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How Employee Engagement Can Improve a Hospital's Health
Business Journal

How Employee Engagement Can Improve a Hospital's Health

by Jeff Burger and Luke Sutton

Employee engagement and employee safety work together to enhance patient safety.

Many healthcare providers are struggling to adapt to the changes required by the Affordable Care Act. What's more, the uncertainty surrounding those changes is causing ongoing problems for healthcare organizations and their employees. Front-line nurses, for example, now have more responsibilities than ever before, and tasks as varied as documenting patient care, learning new electronic medical record systems, and feeding and discharging patients are increasing their workload.

For healthcare providers and their employees, ongoing uncertainty can lower employee engagement, which in turn can have a negative effect on organizational success and patient care. Research by Gallup and Loma Linda University Medical Center shows that employee engagement and employee safety work together to enhance patient safety. When healthcare employees work in a safe environment and are engaged, the chances are much greater that they will perform activities that are known drivers of patient safety outcomes better.

A small hospital enlisted Gallup in 2010 to help boost employee engagement among its workforce. Hospital leaders wanted to ensure that all employees were devoted to their roles and deeply committed to their work. Leaders recognized that an engaged workforce would be more emotionally connected to the hospital's mission and willing to go the extra mile to meet and exceed expectations.

To build and sustain an engaged workforce, this healthcare organization implemented three key interventions:

  1. Select employees based on talent. To accelerate success, hospital leaders began using Gallup's scientific approach for sourcing, selecting, and hiring the best employees. The hospital applies Gallup's selection science at all levels -- for nurses, executives, and front-line employees -- to upgrade the organization's overall talent base. And because manager selection is the most important decision executives make, the hospital CEO uses a research-based process to select managers based on talent, demanding that all teams have great leaders.
  2. Invest in ongoing employee development. With the right hiring strategy in place, hospital leaders and managers implemented a strengths-based approach to developing employee talent. Managers partnered with Gallup to rework their performance management systems to focus on employee strengths, encouraging each employee to connect his or her strengths with role expectations.
  3. Emphasize engagement from the top down. After measuring employee engagement, hospital managers and leaders worked with Gallup to implement the strategy, tools, and solutions to grow engagement. The hospital benefits by emphasizing engagement at all levels. The CEO sets the tone by stressing the importance of building and sustaining engagement, and managers demonstrate their commitment by helping teams set goals and maintaining accountability for meeting them. Managers also ensure that employees know what is expected of them.

It wasn't long before the hospital began experiencing consistent and sustained improvement in its employee engagement results, both overall and at the individual workgroup level. The result was the transformation hospital leaders wanted. Four years after making extensive changes, the hospital was seeing substantial results:

  1. Employee engagement skyrocketed. The hospital's overall engagement score jumped from above the 20th percentile in 2010 to above the 70th percentile in 2013, when compared with results in Gallup's hospital-level database.
  2. Turnover dropped significantly. Overall hospital turnover fell from 22% in 2010 to 15% in 2013. And RN turnover was reduced by about half, from 25% in 2010 to 13% in 2013.
  3. Workers' comp claims decreased substantially. The number of workers' compensation claims went from 18 per year in 2010 to a mere 7 per year in 2013.

These changes have had a significant impact on the hospital's bottom line. From 2010 to 2013, the hospital's RN turnover costs have decreased by $1.7 million, and the hospital has increased its operating margin. By implementing these key strategies, this hospital has done more than improve organizational outcomes -- it has taken strides toward meeting its mission to provide patients with the best care possible.

Managers and leaders generate engagement and results in healthcare companies. When they use a disciplined, research-based approach to managing engagement and selecting employees, they can expect consistent organizational growth, continued improvements in employee engagement, and further advancements in patient care. This is one of the most important steps healthcare companies can take to increase patient safety and maximize key benefits of employee engagement.

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