Laurie Morgan is senior consultant and partner at Capko & Morgan. Her practice management consulting work focuses on operational excellence, revenue capture and the effective use of technology. Her recent title, “The People-Profit Connection: Smarter Staffing for Practice Profitability,” focuses on how the right staff using the right technology can elevate practice productivity, profitability and patient service.
“Employee engagement” is one of those squishy-sounding management concepts that sounds like it’s probably a good idea, but maybe not a top management priority. It sounds a bit like a fancy term for morale—but if that’s all it is, why all the hype about it?
Engagement actually goes much deeper than happiness or job satisfaction, according to experts. After all, employees can be quite happy without working hard or productively on behalf of the organization, explains Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0, in Forbes. Engagement goes beyond job satisfaction. Engaged employees aren’t just contented with their jobs; rather, they’re committed to their organizations in an emotional way. That commitment translates to what Kruse calls “discretionary effort” – i.e., taking the initiative to go above and beyond the requirements of the job description. That sense of connection and responsibility for the success of their employers makes engaged employees much more valuable.
Studies have found that employee engagement in medicine increases productivity and profitability, measurably improves patient satisfaction and safety, and reduces errors. And as their engagement increases, employees find their work more rewarding, too. Fostering engagement is a win-win-win for healthcare organizations, their employees, and their patients.
The efforts of engaged healthcare employees going the extra mile for their employers and for patients can materialize every day, in all kinds of helpful ways. Here are just a few examples:
- A front desk employee uses a moment of down time to tidy the reception area—without being asked and when no one is watching
- A billing specialist notices that a payer’s directory is adding photos and ratings—and suggests that this could be a new marketing opportunity in the monthly staff meeting
- A scheduler notices many patients asking about a health plan not currently accepted—and alerts her supervisor because that might mean an opportunity to serve more patients
Medical offices have countless opportunities for committed employees to contribute. What’s more, healthcare organizations may have a leg up on promoting employee engagement: Many studies show that meaningful work is a key to employee engagement. The helping mission of healthcare is what attracts many employees to the field in the first place. For many clinics and hospitals, engagement starts with reinforcing the mission of helping patients above all.
Managers can also play a key role in promoting employee engagement—and have the power to undermine it. Research suggests that employees frequently leave jobs to escape bosses they dislike—an ongoing Gallup study of employee engagement estimates that one in two Americans has done so. Yet Gallup also found that the managers can better engage employees through some straightforward leadership approaches: communicating frequently, setting clear expectations, and emphasizing strengths in performance feedback.
Robust communication should also go both ways. In our consulting work, we find that employees always have ideas for improving everything from patient service to workflow to revenue capture—but often they have no avenue for sharing them. When it’s not clear that employees’ contributions will be valued, they make less of an effort to share them, and over time become disengaged. When that happens, everyone misses out –managers, physician owners, and administrators who would have benefited from their employees’ ingenuity; employees who would have found their jobs more rewarding; and patients who would have received better service.
The good news is that there are easy steps you can take to build employee engagement within your clinic, department, or practice—whether your employees are already committed or you’re starting from square one.