Guest Column | June 29, 2018

Technology Can Solve The Healthcare Industry's Employee Engagement Crisis

By Bulent Osman, StaffConnect

Empowering Women’s Healthcare With Data Science And AI

When it comes to targeting optimum patient care, the healthcare industry has been a leader in visionary deployment of advanced technologies. But there’s one glaring area where this sector could benefit from an innovative technology solution: employee engagement. The healthcare industry has reached epidemic levels of disengagement, resulting in organizations struggling with issues such as absenteeism, poor attrition rates, loss of productivity, and business disruption. Unless the situation improves, the negative side effects of disengagement could have far more serious consequences for the healthcare industry, given that successful patient care outcomes are dependent on the engagement level of employees.

Just what exactly do I mean by “epidemic levels” of disengagement? Is proclaiming that the industry suffers from an employee engagement “crisis” overstating the case? Data from Quantum Workplace helps answer these questions. Quantum’s research surveyed 75,000 employees across the U.S. and discovered that within the healthcare industry, you’ll find some of the most disengaged employees in the nation. Specifically, after profiling 17 industries, healthcare ended up in last place for engagement.

This low ranking even held true on a departmental level, when comparing healthcare departments including medical and nursing to department categories in other sectors—healthcare emerged here as well with the smallest percentage of engaged workers. A segment of healthcare providers — 13 percent — were found to be either actively disengaged or hostile. What about when considering top employers, such as organizations identified as America’s “Best Places to Work”? According to the research, less than 60 percent of even the workers in these elite companies feel engaged when it comes to the healthcare industry. So clearly, “epidemic” and “crisis” do accurately describe the current situation.

Industry At Risk

Could these findings be an aberration? Unfortunately, the answer is no, as is evident via tracking these trends over time. What Quantum Workplace found is engagement rates steadily dropped over the five-year stretch studied from 2011 to 2015. There has additionally been a 30 percent rise in the percentage of American healthcare employees who describe themselves as merely “contributing” rather than actively engaged.

Another salient fact is that engagement decreases as company size increases, according to Temkin Group. So the greatest influencers in the healthcare industry—the largest players affecting the most patients like health systems, hospitals, drug companies, and medical device manufacturers—have increased risk for employee disengagement. Healthcare employers may face added challenges because many employees today work remotely to offer point-of-care service, which can complicate engagement by making effective communication within healthcare teams more complex.

And it isn’t only the U.S. that struggles with engagement among healthcare staff—a Global Workforce Study from Towers Watson revealed that two-thirds of employees surveyed in this industry aren’t highly engaged. This research also showed a decline in the number of healthcare employees who stated a willingness to “put in a great deal of effort” compared to earlier years studied.

If you think about the fact that the healthcare sector is tasked with serving the public to ensure patient welfare, it’s clear that this global lack of disengagement is far from optimal—particularly given the potential dire consequences on patient well-being that can result from even one healthcare professional failing to offer maximum engagement. In fact, the biggest component of a business case to build employee engagement is this patient impact.

High Costs: People, Productivity, Profit

A few numbers help solidify this reality. In a Gallup study, the more highly engaged hospital nurses experienced superior patient outcomes (i.e., decreased mortality rates), with the less engaged nurses seeing an increase in patient mortality rates. The researchers determined that the engagement level of nurses was the number-one factor where patient mortality was concerned, beating out even variables like the number of nurses per patient day. Separate research found that with every 10 percent boost in engagement from healthcare staff was linked with fewer MRSA infections in patients.

In addition to how patients are affected, other consequences of disengagement add to the business case for increasing engagement levels in healthcare. These include:

  • Employee productivity. Engaged employees feel better about their work and their organization, so it makes sense that those who are highly engaged (regardless of industry) are nearly 40 percent more likely to have above average productivity. Gallup found that business units in different industries with higher employee engagement outperformed lower-engagement units while at the same time enjoying significantly less absenteeism and turnover. In a healthcare environment this becomes especially critical since turnover creates a snowball effect that negatively impacts the patient experience—not to mention a company’s recruitment efforts.
  • Workplace culture. Disengagement can create an ‘us versus them’ divide in hospitals between staff and management, which ultimately hurts everyone, including patients at the end of the chain. What’s more, because a common result of disengagement is employees feeling left out of the loop, managers may find themselves having to address negative attitudes and communication gaps. When workers lack the technologies to communicate effectively within the organization, with each other, and with management, it can be disastrous for culture.
  • Financial impact. If you’re still not convinced, consider that employee engagement is directly tied to corporate profits. Dale Carnegie research showed companies whose workers are engaged outperform those with a poorly engaged workforce by 202 percent. A study from Towers Perin reveals that businesses languishing with low engagement experience a significant drop in operating income (33 percent) plus a decline in earnings growth of 11 percent compared to organizations that boast more engaged employees.

