Employee engagement in healthcare settings can bring enviable returns: A hospital that worked with Gallup to improve engagement decreased turnover costs by $1.7 million in three years and increased its operating margins. Gallup research also indicates that employee engagement is correlated with patient outcomes, making employee engagement a vital part of managing healthcare employees.
“The fact is that in healthcare, employees can easily move to another organization, and will do so if they feel that another place has a more engaging culture,” says Dr. Josh Kuehler, Analytics Manager at FMG Leading, a business advisory firm that works with healthcare organizations. The nature of the work will be very similar, such as nursing at hospitals, but the organization that invests in engagement will stand out, he says.
Here are four ways healthcare HR can take the lead in driving engagement.
Start By Conducting a Survey
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so getting an accurate read on how employees feel at work is the place to start. It doesn’t need to be long or fancy; focusing on “pulse” experiences can give you a snapshot of data to work with. “The simple action of sending out a survey is in itself an activating event,” Kuehler says. “By asking employees to offer their candid perceptions of their experience, the organization is letting employees know that they are interested in what employees have to say.”
Analyze, Then Act
Once you’ve collected the data, review and analyze it to determine how employees feel about their work and what could help them work better. This gives you a clear understanding of the state of the workforce as well as a benchmark to work from, Kuehler says. This also can help you determine action items that fit your workplace culture, goals and resources.
It’s better to move quickly on changes you identify as a result of engagement surveys, experts say. Improving engagement is meant to be a series of changes that respond to the workforce and its needs, rather than one big change that is then abandoned. Commit to acting on the insights you uncover.
Sharpen Communication Efforts
Employee engagement initiatives rely on clear communication. Once employees know you’re measuring and analyzing engagement, they’ll want to know what you’ve found and what you’ll be doing about it. “Communicate why the survey is being administered,” Kuehler says. “Communicate how long before results will be shared. Communicate the results, and show that the senior executives own, and are responsible for, those results. Communicate what actions are being taken or not taken, and why.”
You may need new tools to communicate with employees more effectively on 24/7 schedules and at multiple locations. “Creating a culture of engagement in the healthcare industry requires ongoing two-way communication to foster alignment and trust,” says Rick Smith, Senior Director of Human Resource Management at University of Utah Health. Pulse surveys, crowdsourcing platforms and other communication tools can help you survey and communicate with employees on different shifts who aren’t necessarily sitting at computers, Smith says. These tools also can help you reach employees distributed across multiple buildings and campuses.
Encourage a Culture of Recognition
Healthcare HR is in a prime place to recognize the hard work employees do for their patients, and increasing recognition can boost engagement across the board. “In our engagement surveys with healthcare organizations, we routinely see that recognition and praise is among the lowest-scoring items,” Kuehler says. “Praise for doing good work and providing care is like wind in the sails for those who are on their feet, continuously moving and balancing priorities.”
Employee engagement is an ongoing effort in any organization. By surveying and responding to employee engagement levels, healthcare HR can take a lead role in managing a successful workforce as well as improving the organization’s bottom line and patient outcomes.