Boosting Staff Engagement May Improve the Bottom Line

Boosting Staff Engagement May Improve the Bottom Line

Shane Parker, RN
Co-founder and Chief Nursing Officer

Disengaged staff, including nurses, can be costly to a healthcare organization in several ways:

  • High staff turnover
  • Increased rates of medical errors
  • Reduced productivity

The polling company Gallup estimates the “cost of poor management and lost productivity from employees in the U.S. who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged to be between $960 billion and $1.2 trillion per year” across all industries – including healthcare. On the flip side, boosting employee engagement at all levels cannot only reduce these losses but allow an organization to reap the benefits of becoming an “employer of choice.” Try these strategies to increase staff engagement.

1. Develop a culture of performance development

Many healthcare organizations labor under an old model of performance management that involves annual employee evaluations, with little other management/staff interaction. Writing for Gallup, expert Ben Wigert points out this type of performance management is “broken” and needs to evolve for the modern workforce, including millennials. He suggests healthcare organizations pursue the concept of performance development.

To begin creating a culture of performance development, managers should incorporate frequent coaching conversations into their work routine. Millennial nurses, in particular, seek continuous performance feedback and mentoring from their managers. Adding coaching conversations can be done on an impromptu basis and might involve asking questions regarding obstacles the employee is facing or touching on professional goals and pathways. These conversations need not be long or intensive. They may even happen in the hallway, in passing.

Frequently touching base in this way can lead to discussions about an employee’s individualized development plan. By showing interest and support in the staff member’s current performance and future career, managers help keep employees engaged. And engaged employees tend to be retained employees.

2. Aim to become an “employer of choice”

In 2007, WellStar Health System undertook a multi-year initiative to build staff engagement on a journey to becoming an “employer of choice,” according to Carrie Owen Plietz, MHA, the organization’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Over the ensuing six years, WellStar rose from the 15th percentile in employee engagement to the 97th. But why would the health system devote the time, effort and resources to better engage employees?

To put it simply, “By caring for our people, we actively improve the care we provide and improve the health of our community,” Plietz wrote in NEJM Catalyst. Her more detailed explanation:

Gallup research and other workplace studies have shown that organizations with high employee engagement levels have lower turnover, lower absenteeism, and fewer accidents and patient safety incidents. We’ve learned that when a clinical team focuses on improving its employee engagement scores, patient and physician satisfaction scores also improve. That’s the holy grail in today’s health care landscape. It’s the right thing to do.”

Your healthcare organization likewise can begin a journey to becoming an employer of choice and reap the benefits that come with it. Start by identifying workplace stressors and distractions, and then address them accordingly. WellStar, for example, added on-site daycare and a concierge service to handle daily errands like grocery shopping and auto maintenance. The system also focused heavily on career development, which led to 70 percent of their leadership openings being filled by internal candidates in 2016. Their efforts likely have been rewarded with easier staff recruitment and increased retention.

3. Address your staff’s mental well-being

One recent study pegged the total estimated economic burden of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) at more than $200 billion per year. The same study noted that “presenteeism” – being in attendance at work but performing at a diminished level – consumed nearly 77 percent of those costs. In healthcare presenteeism can add to the burden of medical errors, which can be expressed both in negative outcomes and in financial terms. The human cost of medical errors may be as high as a quarter-million lives lost each year, while the economic harm may be in excess of $20 billion, based on various reports over the past decade.

You can take steps to address the mental well-being of your staff population by implementing strategies that provide compassionate support and reduce stressful elements of the workplace. Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ, for example, has implemented “Zen Dens” – respite rooms where nurses can take a break from the noise and bustle of their shift, according to CNO Ann Marie Leichman. Other organizations offer perks like on-site massage therapists and in-house health and wellness services exclusively for staff that include diet and exercise guidance, which has been shown to improve depression symptoms. Giving nurses and other clinical staff a choice of shift length can promote improved mental well-being, as can offering self-scheduling solutions that provide the ability for nurses to trade shifts easily and thereby avoid presenteeism if they feel unable to perform at their best on a given day.

While many hospitals and healthcare systems have understandably focused on patient experience in this value-driven world, the time may be right to shift attention to employee experience. As other organizations have demonstrated, boosting employee engagement may lead to improved retention, improved productivity and reduced rates of medical errors. Plus, as Plietz noted, taking care of your employees is simply the right thing to do.