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The Impact of Employee Engagement in Healthcare

By Catherine Codispoti, MHA, Vice President & Associate Chief People Officer, Children's National Hospital

Catherine Codispoti, MHA, Vice President & Associate Chief People Officer, Children's National Hospital

At Children’s National Hospital, we employ more than 7,000 employees, who are spread out across more than 40 locations. Because of our size and geographic reach, keeping a pulse on employees’ engagement levels can be a challenge. In recent years, we’ve begun conducting employee engagement surveys twice a year. This frequency allows us to keep engagement top of mind for managers, and track any improvements we make in more real-time.

Last year we made a change to our Employee Engagement Survey, making it shorter and more user-friendly. The survey, which we run twice a year, is now just 12 questions long, and each question is answered with “emojis.” Employees select one of five frowning, neutral and smiling faces to indicate their answer to the question. We believe this change has helped keep our survey participation rate high, as it allows employees to complete the survey quickly. The survey is also mobile friendly, which is essential for many of our job functions who are on the front line and not near a computer during their shift.

At the conclusion of each survey, managers are provided access to a dashboard of their aggregate department data (individual employee responses are anonymous). It’s ultimately the job of our leaders to impact change in their work environments. The expectation is that our leaders will thoroughly review the data, and be transparent about the results with their team. We hope the discussions that come from those meetings can help identify positive trends and initiatives, or help create buy-in to improve the results.

For those departments that score below 75% engagement, we encourage the managers to engage every member of their team as a partner in change. Our Learning and Development team and HR Business Partners also team up with these departments to create action plans.

"Employee engagement in health care can impact more than just retention rates and morale; research shows that engagement can also impact patient satisfaction, reimbursement, and safety culture."

This approach worked particularly well in one of our departments that had a 68% engagement score in the fall of 2018. The department’s senior leader took a “the buck stops with me” attitude, and really owned the need for change. After taking her concerns to her own leaders for their buy-in, she presented the survey data to her staff. She was extremely transparent, and asked for each of them to play a part in change.

With input from the staff, the department created “guiding principles,” or standards of behavior, that lay out their expectations for each other, their work environment, and how they will hold each other accountable. The senior leader also met one-on-one with all 31 staff members in the functional team that scored the lowest, to understand their concerns and ask for their help. She also engaged the loudest negative voice in the department to ensure that person felt heard and involved, and could be a positive force in the process.

Their hard work paid off; the department’s engagement score increased to 80% in the next survey – a mere 6 months later.

Children’s National has ambitious plans for 2020 that will help us grow and undertake new initiatives, but that may also impact employee engagement. We know that in the coming years, maintaining a focus on employee engagement, and sustaining the improvements we’ve already made, will be more important than ever.

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