Health and Safety

The importance of staff safety and health care, including mental health support, can’t be overstated. Although these priorities sometimes feel out of reach for cash-strapped service providers, commitment and creativity can outpace tight budgets.

Free mental health care can be exchanged between community agencies in far-flung counties. Even necessary technical changes to health insurance are more about shifting costs through flexibility than increasing them.

To foster a culture of safety, you can involve your community while still adhering strictly to COVID-19 guidelines. Consider having masks donated by community members. Ask for friendly, professional volunteers to remind clients at the door to properly don a face covering. Get creative with signs announcing COVID-19 policies. When possible, open windows to let in light and air.

5. Assert a Commitment to Equity and Justice

Our experiences in 2020 have reaffirmed the importance of values like equity. Thankfully, human service organizations are often guided by ethical codes that prioritize racial, economic, and gender equity.

Through thoughtful review, evaluate if equity truly permeates your organization’s policies and culture. In soliciting feedback from staff and clients, ask whether the organization is adhering to equitable values. And if not, ask how it can get back on track.

6. Implement Virtual or Online Learning

Social and physical distancing will still be a part of our daily lives in 2021. This means that in-person training for staff will not be an option for most organizations. Virtual, or online, training is a great alternative to ensure teams maintain compliance with the various governing bodies.

Online training isn’t just good for staff, it benefits your organization as a whole too:

  • Saves time and energy—Cuts down on administrative work with an online training platform (learning management system) that can manage your reporting, training plans, and more.
  • Takes less time away from work—Continuing education credits or training classes can be completed on the individual’s schedule, meaning your staff won’t have to spend inconvenient time away from work.
  • Provides 24/7 access—As long as you and your staff have internet, training courses can be accessed anytime, anywhere on mobile devices.

To go with the flow of shifting priorities and expectations, continuing education is vital.

7. Clearly Communicate With Staff

The coronavirus pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone, leaders like yourself included. It’s impossible to know the right thing to do at every given moment, especially as we receive new information daily. The constantly changing communication, however, can make it difficult for staff to keep up with the latest guidance.

As a leader, it’s imperative that effective communication be a priority. Clear communication is more than just telling employees what is going on; it gets transmitted by your actions too.

  • If you’re wanting staff to focus on work-life balance, refrain from sending email at night or doing work-related tasks outside of work hours.
  • If you want your managers to recognize their staff, start recognizing staff members yourself.
  • If you are implementing a new process, make sure you’re following the process yourself. Don’t allow shortcuts or special treatment just because of your position in the organization.
  • If you want your staff to follow company values, make sure that the decisions you make also align with the company values.

When you lead by example, your message comes across loud and clear.


Social Worker and Writer

Anole Halper is a genderqueer neurodivergent social worker and writer. They are dedicated to individual and collective healing from trauma and violence, and have worked toward that in many spheres including writing, facilitation, teaching, activism, and program design. They have a dual master's from UNC in social work and public health, but they obsess about interior design.

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