Is low employee engagement detrimental to your healthcare?

“The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel.”
– Sybil F. Stershic

These days, employee engagement and low employee morale is perceived as a key issue for most industries.

According to research from Gallup, an average of 50.8% of employees are disengaged, and another 17.2% were actively disengaged.  In fact, employee engagement has consistently averaged less than 33% for the past 15 years, meaning that nearly 70% of employees are disengaged.  There are real costs associated with this lack of engagement – approximately $26K per employee each year, and over $450B lost annually in productivity.

But in the healthcare industry, employee engagement is more than a standard productivity concern – it can actually make an enormous difference in the quality of care, and can have a significant effect on patient satisfaction and overall outcomes. In fact, creating a culture of engagement is the single greatest thing a healthcare organization can do to improve safety, patient experience, turnover rates, mortality rates, and ROI.

Creating a culture of engagement requires ongoing 2-way communication with all healthcare employees.  It’s also critical to collecting the kind of feedback and field intelligence required in order to innovate and improve.

In healthcare, perhaps even more than in other industries, human-oriented communications are essential in order to foster alignment and trust.  And yet, maintaining effective internal communications within a medical community can pose a greater set of challenges and opportunities than other types of industries.  For one, employees keep 24/7 schedules and are not typically sitting in front of their computers from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.  For another, people are often distributed across multiples buildings and campuses, making them harder to reach.  

But perhaps most importantly, burnout is a growing concern among healthcare workers. Common characteristics of the healthcare environment, including time pressure, lack of control over work processes, role conflict, and poor relationships between groups and with leadership, combine with personal predisposing factors and the emotional intensity of clinical work to put clinicians at high risk. Until recently, estimates for the prevalence of burnout ranged from 10%–70% among nurses and 30%–50% among physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. In late 2015, a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, in partnership with the American Medical Association, found that more than half of American physicians now have at least one sign of burnout, a 9% increase from the group’s prior results in a study conducted 3 years earlier.

In the past few years, the growing prevalence of burnout syndrome among healthcare personnel has gained attention as a potential threat to health care quality and patient safety. Clinicians with burnout are more likely to subjectively rate patient safety lower in their organizations and to admit to having made mistakes or delivered substandard care at work. Thus, a number of influential organizations, including the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic, have highlighted addressing burnout as a priority.

One of the most effective interventions for combating burnout is communication.  For healthcare workers, having a place to authentically express your thoughts and communicate with others can be enormously helpful to the entire organization.  Finding your voice and knowing that someone in your organization is really listening can change the sense of powerlessness into a renewed sense of purpose.

Waggl’s crowdsourcing technology is quickly emerging as a solution to these challenges within healthcare organizations, by facilitating communications between employees, management, and various departments.  Pulse surveys can be used to quickly and effectively enhance internal communications, obtain feedback in real-time, and serve as the catalyst for action.

Progressive healthcare organizations like University of Utah Health are leading the charge in their adoption of crowdsourced communications platforms. The University of Utah Health is the Intermountain West’s only academic health care system, combining excellence in patient care, the latest in medical research, and teaching to provide leading-edge medicine in a caring and personal setting. The system provides care for Utahns and residents of five surrounding states in a referral area encompassing more than 10 percent of the continental United States.  Consistently ranked among US News & World Report’s Best Hospitals, University of Utah Health offers highly specialized treatments and operates four hospital facilities, several clinics, and the academic support responsible for training the next generation of medical professionals.

Within University of Utah Health’s complex organization, Rick Smith holds a unique role in HR.  As Senior Director, Human Resource Management, University of Utah Health Academics, Rick oversees HR strategy for 8,000 staff, medical professionals, and students on campus, including performance management, training programs, and the vital work of engagement.

According to Rick, it’s difficult to overstate just how important employee engagement is to the health of a medical community.  However, some of the traditional tools used to encourage and measure engagement, such as the annual survey, were not as effective as Rick would have liked.  At University of Utah Health, participation in annual surveys was not high enough, and there was not enough frequency to drive action in a timely fashion.  In addition, Rick had seen indications on some portions of the survey that certain populations and departments were less engaged than others, and he wanted to address the issue.

When Rick heard about the idea of using a crowdsourced pulse survey platform to communicate with people, he immediately picked up on the possibilities of using it as a tool to help boost engagement in a variety of scenarios across the organization.  

“Our use of pulse survey platforms has helped us to summarize a great deal of input rapidly. People read one another’s comments and vote them up, and the feedback becomes extremely actionable,” Rick said.  “Continuous feedback enables healthcare professionals who are already overburdened with data and the need to record that data. The last thing these people need to do it take another survey. They need a quick and easy way to contribute their opinion.”

This last point cannot be overstated — research shows that traditional survey methods may actually do more to harm engagement than to help it, especially if they are only conducted once a year. As explained by Josh Bersin, Founder and Principal at Bersin by Deloitte, “ The change we need to make is to redefine engagement beyond an ‘annual HR measure’ to a continuous, holistic part of an entire business strategy. If your people love their work and the environment you have created, they will treat customers better, innovate, and continuously improve your business.”

Pulse survey platforms are being used by a growing number of healthcare organizations to help create better understanding between departments, teams, and individuals.  Since employee engagement is one of the most critical elements to ensure a successful patient experience, it makes sense that many leading hospitals are using this type of technology to help boost engagement and morale.  UCSF Emergency Medicine Residents has used Waggl to facilitate scheduling around conferences, and ease the logistics around internal communications processes.  

A growing number of device manufacturers, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology companies are also using pulse surveys to collect real-time intelligence about how things are working in the field.  Avella, a specialty pharmacy recognized nationally for its high-touch customer service, is also using Waggl to connect people and get actionable feedback in real time.

These healthcare providers are all at the top of their industry in terms of the quality of care, education, and research they provide, and yet they are still striving every day to be even better at what they do.  This passion and relentless drive for excellence comes from the heart and soul of these organizations – the people that work there.  They realize they have a goldmine of talent and that the best ideas can come from all levels of their organization.  By using Waggl to tap into the inherent ‘wisdom in the system,’ they are igniting the creativity and passion of their staff, which can not only help encourage innovation  — it can actually save lives.

Does your healthcare organization want to create a stronger culture of engagement?  Waggl can help by providing an easy and efficient way to harness wisdom and activate talent.   If you are interested in learning more, please sign up for a demo today.