Every business requires engaged employees—they’re happier, they perform better, and are less likely to leave an organization. They’re arguably more essential in healthcare, where a competent, dedicated, alert provider or staff member could mean the difference between life and death for a patient. The stakes of employee engagement go beyond patient safety to include quality and the achievement of outcomes affecting reimbursement.
So what are leading healthcare organizations doing to:
- Ensure they give healthcare workers what they need individually to succeed and stay engaged in their jobs
- Foster effective workforce management strategies that keep staff attuned to the organization
- Maximize the use of technology in supporting a better employee experience for healthcare teams
We’ll delve into five strategies to keep your healthcare staff in harmony with the larger picture of your organization’s success.
What is employee engagement and why is it important?
A common misconception about employee engagement is that it’s simply a measure of how satisfied someone is in their job, but there’s more to it than that. An employee who enthusiastically performs the tasks required of them in their role might be content but disengaged. Job satisfaction is a key part of employee engagement, of course, but a large part of workforce management is ensuring that an engaged employee feels mutually committed to their job and their employer, which creates the continuity necessary for the business to achieve its strategic goals. Using employee engagement strategies effectively to control labor costs is just one part of the equation.
An employee who’s only committed to the role or job won’t think twice about leaving your hospital or healthcare organization. An engaged employee doesn’t just do exactly what's outlined in their scope of practice or job description, but they consistently seek ways to improve their work for the good of the organization, their colleagues, and their patients. On a long enough timeline, employee engagement can make the difference between continued growth and expansion and stagnation within health systems.
Equipped with a better understanding of what constitutes employee engagement, let’s focus on a bigger question: What type of culture can healthcare leaders foster to encourage employee engagement and other behaviors that help the organization succeed for everyone?
Here are some key strategies.
1. Foster a culture of listening
There's nothing more demoralizing to an employee than when they are made to feel that their insights and concerns don't matter, or that they're being ignored by their colleagues or management. In a recent survey, 25% of nurses reported being ignored by their colleagues. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for healthcare leaders to support their providers and staff in an effort to help stem worker fatigue and burnout, which in turn jeopardize patient and provider safety and negatively affect patient outcomes.
It’s easy for healthcare leaders to pay attention to feedback from employees and staff during periods of calm, but the real litmus test comes in high-stress situations (e.g., disasters, emergencies, and other crises). Although it is during the most trying times that healthcare leaders’ attention is focused elsewhere on business matters, it’s precisely then they should remain attuned to the input and feedback of their clinicians and staff.
By adopting the mindset that the workforce has valuable insight from direct patient care, healthcare leaders can foster increased employee engagement and improve employee experience. If a healthcare worker’s suggestions for helping the organization improve continually fall on deaf ears, they will inevitably become discouraged and, eventually, will stop providing feedback altogether.
Providers and staff need to feel heard—not just by leadership, but by one another as well—to remain engaged, and that requires an organizational commitment to listening.
2. Make space for peer-to-peer and manager-to-staff recognition
Peer-to-peer and manager-to-staff recognition is another key part of employee engagement. Just as a culture of listening helps employees feel heard, a culture of recognition helps remind employees that they are valued members of the team. Employees who are encouraged to contribute opinions and ideas through formal or informal mechanisms that enable them to be noticed and recognized by leaders and colleagues are more likely to keep putting in the effort to do their best in their roles.
There are a number of ways to create space for peer-to-peer and manager-to-staff recognition. In some organizations, especially large health systems, a feedback loop requires a structured approach. This can mean setting aside time in huddles or staff meetings for employees to formally recognize their team members, and for managers to formally recognize staff.
In other organizations, a more loosely organized structure might work better for peer-to-peer and manager-to-staff recognition. There is no right or wrong way to create such valuable opportunities; what matters most is that employees are recognized for doing good work—and that they’re not only hearing about how valuable they are in a formal performance review setting.
3. Remind employees of your organization’s mission
Remember, an engaged employee isn’t just committed to their job, but to the organization as well. To foster a sense of loyalty, it’s important for healthcare leaders to remind providers and staff what their organization stands for. This is especially impactful at organizations with unique missions (e.g., providing specialty care for a specific class of diseases, or delivering healthcare to a specific and underserved population), but it applies across all healthcare organizations.
Talented providers and staff are in high demand in the healthcare industry, and your employees could work anywhere; keeping the organization’s mission front and center can help remind employees why they chose to work at your organization.
Especially during the pandemic, it has become all too common for healthcare professionals and staff to develop tunnel vision about their work and only notice the patients and tasks they’re personally responsible for. On a long enough timeline, this can lead to the provider feeling as though their work is meaningless, which in turn can lead to burnout (and all the various financial and patient safety ramifications that that entails). Your organization’s mission can be a great way to remind employees that they are part of something much bigger than themselves, leading to a better overall employee experience.
4. Make learning and professional development priorities
One of the most common reasons people leave a job is because they believe their career growth has reached its limit at their current organization. Most healthcare providers have a designated scope of practice due to the nature of healthcare licensure, and that can create a ceiling in terms of clinical career growth. But even though there are generally fewer vertical career moves available, there is still ample opportunity for healthcare providers and staff to broaden their horizons within their current roles—for expanding into different areas of patient care if their license scope allows, or taking on formal or informal leadership roles.
For example, if your healthcare organization doesn’t currently allow or encourage advanced practice professionals who are medical staff members to participate on committees, you may be missing out on valuable input to improve patient safety and quality from registered nurses, physician assistants, and others. Clinicians continue to develop professionally by collaborating with others who work in different settings and disciplines—and healthcare leaders should facilitate that development wherever possible.
Improvements to patient care, in fact, require exceptional clinical collaboration and communication. Providing options like multidisciplinary collaboration will likely go a long way in making staff feel supported and valued by the organization, which will make them more engaged as employees.
5. Encourage peer support and mentorship
Last but not least in terms of importance are peer support and mentorship, key pillars of employee engagement and employee experience. As a healthcare leader, you can devise and implement as many policies as you want to boost employee engagement, but the simple fact is, employee engagement is most affected by what happens on the ground on a day-to-day basis.
Employees may value your leadership and feel supported in their interactions with you, but if those feelings don’t carry over to their daily work, they are unlikely to stay engaged for long. An employee who feels supported by their peers and leaders is more likely to develop an affinity for their colleagues and the organization. Mentorship also plays an important role in creating this sense of harmony. It helps employees feel supported, of course, but also aids in professional development and the broadening of one's professional skill set.
Workforce management plays a major role in keeping healthcare industry employees happy and engaged, and that starts with having the right tools. To learn more about how symplr’s software solutions can help streamline the process of building a culture of employee engagement in healthcare organizations while fostering patient safety and quality, request a demo today.