Blog Post

In Healthcare, Employee Engagement Comes Down to Communication

Christine Corning RN BSN

Director, Healthcare Vertical at Cornerstone OnDemand

To hear the full conversation between Christine Corning, RN and healthcare director at Cornerstone, and Vicki Hess, check out the Creating Connections webinar!

Across industries, employers struggle to keep employees engaged. According to Gallup's State of the American Workplace report, 51% of U.S. workers are not engaged. Disengaged employees skip work, lack productivity and increase talent turnover, costing corporations about $550 billion annually. In the healthcare field, however, disengaged employees risk more than productivity and revenue: indifferent nurses and healthcare workers can mean the difference between life and death for patients.

A Gallup study of more than 200 hospitals identified the top indicators of mortality risk in healthcare settings, and the findings were frightening—disengagement among nurses was one of the top three indicators of mortality risk for patients.

But there are concrete steps that healthcare employers can take to avoid these potentially tragic realities. Vicki Hess is a nurse, keynote speaker, consultant and author fighting the disengagement epidemic among healthcare professionals. In her day-to-day work, Hess helps healthcare professionals create work environments where employees are engaged, customers are satisfied and organizations achieve their goals through specific techniques that build communication and connection. In her recent webinar for Cornerstone OnDemand, "Creating Connections," Hess offers strategies for engaging employees in the medical field and other work environments.

Communicate With Your Employees

When Hess asked her webinar audience if it was important for leaders to connect with their direct reports, they answered with a resounding 'yes.' And yet, despite understanding the importance of these regular check-ins, many leaders don't prioritize one-on-one communication with their direct reports like they should.

According to Hess, leaders tend to replace this valuable time with relatively unimportant meetings, micromanaging other employees and performing miscellaneous tasks that belong to other workers. When this happens, leaders need to consciously reevaluate their schedules.

"It's about removing the 'nice-to-dos' from your calendar and replacing them with the 'need-to-dos,'" explains Hess. "And leaders need to be meeting and connecting with their employees."

If healthcare leaders put in the time to build trusting, collaborative and healthy relationships with their employees, workers are more likely to succeedOne 2019 study by the PRC found that "nurses are more likely to be fully engaged if leadership is accessible, responsive to their needs, and viewed as trustworthy."

Employees alone do not benefit from one-on-one meetings—companies do, too. Although one-on-one meetings can be exhausting and repetitive, leaders should consider what value they derive from these interactions. Hess encourages leaders adopt the "WIIFM, or 'What's in it for me?'" outlook: "Leaders get something out of these meetings, too," says Hess. "Lower company turnover and higher retention rates."

Choose "Conscious" Connections

Hess offers employers two styles for creating connections with their direct reports: chance or conscious connections.

A chance connection forces one party to be proactive and the other reactive. For example, if an employee wants to discuss an ailment or achievement with their employer, the employee must seek out a meeting with their employer to discuss it. In chance connections, the employer is the reactive party and the employee is the proactive one.

But chance connections are not always conducive to effective communication and employee engagement. According to Hess, what employees tend to bring to these chance meetings are "impediments to performance or engagement." These impediments are temporary roadblocks to their success that are more temporary and urgent than they are important. For example, an employee is more likely to engage in a chance connection meeting with their employer about temporary problems, like the new, bad janitor or poor lighting in their office than talk about major issues, like their lack of interest in their work.

In order to avoid these ineffective conversations, Hess recommends making chance connections through "roundabout meetings." These meetings still happen by chance, but they occur as a leader walks around an office from employee to employee. These interactions tend to be more effective for building connections because the leader is proactive and can drive conversations to discuss their employees' internal motivations and long-term goals.

Alternatively, conscious connections occur when both parties are proactively choosing to meet. The connections include scheduled, preplanned meetings between the employer and employee. In the webinar, Hess argues in favor of conscious connections rather than chance ones. Conscious connections allow both parties to arrive prepared with discussion points and thoughtful observations about their work life and career trajectory. Additionally, time doesn't have to be made for conscious connections. If these meetings are recurring events on a calendar, both individuals can plan for them in advance with some regularity.

Tackle Conversations With Purpose

However employees and employers choose to meet, managers should come prepared. Hess recommends that leaders try to tap into what makes their employees satisfied, energized and productive. This answer gives employers insights into an employee's internal motivators.

For example, if your employee describes their motivators as 'learning new things,' you know they thrive in environments where they are constantly challenging themselves. Or, an employee may derive motivation from 'making a difference for the people they serve' or 'problem-solving.' A leader can then use this information to move that employee into a position or department where they are managing workers and workplace culture more regularly. Regardless of the answer, it's important to use an employee's internal motivators to find more engaging opportunities that support more of what they want to do.

Leaders should also be sure to search for both external and internal motivators during conversations with direct reports. It's easy for an employee to offer only external motivators, like 'I feel energized and productive when other people are doing their job' or 'I feel energized and productive when we are properly staffed.' If this is the case, leaders will need to dig deeper to find out their employee's internal motivators. Without recognizing what internally drives an employee, leaders cannot effectively avoid disengagement.

Want to discover more best practices and solutions to attract and retain your healthcare staff? Learn more about the Cornerstone for Healthcare solution.

Photo: Creative Commons

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