Employee Engagement in Healthcare

Professional Development Research & Resources

Employee engagement is perhaps most evident in retention and turnover rates. According to Nursing Solutions Inc.’s recent report, the national hospital turnover rate averaged 17.8% last year. Few healthcare systems have been untouched by the national shortage of trained nurses, therapists and other essential clinicians.

Being a frontline healthcare worker has become increasingly challenging. To retain great employees, healthcare employers must step up efforts to value, empower and engage its workforce in meaningful ways. Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Miami secured a 92% overall favorability score on the Company’s annual employee engagement survey in 2020, ranking it among the top 10 most engaged Encompass Health hospitals in the country. How did the hospital manage to keep morale high in the middle of a pandemic? CEO Luis Allende-Ruiz says employee engagement is an uphill battle that takes constant commitment from all levels of management.

Best Practices from the Encompass Health Miami Team

  • Make sure leaders are visible. Employees should be empowered to speak to the hospital leadership team directly. When staff are kept in the dark about important issues, speculation and distrust can take root. “Staff will stop me in the hallway and tell me how things are going,” Allende-Ruiz said. “That tells me people are comfortable talking to me. They trust that I will listen.” He holds regular staff meetings and opportunities for staff to have a meal with him. These connections humanize the executive team and let employees know that hospital leaders care.
  • Keep a pulse on your people. Don’t wait for an annual survey. Carrie Espinel, human resources director at Encompass Health Miami, holds periodic “stay interviews” with every employee, asking five simple questions to better understand how the person is feeling about their work. Her philosophy? “If we check in periodically for a stay interview, we can avoid an exit interview.” Espinel asks the employee to identify any obstacles affecting their work, then connects with the respective department leader to address the issue. She also asks about career satisfaction and what steps could be taken to keep the employee moving up in their field.
  • Act on employee feedback. At Encompass Health Miami, the results of one particular engagement survey revealed frustration among staff over perceived wheelchair shortages. The leadership team made a plan, ordered more wheelchairs and tagged the units so employees would always know if one was missing, an action that was well-received by staff. Employees deserve to know their opinions are being heard. Lack of action can deter people from participating in future feedback loops. If you are unable to address a problem right away, be transparent with employees about why.
  • Leverage company resources. Encompass Health provides tools, such as a companywide employee engagement survey, to help leaders identify successes and challenges. The company also offers a tuition reimbursement program, educational partnerships for tuition discounts and more that empower employees to grow their career. If your company offers these programs, make sure to leverage them. Employees may be thinking about leaving your organization to pursue higher education, unknowingly missing out on the company-sponsored programs currently available to them.
  • Position human resources as friend, not foe. When employees feel intimidated or unwelcomed by human resources staff, they are less likely to report concerns, talk freely about their career growth and ultimately remain with the company. Espinel stays in regular contact with staff to help break down that barrier and deny the stigma. “I don’t want staff to feel like if they visit me, there must be a problem,” she said. “The HR office is not the principal’s office.”

Trust, Consistency and Follow-Up

If you’re sensing a theme, you’re not aloneā€”building a culture of trust is the key to improving employee engagement and retaining great team members. The neighboring element is consistency. One good-faith action is not enough; it must be repeated often enough for employees to see a pattern. Are leaders accessible to staff? Do employees understand your company’s values, DEI commitment, company strategy and more? Discuss these culture-related topics often and hold frequent staff events to ensure all team members have the same knowledge and chance to be engaged.

Gallup distinguishes between employees who are actively engaged (perceived as loyal and productive), not engaged (average but unexcited performers) and actively disengaged (unhappy and contributing to low morale). Take stock of your team, identify unengaged staff members and open up the dialogue. What actions will you take to ensure your company is a great place to work?