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Expert Tips on Improving Employee Engagement in Healthcare

Posted by Sandy Yu on 4.12.2018

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There’s a perfect storm brewing in the healthcare industry. And if leaders don’t prepare now, it will wreak havoc on employee engagement. With increasing complexity in the healthcare system, new regulations, and challenging payment models, everyone, every day, is facing some level of change.

And this change is taking its toll on employee engagement.

Healthcare departments, including medical, nursing, and clinical staff, have the smallest percent of engaged employees, with less than 60 percent engaged among top companies in Quantum Workplace’s America’s Best Places to Work Report.

To start making a positive impact on this number, healthcare leaders need to effectively communicate with their teams through every change -- big or small.

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So, we spoke to Vicki Hess, RN, MS, to dig deep into the issue and discover tips to get your team engaged and happier at work. As the author of four books, a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant, Hess is a valuable resource for transforming employee engagement at the individual, departmental, and organizational level.

Listen to Your Team

When you think of workforce communications and employee engagement, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you need to do. However, it’s important to create opportunities for employees to do the talking -- allowing you to listen, offer guidance, and take action.

I was consulting with a nursing team about employee engagement. As part of that process, the charge nurses, during staff rounding, started asking employees, “How satisfied, energetic, and productive are you today?” They used a traffic light metaphor to track the responses. Green for satisfied, energetic, and productive, yellow for feeling a bit off, and red if they were not feeling satisfied, energized or productive that day.

No matter the answer, the charge nurse followed up by asking them why they were that specific color. When used on several patient care units, when the staff was yellow or red, we expected staffing ratios or patient acuity to bubble to the top as the main issue.

But what we found was surprising. On the days when employees were ‘green,’ it was due to great teamwork, and when they were ‘red,’ they noted poor teamwork as the main cause.

This was great! Not because on some days they experienced poor teamwork, but because nurses can’t control ratios and patients, but they can control their team’s level of teamwork.

Round up your troops

Communication isn’t effective when one person, one unit, or even one department is taking charge. Communication happens when an entire company, from the top-down, is prepared to take on responsibility.

Engagement happens when the entire company is involved. The organization approaches it on a strategic level by dealing with finances, HR, staffing ratios, policies, regulations, etc. Leaders take a tactical approach by standing on the front lines making sure staff have the support they need to do their job.

Last, but not least, individuals need to be responsible for their own engagement on a personal level. This means they understand they must show up and do their best or else suffer due to disengagement and become the weakest link on the team. When all three of these are working together, you get better results and an engaged workforce.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Leaders at the executive level put in the work to research and look at standard practices, but often forget to communicate their findings. Then, when they make changes, employees don’t understand why they’re happening. Without this transparency, it’s easy for a company to lose employee morale and see a drop in engagement.

Use technology to streamline communications

Everyone communicates in different ways. In the healthcare industry, leaders need to be prepared to communicate and promote engagement through various channels.

Everyone hears things differently. So, you need to communicate the same message multiple times, in various ways. By using various forms of technology, healthcare leaders can avoid the ‘game of telephone,’ and squash those dangerous rumors.

However, it’s important to assess the message -- and situation -- you need to portray. At times, people appreciate the brevity of a text message, but there are certain scenarios that require a sit-down conversation.

Healthcare is a challenging, yet highly rewarding field. Patients come into these facilities with high stress due to high levels of pain, uncomfort, and anxieties. Vicki explained, “That’s part of our job, to help minimize that. You have to come to work every day with that as part of your mindset.”

With that in mind, leaders must understand that strong communications give employees their own sense of comfort. Helping employees understand what’s happening and how it’s affecting their career minimizes discomfort caused by constantly shifting levels of change.

Topics: employee engagement, workplace communication, healthcare

Human Resources Today