Achieving Connection

Mobile technology can help improve the employee experience and revive employee engagement in the healthcare industry. An immediately actionable technology solution for healthcare employers is to deploy an integrated engagement platform, which allows for the large proportion of remote and frontline healthcare employees—as well as traveling staff—to remain solidly engaged in the organization. Through a mobile interface, all workers (regardless of location) can receive information from management and additionally share feedback and collaborate via an intuitive user app. Regulatory compliance is an issue in the healthcare industry as well, and this type of mobile app helps keep organizations compliant by enabling secure integrated messaging for group collaboration, as well as for one-to-one information sharing and dialogue.

Part of engagement involves finding ways to make staff feel more valued, and an employee mobile platform greatly simplifies this task by offering a quick and intuitive way for employers to help recognize and appreciate teams and individuals. A mobile solution solves the problem of non- desk employees feeling out of the loop and allows easy access to continuous company updates and important news any time, any place—even if they don’t have a company email address. Such mobile apps also allow access to company video feeds from external sites.

Another reason why a mobile engagement platform can be a game changer in helping employees feel better connected to the organization and their peers is that the app’s design helps make content “sticky” for users. Some of the best platforms have the ability to provide a personalized look and feel for each person, ensuring that everyone receives valuable content that they want to consume. A strong mobile engagement app also offers the ability to segment audiences and provide tailored notifications to individuals based on their region, function, or role. When reviewing mobile-enabled apps, look for one that lets users interact with information while collaborating within their defined communities. Other features that such platforms can provide include:

  • Social media interactivity
  • Two-way connection to senior managers
  • Access to company reference information, such as a library of critical documentation on policies and core organizational guidelines
  • Calendaring of company events
  • Directory services
  • Gamification through quizzes, pulse surveys, and polling (helps management get a “temperature-check” of worker attitudes and test employee reactions to proposed initiatives)

Measuring Success

Trying to efficiently and accurately measure employee engagement has presented many industries, including healthcare, with age-old challenges. A mobile engagement platform can help here as well since specific measurement tools can aid healthcare organizations in measuring and managing users and content via a management console. The result is the ability to track engagement and adjust strategy accordingly. This power to leverage gathered employee data to increase engagement should not be underestimated. Since engagement has been proven to impact operating profit, senior management and board members of the hospital or health organization must prioritize it. These senior leaders need answers not just about today’s engagement levels to make informed business decisions, but they also must determine how to gain ongoing insight through accurate measurement of engagement over time.

Traditional employee questionnaires and feedback forms have been largely paper-based. These methods, along with performance reviews, only offer limited insight into engagement since they don’t give a visual of employees’ day-to-day experience. Mobile technology, on the other hand, assists with more than simply recording and reporting data; it adds value via mobile’s measurement capability by:

  • easuring interaction with content and capturing feedback on corporate messaging/initiatives
  • Simplifying the ongoing management and analysis of surveys/data insights
  • Building a profile of workforce engagement across regions and functions by allowing behavioral insights across two-way digital engagement
  • Enabling real-time insight, mapping the engagement of healthcare employees at different points in time

Beyond The Crisis

Once you fully understand the consequences of a disengaged workforce—which include a lower standard of care for patients, recruitment and retention challenges, and massive hits to the company’s bottom line—it’s clear that healthcare organizations must embrace technology as a way to a better future. Just as the industry has proactively turned to technology to manage patient care, it’s now time to use the same strategy to address the underlying issues triggering their employee disengagement.

Let me be clear that when it comes to the challenging field of healthcare, no magic bullet can solve every problem that relates to driving workforce engagement and collaboration. But a mobile engagement platform is the best tool available today to address the types of issues that are holding healthcare firms back from achieving and maintaining high engagement. By carving a clear path for employees to gain recognition and a voice, improving alignment with managers and colleagues, and providing tools to support work and productivity, employee feedback and engagement apps are poised to reverse-engineer the healthcare sector’s poor track record on engagement.

About The Author

A strategic visionary who excels at team building, communication, and aligning cross departmental efforts to exceed customer expectations and internal goals, Bulent Osman is responsible for leading strategy and driving growth at StaffConnect. Prior to StaffConnect, Osman served as International Sales and Marketing Director for 3i Infotech, where he in the first full year grew global new business sales revenue by 346 percent and exceeded targets by over 24 percent. Prior to 3iInfotech, Osman held the position of Head of Sales, Microsoft Dynamics, where he led the indirect sales channel organization in the UK, where he was responsible for driving sales of ERP, AX, NAV, GP and CRM solutions, achieving over 30 percent revenue increases year-over-year during his tenure. Prior to Microsoft, Osman held sales and marketing leadership positions at industry leaders such as JD Edwards, Capgemini, XKO Enterprise and Savvion Solutions.