Top Healthcare HR Initiatives for 2016
March 13-19 is Health Care HR week, and the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) has picked “Nurturing Engagement in Shifting Landscapes” as its theme for this year’s annual conference. Many initiatives that traditionally belong to HR can help boost engagement at your organization, resulting in improved morale and retention.
The definition of engagement may vary by organization, but it’s often seen as the level of discretionary effort employees bring to their jobs. “With healthcare workers, that’s what you hope they’re doing — not just the job, but going above and beyond,” says Chris Powell, CEO of BlackbookHR, a software company that helps companies measure engagement.
Healthcare HR leaders can improve engagement at their organizations by focusing on building relationships, listening to workers, supporting their middle managers and including all employees in their development plans.
Facilitating and encouraging collaboration, cross-training and improved communication across the organization is vital for any engagement effort, but it’s often a challenge at healthcare organizations. Healthcare tends to divide itself into silos, making communication difficult, says Eric Dickerson, Managing Director at Kaye/Bassman International, where he oversees recruiting in academic medicine. “The biggest issue we see in healthcare organizations is when one division is not communicating with another one,” he says. “They’ve created their own fiefdoms or kingdoms, and it can even be apparent to patients. It’s a lack of communication that makes different departments try to protect their own turf.”
On of the best things HR can do is help facilitate dialog, says Todd Spohn, Health Care Director at Talent Plus, which helps organizations assess their talent. It’s also the place where HR can have the largest impact on engagement, he says.
Listen to Employees
Healthcare HR leaders must be open to feedback, says Drew Stevens of Stevens Consulting Group, a healthcare practice management consultancy. Front line employees have a lot to say about working conditions and ideas for improvement, but they need to have a mechanism for communicating that. It’s easy for healthcare employees to get so wrapped up in their work — helping and healing others — that they may not look for ways to provide feedback about their own work.
Rather than relying on an annual survey, healthcare organizations can benefit by doing a rolling pulse strategy, Powell says. Healthcare organizations in particular find that these short, quick polls about individual attitudes toward work, how equipped they feel to do good work and patient care are effective. As the organization gets feedback consistently, it can make useful adjustments.
Support Middle Managers
Research shows that middle managers have the biggest effects on employee engagement; as the ones who are most in contact with front-line employees, they can be strong advocates for change as long as they’re supported and trained to help.
Middle managers need to know how to coach people and hold them accountable, says Kristin Baird, President and CEO of Baird Group, a customer service consulting group for healthcare organizations. If they don’t know, then any initiative HR tries to implement will fail. Quarterly leadership meetings that focus on building skills around coaching and providing feedback would be a good start, she says. Informal approaches, such as “managing by walking around,” can also be helpful.
Develop All Employees
By allocating the resources and training needed to improve both direct care and administrative and support services, healthcare organizations can ensure employees’ skills are current as well as help them find career paths.
Healthcare organizations often promote people who have good skills at the clinical level into leadership positions, Baird says. But just because someone is an excellent nurse does not mean they will be a good nurse manager. “It’s a completely different skill set, so you need to have a process in place to do succession planning or developing up-and-coming leaders. Do it consciously; don’t just plunk them into a leadership role.”
As healthcare HR leaders look to boost engagement at their organizations, they’ll find that many initiatives they already oversee will help support any engagement efforts. Ensure these efforts are aligned with the organization’s mission and values for best results.