3 employee engagement myths, busted

A new Advisory Board study demonstrates how better employee engagement can improve hospital performance—and Indiana-based Parkview Health, which won Advisory Board's 2017 Workplace of the Year, spotlights how hospitals can engage employees from the outset, Alex Kacik reports for Modern Healthcare.

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John Johnston, a National Partner at Advisory Board, said the study's insights are particularly helpful as the health care industry transitions to value-based care. "The data show the steps every organization can take to improve their own engagement and drive successful care transformation," Johnston said.

Study details

For the study, researchers used Advisory Board Survey Solutions data, which include responses from more than one million respondents from hundreds of hospitals. According to Advisory Board, members of the program see an average 10 percent annual improvement in employee engagement.

The study found that every 1 percent increase in hospital employee engagement correlated with a 0.33-point increase in the facility's Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) overall hospital rating. According to Kacik, HCAHPS scores can lead to a boost or reduction in a hospital's Medicare reimbursement and might sway patients' decisions when it comes to selecting a provider.

Further, the study showed that a 1 percent increase in hospital employee engagement was also tied to a 0.41-point increase in patient safety grades. Engaged employees are three times as likely as disengaged employees to earn top performance marks, the researchers found.

Meanwhile, disengaged staff are twice as likely as engaged staff to leave their organization within 12 months of an engagement survey, according to the study.

Busting the 3 myths around employee engagement

The researchers also cleared up three misconceptions undermining employee engagement:

  1. Myth 1: Many hospitals face "insurmountable" obstacles to improving engagement. The researchers debunked some common assumptions, pointing out that traditional demographic factors—such as whether or not a hospital has a union presence—do not guarantee low engagement; strong engagement performance at any given institution doesn't preclude further improvement; and organizations that have an employee engagement strategy in place can keep progressing.

  2. Myth 2: Hospitals should compare themselves with other industries when it comes to engagement. According to the researchers, health care employers shouldn't compare themselves to non-industry institutions because health care employees are already more than twice as engaged as employees in other fields. Rather, "organizations looking to create accurate, ambitious goals should use health care-specific benchmarks down to the nursing level," the researchers wrote.

  3. Myth 3: Certain departments will never be very engaged. The researches pointed out that the departments that perennially rank among the least-engaged groups—nursing, surgery, and labs—aren't doomed to suffer it out, especially considering that "other large, clinical departments such as imaging and rehab tend to have higher engagement levels."

As Sarah Rothenberger, a managing director at Advisory Board Survey Solutions, put it, the findings demonstrate that "institutions can throw away three traditional excuses for middling or lagging performance." She added, "Improvement is possible from any starting point, and [that] higher employee engagement correlates with stronger performance on patient satisfaction and culture of safety measures at the organization level."

A look at Parkview Health

Recognizing the impact of employee turnover, Parkview Health—a nine-hospital system with more than 10,000 employees—has implemented a comprehensive onboarding process that has cut first-year turnover rates, boosted employee engagement, curbed labor costs, and improved care continuity.

As part of the process, Parkview gives employees at the manager level a toolkit that includes:

  • Regular check-ins that go behind a new employee's first 90 days;
  • Answers to common retention concerns and questions; and
  • Tips about how to individualize the process to each employee.

Along with the toolkits, Parkview has launched "followership" workshops to help frontline staff become independent leaders who can boost engagement, Kacik reports. During the workshops, which last about half a day, employees can work alongside managers and other leaders to discuss how self-awareness, strategic skills, and peer-to-peer relationships can inform their daily workflow. Leaders are also encouraged to use the workshops to reflect on their own management, so as to leverage the skills of newly educated staff (Kacik, Modern Healthcare, 9/19; Advisory Board release, 9/19; Rothenberger, "Expert Insight," Advisory Board, 4/17).

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