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Greatest Improvements in Healthcare Workplaces

by Rick Blizzard, D.B.A.
Healthcare Editor

In the accompanying article, I discussed the two employee engagement items (as measured by Gallup's Q12 employee engagement survey) that improved the least among healthcare workers between 2001 and 2002. But what about the greatest successes? The following three items showed the greatest improvement between 2001 and 2002.

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

"I know what is expected of me at work."

In 2001, this was the single highest-scoring Q12 item among healthcare workers. Fully half (50%) of all healthcare workers strongly agreed with this statement, scoring it as a 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. This item also showed the greatest improvement in 2002, increasing to 55%.

To what can we attribute this success? Healthcare is one of the most well-documented industries. However, recent publicity about medical errors has raised the concern of organizations like the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). The focus on safety has increased the intensity of policy and procedure reviews with staff. This renewed focus may have resulted in heightened awareness among staff members about what is expected of them.

Improvement in this area may be counterintuitive in an environment of change. I have often found that declining scores on the "I know what is expected of me at work" item often accompany major changes in operations. For example, the introduction of a new computer system that staff members must learn may initially result in a decline on this item. The recent improvement may indicate that healthcare organizations are doing a better job of managing such changes.

"My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person."

This was the second highest-scoring item in 2002. It has also improved five percentage points since 2001, from 33% to 38%.

Overall, volumes are increasing, and staffing is short. Add to this increased paperwork. The logical expectation is that manager interaction with staff members will suffer as the workplace becomes more impersonal. Certainly this does happen in some cases, but it is not the norm. Healthcare employees tend to have higher levels of empathy than employees in other industries. They are drawn to the field of healthcare because they care about people. But the empathy also carries over into healthcare workers' treatment of one another. They care about each other, and they seek support from each other during hard times.

"In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress."

This is also a high-scoring item among healthcare workers. In 2002, 32% strongly agreed with this statement, up five percentage points since 2001.

JCAHO also evaluates healthcare organizations based on their performance appraisal systems, which has led to increased attention to this issue among healthcare organizations. This may partially explain the improvement on this item. However, there are other potential explanations. Staffing shortages and new technologies have forced healthcare organizations to become more creative. Cross training staff for different departments improves staffing flexibility and creates the need for increased communication between managers and employees.

Key Points

The healthcare industry has clearly been successful in building on its 2001 successes. Two of the three most improved areas in 2002 were also the highest scoring areas in 2001. However, there is one warning sign in this measure of success. Two of the three most successful items ("I know what is expected of me at work" and "In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress") are "process-oriented" items -- that is, managers can build these items into their everyday responsibilities. On the other hand, the two least improved items ("At work, my opinions seem to count" and "In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work") are more "people-oriented" -- managers must develop personalized relationships with each employee to properly address them. These results suggest that healthcare organizations must continue to focus on treating their staff members as people, not just as names or numbers.

The Q12 items are protected by copyright of The Gallup Organization, Princeton, N.J., 1992-1999.

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