The Evolution of Employee Engagement in Healthcare

Marketing Specialist

Employee engagement has the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery. Within the past decade, healthcare HR teams demonstrated a strong correlation between employee engagement and better patient outcomes and experiences. Today, the evidence is insurmountable. 

The pandemic complicates the achieving of engagement and continues to affect every aspect of healthcare delivery. According to a recent Gallup poll, 78% of healthcare workers expected COVID-19 to “have a somewhat negative or very negative effect on their workplace." So what do healthcare organizations need to do to increase employee engagement during — and after — the pandemic?

An engaged workforce is essential for optimizing patient outcomes. Here’s what increasing employee engagement in healthcare entails as we move forward in the new decade.

Taking a Strategic Approach

In the past, engagement has fallen under the employee experience umbrella. But facilitating engagement requires more than free coffee or other perks. Plan a targeted and strategic approach, suggests Kristin Baird, President and CEO of the Baird Group, a patient experience and healthcare consulting firm. Identify what an engaged workforce looks like in your organization, and solve for that.

Achieving optimal engagement and reaching your goals for quality, safety and service requires understanding and removing any engagement barriers. During COVID-19, for example, team members could be worried about child care, homeschooling, getting sick and spreading illness to their family. “Even your highly engaged people, under stress, may not be able to engage because they're being pulled in 20 different directions,” Baird says. Offering benefits that solve real stressors can free workers up to be more present and engaged at work.

Measuring Engagement — And Its Impact

There are plenty of studies connecting employee engagement with better patient care outcomes and even increased profits. Furthermore, better engagement and healthier work experiences are attractive to prospective workers. Use this body of research to achieve buy-in from the C-suite. Establish metrics for measuring engagement and set specific goals for improvement. 

Make small changes designed to increase engagement, such as modifying shifts to improve work-life balance or eliminating bullies or toxic employees from the work environment. Measure the impact of these changes using qualitative and quantitative measures. 

Qualitative measures include changes in behaviors and attitudes in the workforce. “One of the characteristics of an engaged employee is that they go above and beyond what’s required of them,” says Chris Mulligan, CEO at TalentKeepers. “If your staff is not engaged, they’re not going to take that time.” Other indicators include attention to detail, innovation and creativity, and the confidence to speak up when something might be wrong. Correlate these soft results with hard data. Ask employees to self-assess their engagement levels on a fixed scale, and record any changes in patient outcomes and quality of care.

Closing the Leadership Skills Gap

Engagement starts at the individual team level, where physician and nurse leaders are responsible for engaging team members. Organizations historically promoted team leaders for excellent clinical skills without necessarily demonstrating leadership skills. Look for candidates who demonstrate flexibility and teamwork, and have a history of quality patient interactions. Furthermore, look for candidates with higher emotional intelligence, Baird suggests. These candidates are most capable of motivating and engaging their peers.

Educate clinical leaders on what engagement is and why it’s important, and listen to suggestions from their experiences. Empower leaders at all levels with the knowledge and tools they need to engage their teams. Use HR management software to measure and increase engagement, and train leaders to use that software to measure and manage engagement within each unit. 

Achieving optimal engagement requires buy-in from each individual at your organization. “The future is putting programs in place and creating a culture where it’s not a leadership thing or an organization thing — it’s an ‘us’ thing,” Mulligan says. 

Making engagement a strategic priority, measuring its impact and closing leadership skills gaps lay the groundwork for an engaged culture where employees motivate and engage each other.

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