Health Workers Want More From You

“I‘m an OR nurse.”
“I’m a lab tech.”
“I’m a pharmacist.”
“I work at Memorial.”
“I work at Saint Francis.”
“For nine years.”
“For 14 years.”
“Since 1984.”

Most people who work in health care are deeply involved in their work. For many, it’s part of who they are – a nurse, a doctor, an ultrasound tech. And they take pride in working at well-known, highly respected health care organizations. Like me, many in health care have faced forks in the road where we could have worked in another field, but chose to stay where we felt we could truly touch lives. (One of my early forks was choosing a job in a multispecialty physician group practice over an offer to create promotional materials for a TV station.)

I always feel somewhat sad when I read those stories about the large numbers of employees who feel their work is a dead end or have little pride in their jobs. We in health care are blessed to spend our careers in places where we can affect the decisive moments of other people’s lives. 

It’s not surprising then that the data coming in from Press Ganey’s new employee partnership survey show that health care employees are highly engaged at work. They believe in the value of what they, their teams and their organizations are doing. Their concerns revolve more around satisfaction issues; this is the pattern we see in almost every hospital with which we work.

The notion that employees are generally satisfied with their workplace and that engagement is the tougher challenge isn’t borne out by our findings specific to health care. Rather than being a pyramid where engagement is built on top of satisfaction, health care employers will find both engagement and satisfaction to be critical if they’re going to succeed in developing a truly dedicated group of employees.

So what are the key issues we’re seeing?

One of the biggest priorities of health care employees is the opportunity for input into decisions, to influence the direction of a unit, division or organization. When I started in health care, I got a “To Do” list from my supervisor and started checking off the tasks. No one, including me, wants to do that anymore. Regardless of age, experience or job title, we all want to feel respected and to know that someone is listening. We want to participate, not just carry out. This is a different dynamic from being personally engaged in health care itself. A nurse can be deeply committed to caring for patients, but she can do that down the street at another hospital just as well. Dialogue and input in the workplace are “deal breakers” these days.

Another priority we’re seeing is a need for a genuine dialogue with senior leaders – to feel our leaders really listen to employees, that a work group’s opinions matter and that excellent performance is recognized. That means leadership needs to be seen and heard on the floors. As a result, I’ve seen more and more leaders starting blogs like this one to write about what they hear from patients and employees, as well as their personal observations in a hospital.

“Employees don’t leave their company; they leave their supervisor.” That saying has been around a long time. Our data are confirming how important a direct supervisor is to an employee. Our top opportunities for improvement among employees nationally include the desire for supervisors to provide more individualized coaching, to recognize their employees’ ideas for improvement and to communicate well. Employees also want to have supervisors who are good at organizing a team’s efforts. Clearly, the supervisor is a differentiator. How much so? Even more so than pay.

We find that the engagement issue that health care employees see as organizations’ highest priority for improvement nationally is the opportunity to be creative and innovative in their work. This seems to reflect a desire by employees to invest even more of their talents and ideas in the organization.

We also sometimes see lower engagement when employees believe their co-workers aren’t being held to a consistently high standard of accountability. “Cut the slackers!” was a comment I read at one hospital. 

The summary message we’re finding as we look at data and listen to associates is that most health care employees care deeply about the work that they do. For the most part, they believe in their co-workers’ commitment to excellent patient service and to the needs of others. They believe in the quality of care and values of their organization. What they’re looking for is:
  • An organization that offers them the opportunity to help shape their workplace and recognizes excellent performance.
  • A direct supervisor who helps them grow and promotes collaboration.

One of the holy grails of health care is creating a workforce of dedicated employees that will set a facility apart. We know skilled, engaged employees are critical to patient and physician satisfaction, quality, safety and efficiency. What we’re seeing is that creating a culture of transparency, collaboration, excellence and innovation is the means to attracting, developing and retaining dedicated employees.

Teresa formerly served as the CEO of a 70-physician, 500-employee, multi-specialty group. Read her full bio.