Volume 35 Number 4 | August 2021
Andrew Jones, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to materialize in early March of 2020, the medical laboratory community faced countless questions. Many of us asked, “How can we provide testing for the hundreds of millions of Americans that are now at risk of contracting a disease most knew little about?” The issue of testing put the medical laboratory in the spotlight for the first time since the HIV pandemic of the 1980s. Despite the increased social awareness and the label of “heroes,” the early stages of the pandemic had a profound effect on the morale of medical laboratory professionals (MLPs), many of whom were performing COVID-19 testing.
In a study published in Lab Medicine titled “Initial Clinical Laboratory Response to COVID-19: A Survey of Medical Laboratory Professionals,” my colleagues and I present, among other things, details about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the work morale of MLPs, their perception of laboratory leadership as it adapted to changes in clinical testing, and how these changes influenced the amount of overtime worked by MLPs in order to accomplish all the necessary testing. This survey assessed the impact of the pandemic on medical laboratory professionals across the United States at this crucial early stage of the pandemic.
The research team discovered that during the first months of the pandemic, 49 percent of MLPs reported improved satisfaction in their work, with 54 percent feeling better about their job than before, and 39 percent reported that the morale was good in their respective laboratory. Furthermore, there was a significant relationship between those who reported positive job satisfaction and perceived good morale in their workplace. A large portion of this positive job satisfaction was attributed to how well hospital and laboratory leadership responded to the COVID-19 pandemic right out of the gates. It is well documented that job satisfaction, positive work culture, and laboratory morale are directly linked to the transparency, communication, and support of leadership.1
“Despite experiencing workforce shortages, a lack of hazard pay, and overtime work, medical laboratory professionals displayed their adaptability in the face of adversity, playing an enormous and largely unrecognized role in tracking the largest global medical event of our generation.”
Most MLPs who said they were satisfied with their work in the clinical laboratory during the pandemic also rated the response to the COVID-19 crisis by both their hospital and laboratory leadership as good. In contrast, for MLPs who rated the response by facility leadership as being poor, the odds of reporting worse satisfaction were eight times higher than for those who said the facility leadership response was adequate. Similarly, for MLPs indicating poor response by facility leadership, the odds of reporting worse feelings towards work were 13.6 times higher, and the odds of reporting worse morale in the laboratory were almost four times higher, as compared with those indicating that the response was adequate.
We take this to be clear indication that leadership decisions tremendously impact job satisfaction and workplace morale, which is not surprising. The findings of this research reiterate the importance of timely and appropriate administrative decision making in cultivating positive and productive work environments.
Another factor that greatly influenced MLP work satisfaction and morale in the laboratory was the amount of overtime worked. At the outset of the pandemic, many laboratories saw the amount of workflow drastically decreasing “due to the closure of clinics, delays in elective surgeries, and drops in Emergency Department visits.”2 Despite a near 21 percent reduction in reported overall overtime work by MLPs, approximately 58 percent reported working overtime at some point during the first months of the pandemic.
Prior to the start of the pandemic, 3 percent of MLPs said they worked overtime every day, and that number jumped to 13 percent after the start of the pandemic. Most of these individuals were comprised of MLPs working in molecular, microbiology, core lab/generalist, and administrative departments. This finding makes sense as the mentioned departments are largely responsible for COVID-19 testing. In the case of administration, an increase in overtime resulted from developing new standards of protocol, identifying testing priorities, deciding what departments would handle COVID-19 testing, and finding adequate supplies in a marketplace that was largely unprepared for the production demand.
The problem of overtime has plagued the laboratory profession for many years given the growing concern of widespread employee shortages; the pandemic just exacerbated this already existent issue. Furthermore, we found those surveyed who reported already working overtime pre-pandemic were more likely to report decreased laboratory morale. For MLPs that worked overtime before the COVID-19 pandemic, the odds of reporting worse morale in their laboratory were six times higher than for MLPs who did not report working overtime before the pandemic.
While these findings only reflect the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the magnitude of its impact on the medical laboratory profession cannot be understated. Despite experiencing workforce shortages, a lack of hazard pay, and overtime work, MLPs displayed their adaptability in the face of adversity, playing an enormous and largely unrecognized role in tracking the largest global medical event of our generation. The laboratory’s response to COVID-19 has opened the eyes of MLPs and laboratory leadership to multiple areas for improvement, opportunities for growth, and new practices that will remain post-pandemic. Only with time and further research will we truly be able to understand the enormity of the impact this pandemic will have on the clinical laboratory community.
- Yenice, S. (2019, August 31). Motivating Laboratory Staff. Clinical Lab Manager. https://www.clinicallabmanager.com/management/motivating-laboratory-staff-349.
- Jones AP. Keeping Spirits High Through the Global Pandemic. ASCLS Today. 2020;34(6). Accessed March 26, 2021. https://ascls.org/keeping-spirits-high-through-the-global-pandemic/
Andrew Jones is Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences School of Health Professions at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas.