Ask most healthcare administrators, and they’ll list improving patient engagement as a primary focus of their teams. Many of those same practice managers will fail to list employee engagement in the same breath. Yet several studies have shown that employee engagement in the medical field is one of the top variables that correlate with mortality, complications, accidents on the job, patient safety, clinical outcomes, staff turnover, and absenteeism. Decreased overall in-person interaction in recent years has proven that the best time to focus on your team’s level of employee engagement was yesterday. The second best time is today.
Researchers have found that the engagement level of nurses was the number one variable correlating to mortality (1). A recent Johns Hopkins study found that more than a quarter-million US hospital deaths each year are due to medical errors, locking in as the third-leading cause of death in the United States (2). Gallup’s 2017 State of the Workplace Report found that increasing engagement resulted in a strong correlation between long-term engagement, absenteeism, staff turnover, and mortality rates (3). Put simply, a lack of employee engagement in medicine is deadly.
Unfortunately, leaders often confuse employee engagement with employee appreciation or staff satisfaction. This is setting the bar too low. A satisfied employee may show up to work on time, do the work required of them, and appear to be largely satisfied. However, true engagement is much different. True employee engagement is the emotional commitment employees have to the company and its goals. Engaged healthcare workers feel a true sense of pride and ownership in their job performance and in their healthcare team. When employees are truly engaged, they care, they give discretionary effort and go the extra mile. For example:
- An engaged healthcare employee makes eye contact with patients, genuinely smiles, and welcomes them.
- An engaged healthcare team member escorts patients to their destination or helps family members find their loved ones.
- An engaged clinician listens to a patient, unrushed, and answers every question regarding medications and discharge orders.
- An engaged medical employee rounds on patients one last time before their shift is over.
- An engaged healthcare provider never forgets to wash their hands.
- An engaged healthcare employee makes fewer mistakes.
- An engaged healthcare team member puts patients first.
The Harvard School of Public Health found that employee engagement has a strong correlation with employee safety, thus enhancing a safer environment for healthcare consumers (4). Likewise, employee engagement plays a significant role in reducing employee accidents on the job.
While the significance of employee engagement is undeniable, what is especially concerning is that a 2020 Gallup study concluded that just 36% of the workforce is engaged, 45% are not engaged, and 15% are actively disengaged. Which means nearly 64% of employees are NOT fully engaged (5). In addition, nearly 11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover.
So, what are healthcare organizations to do? First, senior leadership should articulate a clear vision to all employees. Second, organizations should conduct employee engagement surveys and act on the resulting data and insights. Third, management should be trained on how to foster growth, trust, and healthy relationships with employees. Finally, in order to foster a true sense of empowerment, management must show employees the impact of taking pride in their work, and acknowledge them as valued contributors to the healthcare team.
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Jerry L. Stone