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The Real Impact of Engagement in Healthcare

Posted by: Ben Eubanks

The verdict is in. Engagement is a powerful measure of employee dedication and intent to stay with an organization. With so many articles, blogs, and other resources today digging into engagement, it’s important to step back and ensure we are discussing it in the proper terms. Here’s how the team at Strategic Programs defines it:

Engagement is the extent to which employees are emotionally attached or passionate about their work, and their loyalty to the organization. Engagement is personal, linked to emotion, and based on values. (e.g., feeling respect, recognition, likelihood to stay with the organization, etc.)

The hard part, for many healthcare organizations, is figuring out how to put this into actual behavioral terms. It’s also challenging to link it to business outcomes because it has traditionally been a simple measure in and of itself. However, we’re going to dig into how engagement ties into productivity, safety, and intent to stay.

Setting the Cornerstone

The first step is to measure employee engagement. This is typically done with a survey. In many cases, a survey is the only measurement organizations take. They then review the survey data, put a few actions in place, and wait until the following measurement period to ascertain what changed. In effect, many organizations take this strategic opportunity and make it an administrative chore instead.

But that dataset is a rich source of information, allowing organizations to differentiate between employees who are engaged and those who are not. And that information can be used to dig deeper into what engagement means for each company. For some, it will mean an increased intent to stay. For others, it might mean higher patient satisfaction scores. Here’s an example:

Let’s say you surveyed your nurses and find out that 50% are engaged. Then you start looking at specific outcomes for those engaged employees, discovering that retention for the group is higher than average, productivity is more than twice that of other employees, and safety incidents are virtually unheard of compared to disengaged peers. This allows you to put an actual price tag on engagement, demonstrating the value to the business.

Healthcare Impacts

Those are a few examples of how engagement might affect outcomes within the healthcare industry. Megan Younkin, Consultant at Strategic Programs, had this to say, “What we have seen is a connection between turnover in departments and levels of engagement and satisfaction with the immediate supervisor relationship connected to levels of engagement. In general, engagement is strongly linked to productivity, safety (patient and employee), absenteeism, and intention to stay.”

Going beyond simply measuring engagement levels with a survey, this allows healthcare firms to use the data for powerful business insights. These types of healthcare outcomes were validated in a Forbes article published earlier this year.

In the article on the ROI of engagement for hospitals, the author explores multiple examples:

These are just a few of many scenarios depicting what engagement looks like in real-life, behavioral terms. Consider your organization and how this might look for your own staff. Do they take the extra step, even when no one is looking? Have you taken the time to figure out what behaviors your engaged workers exhibit that are different from their disengaged peers?

Engagement is More than a Survey

The discussion of engagement as a powerful tool for healthcare organizations is significant, but it’s important to note that this direction is not without a measure of effort. Assuming engagement will come as a result of a survey is unwise–it requires actively listening to employees and taking action to meet their needs.

Younkin explains, “One of the things we hear from employees that have a consistently negative impact on engagement is a lack of employee voice.

When employees feel like their opinions matter and have value, they are more likely to be engaged in the workplace. In healthcare organizations where policy is typically driven in a top-down manner, this can be a challenge. However, allowing employees to suggest improvements, offer ideas, and provide expertise is a powerful motivator. Offering opportunities for this input can help to improve engagement among affected staff members.

It is worth noting a unique friction point for healthcare institutions. An interesting twist is the damage that can be caused by focusing solely on patient satisfaction to the detriment of the employees, says Younkin.

We are hearing from clients about the struggle between patient satisfaction and employee engagement. There is a huge focus on patient satisfaction because of the impact that patient satisfaction scores have on hospital reimbursements. This seems to be decreasing clinicians’ engagement at work because they feel like they have to sacrifice good patient care in order to provide good customer service.”

When engaged employees know they have the backing of their leadership, they will make the right decisions when the time comes. When there are multiple conflicting messages, as in this example, it can be difficult for staff members to perform at their best. From listening to employee concerns to ensuring a consistent message from leadership, the end goal is for healthcare firms to treat engagement as a way of life, not just another short-lived program.

All things considered, hospitals and other health organizations would do well to focus on engagement. With retention challenges having a hefty price tag, this is a chance for these institutions to improve the working environment, leading to more productivity, fewer safety issues, and greater retention among critical staff.

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