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The key to financially recovering from COVID-19: Engaging your employees

As you focus on recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, engaging your employees is crucial. An engaged staff not only saves you time and money on recruiting efforts, it also elevates patient care, reduces visit times, improves patient satisfaction, and increases the likelihood your patients will pay on time – all of which have an impact on your bottom line.

But engaging your people can be difficult in today’s climate. According to a recent survey, 72 percent of healthcare providers reported higher anxiety since the pandemic – and only 44 percent plan on staying with their current employer. The rest of your staff may also experience more stress as they work from home, flex in to help with other job responsibilities, or learn new policies to stay safe in their workplace.

So how can you engage your staff during a pandemic?

Ask for feedback

“Every business is going to have to make tough decisions,” says Kevin Ricklefs, CHG chief culture officer. “But involving your employees in those decisions can go a long way.”

At the beginning of the crisis, CHG asked its 3,000 employees for feedback on how to save money and avoid layoffs. Nearly 5,000 ideas were submitted, from renegotiating our building leases to cancelling company events. Asking our employees for suggestions not only allowed them to be part of the decision-making process, it also helped them feel valued and invested in the company’s future.

Dr. Dawn Ellison, provider engagement officer at CentraCare Health, agrees with this approach. “We need to be able to hear from as many stakeholders as possible,” she says. “It brings more perspective and wiser solutions.”

As your facility adapts to the unknown, stop and ask your employees what they think. What would ease their stress at work? What ideas do they have to save money?

“Getting employee feedback is important, but it’s more important to make sure they feel heard.”

Many healthcare facilities are hearing that childcare, PPE supply, job security, and fear of catching the virus are top employee concerns. To find out what your people are thinking, encourage your leaders to ask for feedback in daily meetings, conduct listening tours, or consider using a survey tool like Qualtrics, which is offering free solutions to help organizations get back up to speed during this time.

Make informed decisions

“Getting employee feedback is important, but it’s more important to make sure they feel heard,” says Ricklefs. “That means actually doing something with their feedback.”

Villages Health uses a tiered approach to implement feedback. “If there’s an issue, our employees should direct that to the medical director for their center or their department,” says Villages CEO, Bob Trinh. “If that issue doesn’t get resolved, the medical director should escalate it to the CMO and if that doesn’t work, it gets to me.”

You may consider a similar approach, create a committee to sort through feedback, or leave the decision-making up to senior leadership. Regardless, your decisions can reduce stress in your organization.

If you’re pressed for time to use employee feedback to make new decisions during this rapidly changing time, don’t worry. “Even if you have a decent idea of what you’re going to do before you look at your people’s feedback, you can use it to make sure you’re going in the right direction,” says Ricklefs.

Communicate again and again… and again

“The goal is for our leaders to say, ‘This is what I heard from you and this is how what you said is going to make a difference,’” Dr. Ellison says.

Communicate your plans in team meetings, your intranet, emails, and even company-wide Zoom meetings to ensure your people understand your message.

If you’re looking for a framework to communicate your decisions, use your mission statement as a guide. “Your mission is most likely about caring for your patients or customers,” says Ricklefs. “Try having that same mission towards your employees and tie it back to everything you communicate.”

This is particularly important if your decision is a tough one – like furloughing employees or reducing salaries. “Hopefully you can use your mission to communicate with care and with transparency so your people understand the why behind your decision,” says Ricklefs

Non-verbal cues also play a role in employee engagement. According to a recent essay by Dr. Tait Shanafelt, Dr. Mickey Trockel, and Dr. Jonathan Ripp, “Health care professionals indicate they appreciate leaders visiting hospital units that are caring for patients with COVID-19 regularly to provide reassurance. They do not expect leaders to have all the answers but need to know that capable people are deployed and working to rapidly address the issues.”

Keep in mind: listening to your employees, implementing their feedback, and being transparent about decisions should be key strategies of your organization every day – not just during a pandemic. But paying close attention to your people’s engagement during this time will benefit your facility in the long run.

Looking for more advice to meet the demands of your healthcare facility during this volatile time? Watch the recording of our webinar, Planning for the Unplanned: Advice and Outlook from Healthcare Leaders.

About the author

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Liz Van Halsema

Liz Van Halsema is a communications specialist at CHG Healthcare. When she’s not writing about CHG’s culture and news, she can be found running one of Utah’s many trails.

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