How to Engage Employees in Healthcare

National nurses week

Healthcare employers ask a lot of their employees.

Consider the events of late-winter snowstorm Stella when the northeast came to a grinding halt. Many of the region's employers told their people to work at home; but healthcare organizations needed their people on-site, requiring employees to navigate rough conditions, figure out a fallback plan to care for children who were inevitably off from school, and then shake off the snow-day envy so they could effectively care for patients and deliver patient satisfaction ratings that drive bottom lines.

As one nurse tweeted during the storm, "9-5ers are casually having a snow day while nurses prepare to be stuck at the hospital for the next 24-36 hours."

"We Really Need Our People to Be There"

The requirements are understandable. After all, healthcare is not a remote-friendly occupation. "We really need our people to be there," says Amy Rabinowitz, manager of work/life and recognition at world-renowned cancer facility, Memorial Sloan Kettering.

But the unrelenting demands paired with literally life-and-death decisions create the conundrum of the healthcare job; engaged employees drive healthcare; but the demands of healthcare drive disengaged employees. And a recent study shows unmistakable signs of trouble. "There's a crisis in healthcare employee engagement," wrote Greg Harris, whose company conducted a study showing a steep decline in engagement among healthcare workers, "and that impact directly affects everyone."

The decline has far-reaching effects. For one, today's reimbursement rates depend on the satisfaction of patients. For another, a shortage of talent (healthcare jobs typically idle vacant for 49 days and climbing) means employers need today's workforce to be able (and willing) to effectively fill the gaps. "In a time where cutbacks and money saving initiatives are changing the face of healthcare," wrote Greg, "finding ways to keep these employees productive, motivated, and engaged is crucial."

How to Engage Employees? Differentiate your Organization

So how to engage employees in healthcare? Employers can't change the nature of the work (healthcare will always be stressful). But they can affect how it interacts with the rest of life. Taking care of children, for example, become less stressful when employees have a center on site that is sympathetic to the hours of a medical shift. Getting out in a snowstorm becomes less of an undertaking (and, in fact, possible) when back-up care is on call to look after children.

Such benefits that encourage well-being - what one writer referred to as game-changing "differentiators" - do more than engage employees today. They're insurance for tomorrow. That aforementioned talent shortage promises to grow even tighter, with a shortfall of nurses alone expected to grow to near a million. To fill their rosters, employers will need to be thinking ahead to what will attract employees to their operating rooms - and away from others'. That, as talent executive Greg Till wrote, will require a focus on people.

And Amy of Memorial Sloan Kettering says there is a competitive advantage in employer support. Recruits ask about the hospital's child care and back-up care programs, she says, and current employees use them when needed. "Because they love the benefit," she says, "it really does help with retention."

It also comes in handy when you're asking people to come to work in a blizzard.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.