Even though buzzwords like ‘the Great Resignation’ aren’t being thrown around as often anymore, that doesn’t mean turnover has come to a screeching halt. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers who quit as of June 2022 was at 4.2 million. This figure has stayed the same as previous months as there has been little change in the deep-seated issue of employee satisfaction with their work and/or workplace culture. This was especially visible during the pandemic, specifically within industries focused on serving people. In the healthcare and social assistance sector, where doctors, nurses and social workers are overworked, underpaid and at direct risk of contracting the virus, turnover has increased from 673,000 in May 2021 to 728,000 in May 2022.
And yet, recent research shows that despite the high cost of employee turnover and record high resignation rates, many organizations still aren’t prioritizing employee engagement. Not only does this threaten the reputation and effectiveness of an enterprise; if allowed to go on, it could cripple the enterprise’s very capacity.
So how can the healthcare industry tackle employee engagement and turnover amid the stress of an ongoing pandemic?
Align values with strategy
As the past three years have demonstrated, companies can no longer limit their focus to improving shareholder value. In the business of healthcare, the mission extends to improving the health and wellness of the local community. But a good cause often isn’t enough to retain employees burned out by a heavy workload and poor work-life balance.
Most people want to feel like they are a part of a bigger picture – and many people enter healthcare and adjacent industries for just that reason. Connecting that higher sense of purpose to the strategy of the business helps individuals connect to the difference they make in their communities and within their organization. While this connection alone won’t make up for extreme workloads and burnout, an individual connection to purpose does increase the resiliency people have – meaning they are better equipped to handle cycles of stress. Knowing exactly how the work they do impacts the health and wellness of the community they live in – it matters and builds loyalty.
Conveying this message and emphasizing the difference people make can happen in many forms. From emails and newsletters to taglines used in printed materials and employee badges and signs on the walls. Going deeper, the link between the strategy and values can be a core part of employee meetings and in one-on-one check ins. What matters is that it is conveyed authentically, transparently, and consistently. Employees who are included are employees that feel trusted and respected.
Redefine the culture and structure
Building engagement shouldn’t stop at the mission. Equally important is fostering a culture and transforming the organizational structure to be more employee centric.
Organizations must recognize that employees have every opportunity to leave them. Creating open forums for communication can help the organization to stay in touch with its staff, to talk through what’s keeping them there and what changes could create a healthier work environment. In other words, by building engagement into culture and function, organizations can create a more personal connection with their employees and make a huge difference in retention and satisfaction.
Of course, communication means little without action to support it. Part of the shift to a more employee-centric culture and structure involves acknowledging that employees are, after all, people first. Employees eager for a work-life balance should be provided with the tools and resources they need to work from home and/or work flexible hours. This obviously must be balanced with the need for work to be completed, but the pandemic proved to all of us that in most scenarios, there is much more flexibility than we used to think there was.
While building personal connections is difficult in an era of remote work, it is possible and it is important! Humans are pack animals, after all, and connections to one another keep us healthy. Equipping managers with the skills and knowledge they need to foster strong and productive relationships with their teams goes a long way to stemming attrition. Great managers understand the strengths and priorities of their teams and make sure they’re regularly connecting with employees in a way that encourages real communication and connection. Additionally, adopting an open-door policy for open communication, knowledge-sharing and feedback can contribute to a more supportive setup, providing employees with a ‘safety net’ and making them feel more valued by the company and their leaders.
Establish an effective IT infrastructure
Employees are not just people first. They are also people who interact with some of the most convenient and impressive technologies around. As consumers, a huge number of us are accustomed to an Amazon-like experience. We expect the tools and technology we use to be fast, intuitive, and to serve up to us things we didn’t even know we needed. We also expect that technology to be seamless across devices and to be accessible wherever we need them. The more IT is designed to support the specific needs of healthcare workers, the more those individuals can focus on patient care.
Creating tech-enabled ways for teams to share information and seek feedback in real time speeds responses. Self-healing systems prevent downtime. Chat and automated help functions reduce wait time. These are all examples of tech support that not only get the job done, but also contribute to the satisfaction of the workers themselves. Combine that with leveraging advanced technologies to support patients and their caregivers – such as virtual health and concierge services – and your infrastructure becomes a star player in both employee engagement and patient satisfaction.
You don’t have to be alone in providing these kinds of support for your workforce, either. The pandemic showed us that hospitals that partnered amongst themselves and with private partners were able to provide advanced support for their communities. Partnerships allow the healthcare sector to take advantage of other companies’ strategic strength to bring them advanced technologies at scale.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits all, magic bullet solution to attracting and retaining your best workers, but there is one place it all starts – and that’s with employee engagement. Listening, really listening, to the needs of your workforce and then including them in the creation of the solutions to the most pressing challenges is always the right place to start. From there, authentic, transparent, and consistent communication can help your entire workforce know where they stand and what’s important to both the organization and to its leaders, as people. Now is the time for healthcare organizations to embrace many of the ‘future of work’ concepts already in place in other industries.
Photo: Andry Djumantara, Getty Images