How Healthcare Leaders Can Improve Workforce Morale

Transparent communications. Expanded benefits and access to mental health services. Subsidized child care. On-site fitness centers. Multiple “days for me” so employees can take time off work to recharge. These are a few of the allowances that companies on Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work for in America” list for 2021 offer. Many of the businesses that made the list believe that when companies take care of their employees, those employees are more productive and loyal.

It makes sense, and it’s especially relevant during COVID-19 when employee morale may be at an all-time low. For example, more than half of U.S. employees plan to look for a new job in 2021, according to recent reports. Some say this “turnover tsunami” is attributable, in part, to disengagement and burnout.

Burnout in healthcare is particularly rampant. Healthcare workers—especially those working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic—face significant hardships and exposure to anxiety-provoking circumstances. However, everyone working in healthcare has felt the brunt of increased administrative burden, demanding productivity metrics, and a work-life imbalance. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the many negative repercussions of inadequate support and poor morale.

The bad news is that low morale can lead to expensive workforce turnover and poor patient care. The good news is that leaders can take proactive steps to improve staff morale in healthcare, enhance employee retention, and support high-quality patient care. The more healthcare leaders can look to other industries and businesses that have “best practices” examples, the better. It’s about valuing a company’s greatest asset: Its workforce. Here are some ideas to inspire you.

Transparency, accessibility, and accountability at all levels

Improving employee morale in your healthcare organization requires clear communication, a positive work environment, and reasonable goals and expectations. Consider the following:

Appreciate efforts and reward achievements 

Employee morale in healthcare can take a hit when people feel invisible and as though their contributions don’t matter. Think of the nurses who have worked around the clock during the COVID-19 pandemic or the registration staff who worked overtime to collect critical demographic and insurance information as cases of COVID-19 surged. This pressure adds to low morale. Everyone likes a pat on the back for a job well done—whatever form that may take—and it’s important to let each team member know you appreciate their willingness to go the extra mile to enhance patient care and ensure compliance.

Don’t forget to reward personal achievements as well. For example, consider creating a positivity wall in a breakroom where employees can post sticky notes or write messages about positive things that have happened in their lives, such as “I beat cancer,” “I quit smoking,” or “I became a first-time grandmother.” Another idea is to celebrate achievements, birthdays, work anniversaries, and cultural events via email, intranet, posters, or (socially distanced) gatherings. Acknowledging that people are more than their job title goes a long way to boost staff morale in healthcare and help employees feel visible, respected, and part of a work community.

Respect, give space for employees’ opinions

No one wants to work in an environment where they feel stifled and as though their opinions don’t matter to leaders or other team members. In fact, maintaining a work environment where employees feel the need to withhold information can lead to pent-up anger and frustration. It can also cause low morale. Reassure employees that you are available to listen at any time. 

You can boost employee morale in healthcare by simply letting employees know that you value their thoughts. This is especially true during times of transition. For example, will your healthcare organization convert to a new electronic health record or purchase new office equipment, medical devices, or furniture for the waiting area? Ask each team member to share their opinions and ideas before signing on the dotted line.

Provide regular, transparent communication

Strive to be as upfront as possible—especially during times of crisis and uncertainty. For example, does your healthcare organization anticipate any furloughs? What other organizational changes might occur in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? Consider using online Q&As, leadership blogs, or a corporate newsletter to disseminate information.

Set positive, measurable, reachable goals

There’s nothing more demoralizing than working hard every day toward a goal that is completely unattainable. Unreasonable expectations make healthcare workers feel as though they’ll never succeed. Instead, consider using the SMART method of setting goals. With this method, goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Healthcare providers and staff are accustomed to the importance of key performance indicators and outcomes for patients; apply those goal-setting strategies to the desired achievements.

Also consider connecting goals to the healthcare organization’s mission. Research has shown that people who feel they are “living their purpose” at work reported four times higher engagement and five times higher well-being. Linking each employee’s role to the overall mission of the healthcare organization is critical. Help each team member understand their purpose in the overall success. For example, if the mission is to provide safe patient care, perhaps nurses can decrease the rate of hospital-acquired conditions by 25% in the next year. Or clinical documentation improvement specialists can increase queries for patient safety indicators by 25% in the next six months.

Ensure a culture of safety

A culture of safety not only protects nurses and other providers and patients from physical harm; it also safeguards them from psychological harm. To create this culture, healthcare organizations must encourage incident and error reporting, regularly review safety reports, create rapid response teams, perform safety rounds, and invest in safety.

