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November 20, 2017

How WellStar Health System dramatically improved its employee engagement

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    From 2007 to 2013, WellStar Health System's employee engagement scores rose from the 15th to the 97th percentile. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, WellStar EVP and COO Carrie Owen Plietz says the key was removing distractions and focusing on career and leadership development.

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    "We knew that by becoming a great place to work," Plietz writes, "we could differentiate ourselves in the market."

    Main focuses

    Plietz writes that her health system set out to improve employee engagement by creating "an environment that breeds trust and engagement."

    To help remove mental and emotional distractions from the workplace, WellStar began offering on-site day care to their employees, as well as backup child care.

    WellStar also now offers concierge services to help with daily errands such as car maintenance, dry cleaning, or grocery shopping. It also offers a program called the Center for Best Health, which helps employees control their weight and manage chronic conditions under a physician's care. "We look to strike a balance between work life and personal life," Plietz writes, "but beyond that, we are going a step further to actively help team members be successful at work and home."

    WellStar also increased its emphasis on career development, including creating a fellowship program to help nurses build their careers. The program provides education and training for eight to 16 weeks to help nurses transition from one specialty area to another.

    The health system also renewed its focus on leadership development. It now fills 70% of open leadership positions from within the company, while 92% of assistant manager positions are filled internally. According to Plietz, this allows WellStar to "maintain a high level of institutional knowledge" and demonstrate "trust in the team and career advancement potential."

    Plietz writes that improving employee engagement scores is key to achieving the "Quadruple Aim of health care." Better employee satisfaction leads to improved patient experience, she argues, which in turn leads to better health outcomes and an overall lower cost of care.

    "We've learned that when a clinical team focuses on improving its employee engagement scores, patient and physician satisfaction scores also improve," writes Plietz. "That's the holy grail in today's health care landscape. It's the right thing to do" (Plietz, New England Journal of Medicine, 9/12).

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