7 Tips for Improving Employee Engagement

Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Lori Walsh

When you walk into a business that’s a great place for employees to work, you just know it. You can tell by the behavior, attitude, and loyalty of the employees.

My local grocery store is a good example. Last Saturday morning as I was in the checkout line, the manager - who knows me and has been there for years - yelled from his manager’s counter, “Hey, Ms. Walsh, have a nice Mother’s Day tomorrow. Thank you for shopping at Brookshires!” As I left, I thought about what a nice gesture that was. You can tell that this manager enjoys his job by the way he treats customers. It’s one reason I go back.

That’s how you want patients to feel when they leave your practice. They should feel that someone cares about them. That’s what delivering “patient-centric care” is all about and it’s vital to the future of your practice. But are you delivering it today?

If your people don’t communicate with empathy and respect for patients, or if everyone seems to be in a funk, you’ve got a problem. You need patients to leave with a feeling of “I’ve been taken care of.” But the physician alone cannot produce this feeling for patients, no matter how hard they try. Everyone on the team must be engaged to deliver it. And in order for employees to take good care of patients you have to take good care of your employees. If you don’t, do you really think their resignation for twenty-five cents an hour more is about the money? Don’t kid yourself. They’re leaving for a better work environment.

Here are seven tips for improving employee engagement.

1. Insist on adequate onboarding. 

It all starts with this and here’s an example of why it’s important. An organization we work with has hired three new front line managers in the last six months. No one has onboarded them correctly. They are disengaged and unhappy and there is no collaboration with the physicians or the upper management team.  They feel like they’ve been thrown in the ocean with no life vest!

Putting your employees on the front lines before they are fully trained or integrated into the organization is a mistake. If they don’t know how to use the EHR, schedule a patient correctly, triage according to your protocols, or answer patient questions accurately, they will make mistakes simply because they don’t know any better. And how can they be a good promoter of the practice if they don’t understand the basics?

Create an onboarding plan and put it in writing. This goes beyond the HR paperwork and handbook you provide on day one. Make a checklist and include the basics like having new employees review the history of your group, your website in detail, your competitors, who your best referrers are, and all your social media properties and online reviews. Provide educational materials about the procedures you perform, including pre- and post-procedure instructions, even consider having the proceduralists spend time with the employees. Make sure they fully understand your financial and billing policies and your basic fee structure. All of these things go a long way toward acclimating people to your practice.

2. Set employee goals.

Having short term and long term goals can keep people engaged with the organization.  For example, set goals for them to know all about your procedures, imaging studies, and common medications within the first 60 days. You can’t expect them to learn this by osmosis; that’s asking a lot, especially of those making $15 an hour.

Put the goals in writing and provide support to help employees reach them. For example, if the goal is to improve coding knowledge, send the employee to training, then ask that they summarize the key points learned and deliver those to the rest of the team in a staff meeting. At 60 days, 90 days, or six months, review the goals and set new ones.

3. Create a continuous feedback loop.

Giving employees feedback six months after their hire date or at an annual performance review is insufficient. Administrators and supervisors must be purposeful and provide feedback much sooner, as well as more frequently. So often, lack of training and the absence of orientation and onboarding are the cause of people making errors. In my experience, most people want to be good at their job and want to please their employer. If you train appropriately and provide honest and constructive criticism on an ongoing basis, employees will be engaged and perform better.

4. Communicate and nurture growth potential.

In an analysis of 234,000 exit interviews, the Work Institute’s 2018 Retention Report found that the number one reason people leave their job is because they feel they have “no opportunity to grow in a preferred job and career.” What are you doing to develop your employees to grow in their roles, and look toward higher level roles in the organization? If someone is hired as a call center operator, what is the potential for them to grow and learn or even grow into a team leader or management position? No one likes to feel stagnant. If they see a dead end because no one communicates that there are future opportunities for them, that often leads to dissatisfaction and poor engagement.

5. Don’t give across the board raises.

Recently, I learned of a health system that gave a 2% raise to all its employees. It didn’t matter whether the employee was a rock star or showed up late and performed the bare minimum every day. Everyone got the same raise. One of the managers told me that this killed the morale of the high performers. Can you blame them? Across the board raises go over like a ton of bricks every time.

But knowing that doing good work can produce a good bonus is important for employees. Instead of the flat raise, this system could have taken the total budgeted amount for raises, put it into a merit raise pool, and individualized the increases in amounts of 0% to say, 5%, based on employee performance.

6. Check your communication.

Physicians and administrative leaders need to think about how the things they say to employees are perceived. In one practice, the physicians regularly come out of meetings and tell their front line employees about decisions that were just made, before telling the manager. That’s a no-no. In other organizations we work with, employees aren’t provided any information at all.

Neither of these will garner employee engagement. There is a chain of command and communication for good reason. It’s important that everyone follow it, and that includes physicians. Disseminate your messages so that all hear the same message at the same time.

7. Survey your employees.

To get a sense of how employees feel in your organization, it’s very important that you survey them. Not just using the national employee engagement surveys. But also, when there are morale problems or there is dissension in a pod, division, or department. A survey can unearth issues that employees may not tell you face to face. Give people multiple ways to complete the survey. A paper form they can leave in a basket or box, or a questionnaire on SurveyMonkey, are two easy options.

If you’ve been a manager for more than a day, I know all of these things make sense to you. We all get busy and sometimes overlook the importance and impact of seemingly “little” things like onboarding, training, or good communication. Given what we’ve been seeing in the field lately, I thought these tips might encourage members to take a look at their employee development and identify opportunities for better engagement.

Illustration: Lee Sauer

About the Author
Lori Walsh

With an obvious passion for what she does, Lori has worked in healthcare for nearly 20 years, including nine years as the Director of Operations for Heart Clinic Arkansas. In her role as Executive Vice President of Membership & Operations, Lori uses her healthcare background to help our current and prospective members build relationships within the industry and maximize the benefits of MedAxiom's exclusive educational and research support services to improve their programs. Lori also takes her vast operations experience and applies it towards our client practices in the areas of operational efficiency, financial performance, workflow redesign, strategic planning and business development.

To contact, email: lwalsh@medaxiom.com

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