Better Quality of Patient Care Begins with Improving the Employee Engagement in Healthcare

By Alexia Hsu

Healthcare providers recognize that quality of patient care and workforce engagement have become inextricably intertwined, but only a few organizations have taken adequate steps to capitalize the information on hand.

Based on a linear regression analysis on 3,408 hospitals, every 5-point rise in hospital ratings (e.g. CAHPS) generates 1% growth in profit margin. Executives tend to take it on faith that engaged employees are better employees, but faith alone does not always lead to immediate action if it is unaccompanied by a deliberate business outcome.

Today, the impending shortage of skilled labor and growing demand for healthcare have confirmed that the internal structures of these organizations are in dire need of change. Naturally, a healthcare professional that works under stressful and time-sensitive environment will be easily subjected to disengagement.

This opens up the organization’s vulnerability to talent drain and hefty costs incurred from looming attrition rates. On average, the cost of turnover for an experienced nurse can amount to $88,000. In a similar vein, patient experience is also often compromised as new hires may be unfamiliar with the organization’s regular workflow.

A silver lining to this imminent catastrophe lies in the wealth of data accumulated over the years. When data are integrated and analyzed comprehensively, organizations should be able to capture their current positions and identify opportunities for improvement.


Why Focus on Patient Experiences?

In the face of rising competition and limited resources in the healthcare industry, organizations are urged to deliver high-value care tailored to customers’ personal needs. Patients now have a varied selection of healthcare providers and are inclined to seek ones that provide enhanced service experiences.

As defined by Harvard Business Review, patient experience is the aggregate of “all interactions influencing patient perceptions across the continuum of care”. Those that reported positive experiences demonstrated greater self-management and a strong commitment to work cohesively with their providers. This concludes that an improvement in patient care has an inherent value to post-discharge outcomes. Likewise, repeated positive interactions between patients and their healthcare providers create an ecosystem of sustained customer loyalty, thus delivering desired business outcomes.


Employee Engagement Drives Patient Care and Financial Returns

Placing emphasis on employee satisfaction can proliferate the quality of patient care. A joint research conducted by the Boston Consulting Group and Partnership for Public Service revealed that a one-point increase in the Best Places to Work employee engagement score returns an estimated half-point increase in patient satisfaction with the medical center overall.

Moreover, a patient-centered workforce is imperative for the delivery of efficient healthcare services, which has pronounced association with key financial indicators. As a result, leading organizations have begun to recognize the value of building a culture that cultivates employee engagement, in order to better position themselves in the competitive landscape.


The Halo Effect of Employee Engagement

A workforce engagement research administered by Towers Watson - measured by “an employee’s willingness to provide extra, discretionary effort” - underscored the value of fostering a positive work environment. One reason why engagement is so vital is that it has a halo effect on other crucial workplace behaviors.

Employees that felt empowered reported higher levels of intrinsic motivation as they retained a greater sense of fulfilment. Hence, the ability to attract, engage and retain human capital has become a hallmark of a successful organization, particularly in the healthcare industry. Given the immense pressure on provider organizations, managers can only strive to do more with less by maximizing employees’ capabilities to have a compounding effect on business outcomes.

While the intention appears to be part of a logical equation, strategies centered on impacting the care continuum pose risks if the implementation process is not monitored closely. Improving employees’ engagement should not be a one-off activity, rather, policies contributing to an engaging work experience should become part of the organizational fabric.


Simple Steps to Kick-start Employee Engagement

1.Transparency and Trust

In any organization, it is essential to build a strong foundation of trust between senior management and its employees. A workplace environment that cripples psychological safety can manifest detrimental outcomes: low morale, prolonged problems due to fear of questioning authorities, lack of motivation and others.

Managers should consider adopting transformational leadership, as opposed to transactional leadership, to close the disparity between the various stakeholders. In this case, senior managers can entrust doctors to perform accurate diagnoses and nurses to dutifully complete medical follow-ups. One study cited that employees who benefit from an open-door policy “were more likely to hold greater perceptions of procedural fairness, which also resulted in higher degrees of satisfaction and probability of staying with the organization”.


2. Listen to Your Employees

A strong, secure feedback loop provides the avenue for healthy communications. In fact, positive feedback loops are significantly more effective at encouraging behavior changes than sheer enforcement or reprimands. However, there must be an incessant effort made to nurture this loop and encourage higher participation rates. One of the recurring topics during HR Technology 2018 discussed about the use of real-time feedback platforms that creates ample opportunities for quick analyses.

The use of HR analytics software, like EngageRocket, is extremely beneficial for healthcare providers since the standard organizational structure still remains as a pyramid-hierarchy and departments are divisional by nature (geography and specialization). By integrating HR tools into the processes, healthcare executives can better monitor the workplace conditions and intervene in cases of disengaged employees. In addition, managers will have substantial information to curate training programs and implement reward and recognition strategies.


3. Employee Value Proposition

To fully utilise people analytics, the concept of Employee Value Proposition must be at the core of the action plan. In this matter, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should be the basis for consideration when finding the ideal formula for remuneration and benefits. Tangible assets in the form of finances and workspace resources are prime aspects that cater to the fundamental needs in Maslow’s pyramid structure.

Talent Management & HR posits that once these basic necessities are fulfilled, employees will be inclined to develop personal mastery and pursue other goals. In particular, a person will seek psychological fulfilment in terms of team belonging and personal achievements. Following which, employees will be self-driven to be actively engaged with their responsibilities. At its peak, employees will progress as high-performing individuals and altogether contribute to an organisation’s productivity.


Return-on-Investment of Employee Engagement in Healthcare

The interrelationships between employee engagement and performance outcomes are unique to the healthcare industry. According to Press Ganey, the ‘cost’ of disengaged employees is measured first by safety-related mistakes, followed by the monetary costs as a result of amendments. In this regard, healthcare companies need to utilize diagnostic tools to assess the engagement of all its employees and the organization’s overall cultural health altogether.

Developing insights in this aspect and translating the collected data into a set of sustainable actions will help drive high operational performances measurable by patient experiences and key financial indicators, and attract or retain talents in times of stiff competition. It is also critical that HR executives or leaders envisage managing human capital as a continuous effort in fostering growth, trust and recognition, as increasing engagement does not stem from infrequent employee social events or bonuses.

It is also not an isolated HR process or management exercise, but a collective effort to maintain a healthy communication platform. It is a strategic imperative where quality, experience and engagement converge to generate the most optimal outcome.


Tags: Employee Experience