Improve the workday experience

The daily grind doesn’t necessarily need to be a grind if healthcare leaders are mindful of what various types of healthcare workers need and how they can meet those needs using technology and a manageable workload distribution. Consider the following:

Reassess task distribution

What are the key issues in each department, and can we realign roles and responsibilities to perform necessary tasks while also eliminating unnecessary ones? Also ask these questions: 

  • Does the healthcare organization/department employ a sufficient number of FTEs to distribute the workload fairly? 
  • Are there options to create delegated relationships or use trusted third-party resources in busy times?
  • Does the healthcare organization/department have a protocol in place to bring in temporary workers when staff members are out sick or on vacation? 
  • Does each position include a clear job description so everyone knows their role and responsibilities?

Improve your technology

Technology—when used wisely—can help balance staff and patient needs. Healthcare organizations are learning how to use workforce management technology to help avoid burnout in healthcare while creating predictability in your organizations’ labor costs by identifying and preventing overtime, before it happens

Software can significantly help with employee burnout by enhancing healthcare organization-wide efficiency. For example, artificial intelligence-driven solutions can automate certain workflows so employees can focus on more complex and rewarding tasks. This helps healthcare workers feel as though their contributions truly make a difference and can boost staff morale in the process.

Technology can also help healthcare organizations use staff, patient, and operational data to manage labor costs, increase staff engagement, and elevate care quality. For example, healthcare organizations can integrate data and technology to create a patient-centered staffing approach that enables high-quality care delivery while also preventing burnout in healthcare and boosting employee morale in healthcare.

Integrated scheduling and timekeeping help facilitate productive and cost-efficient workload balance based on data-driven insights. Connecting scheduling to data from the electronic health record (such as nursing documentation and census) helps healthcare organizations ensure equitable staff assignments that can flex as needed.

Focus on staff well-being

Without happy and healthy staff, healthcare organizations cannot survive and thrive. Organizations need productive and dedicated staff for every aspect of patient care—from the moment the patient enters the facility (and possibly even before that), to the moment they receive a bill. Consider these strategies to enhance employee well-being:

Improve perks and benefits

Who doesn’t like a few added perks and benefits to make their demanding work life more tolerable and fun? When it comes to perks, even the smallest of gestures matter. For example, can you add or upgrade a coffee maker in the breakroom? What about free yoga classes during lunch? Ergonomic equipment? Food stipends? Be creative, and try to identify benefits that would make employees’ lives easier or their time at work more enjoyable.

Offer mental wellness PTO days

Everyone needs a break once in a while, and that’s particularly true for those working in healthcare who can suffer from low morale. By declaring that employee health and wellness is a priority, you can boost morale and create a more supportive work environment. Your employees work long hours. They constantly strive to put patients’ needs ahead of their own. Being able to take time off from work for their own personal needs—specifically for mental health appointments—can significantly help with employee wellness. This saves them from having to use vacation time or from trying to squeeze in a lunch-time appointment.

Schedule regular team-building activities

There are many team-building opportunities that can re-energize your employees while simultaneously boosting morale. For example, consider paid time to volunteer for projects at local shelters or charities. Ongoing professional development activities are also an option. Or try fun, interactive, and creative group-based cooking classes, paint nights, or bowling to encourage employees to connect and build lasting relationships outside of their busy day-to-day schedules.

Pay attention to break rooms

Is your break room more like a storage closet filled with supplies and broken chairs? If so, how can employees possibly take a break if they don’t feel relaxed? It may be time to splurge on a few nice couches, paint the walls a neutral tone, create a phone charging station, and hang some artwork. Think about patient waiting areas. What do you provide to your patients while they wait? Your employees probably want and need the same things.

Don’t underestimate the power of morale

What’s the one thing that all of these ideas have in common? Employee well-being. Each of these ideas is about caring for your healthcare providers and staff so your employees, in turn, can thrive in an environment where they’re willing to go the extra mile to perform their best work. Happy and motivated staff are more likely to achieve short- and long-term goals, whether personal-, career-, or business-oriented. They’re more likely to remain employed at your healthcare organization and they’re more likely to help ensure the delivery of high-quality patient care. 


More from symplr on how to better manage your workforce

  • Get a demo of symplr’s leading healthcare workforce management solution, which includes time-tracking tools.
  • Download our case study, Delivering Labor Cost Savings Through Workforce Management Strategy.
  • Read about how symplr’s Workforce Management Time and Attendance Solution was named Best in KLAS in the 2021 Best in KLAS Awards: Software & Services Report.


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