How to ensure employee satisfaction: 19 healthcare leaders weigh in

Employee satisfaction plays a key role in the culture of hospitals and health systems. However, ensuring this satisfaction requires concerted efforts on behalf of organizations.

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to share the most important lesson they've learned about addressing the issue. Read their responses below, presented alphabetically.

Editor's note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Vicki Cansler
chief human resources officer of Piedmont Healthcare (Atlanta)

Don't raise expectations. But at the same time, listen to your employees via engagement surveys, etc., to ascertain what they truly value. To increase satisfaction, it's really about focusing on what employees value (rather than focusing on what they "think" they want).

Larry Coomes
chief executive of Queen of the Valley Medical Center (Napa, Calif.)

Be seen a lot, listen a lot and smile a lot.

Jordan DeMoss
vice president for clinical operations at University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital 

Employees want to be heard, and not just in a superficial, lip-service way. They expect empathetic listening, action where possible, and honesty, even when the answer is "no."  Healthcare is more complex and dynamic that it has ever been, and we need to be more intentional about explaining why decisions are made and how they connect to the purpose of the work we do.

Adam Groshans
president of Mercy Health – Springfield (Ohio)

Being fully present when meeting with employees and teams and following through on action items. If I commit to doing something, the importance of following up and sharing the feedback with the group reinforces that we valued the feedback to begin with. 

Heather Harmon
vice president of human resources at University Hospitals (Cleveland)

Employee satisfaction is integral to the success of any organization. Those organizations that take the time to truly listen and respond to the feedback from employees achieve the greatest levels of satisfaction. The feeling of being heard and cared for will go further than almost any compensation or benefit program can toward an employee's engagement and satisfaction.

Roberta Luskin-Hawk, MD 
chief executive of St. Joseph Health, Humboldt County (Eureka, Calif.) 

The importance of giving employees a voice through shared governance and lean daily management, while maintaining executive leader visibility and support.

Anna J. Kiger, DNP, RN
CNO of Sutter Health (Sacramento, Calif.)

Leadership sets the culture for others. As leaders, we have to recognize that our actions speak volumes to those we lead. I find staying present, focusing on listening, and making it a point to follow up on employee concerns or challenges are all critical to ensuring my team at Sutter Health feels heard and valued. If my team feels understood, they are more satisfied with their work environment, and they are ready to work hard on behalf of our patients and our organization. 

This coming year, Sutter Health will recognize the value and contributions of our nurses through our "Year of the Nurse 2020" campaign. We will celebrate our nurses by sharing their stories and highlighting how they contribute to our nonprofit integrated health system's mission to enhance the health and well-being of people in the communities we serve.

Amy King
senior vice president and chief people officer for Centura Health (Centennial, Colo.)

The lesson I learned very early on in my career around employee satisfaction is when you ask your employees to provide their voice on areas impacting their experiences in the workplace; you must, unequivocally, take action on their input. There is tremendous research supporting the conclusion that when managers action plan on one or two items from employee engagement surveys, the impact can be substantial, and engagement improves quickly. The actions you create and implement as a result of their expressions must include their ideas, feedback and solutions.  

Andre Machado, MD, PhD
chair of Cleveland Clinic's Neurologic Institute  

Continuous improvement. One of the many privileges of working at Cleveland Clinic is to have great mentors. Lisa Yerian and Steven Shook have mentored our team in lean management and continuous improvement. The principle is simple: those doing the work know it best and often know how to make it better. By listening to the physicians, nurses and support staff who are doing the work, we have always been able to make it better. The most successful efforts were achieved by means of collaborative activities where everyone had the opportunity to propose a change in the process, regardless of rank. It seems rather obvious, but the lesson is that employees are more engaged when they feel that they can do more, not less. Making a difference is important to all of us in healthcare.

Diana Richardson
COO of Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children (Boston)

It is impossible to overcommunicate with our employees. Regular communication through many different formats across, up and down in an organization helps employees feel connected to the medical center's mission and strategy. Leaders at all levels need to be visible and intentionally provide time and space for dialogue with frontline team members. Employees want to work in an environment where they make a difference and feel connected to a mission. 

Manny Rodriguez
chief marketing, experience and customer officer for UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.)

The most important lesson I’ve learned about ensuring employee satisfaction is that it is crucial to demonstrate to employees that they are valued. They need to know that they matter and that we care about their success and their professional goals. Listening to employees goes a long way to helping them understand that they are the most important part of any organization.

Eugene Scioscia, MD
chief experience officer for Allegheny Health Network (Pittsburgh)

It's all connected. If we can attain the ultimate employee experience, then we are well on our way to the ultimate patient experience. You can't have one without the other.

Mark Sevco
president of UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

We have learned that employee satisfaction leads to extraordinary patient experience results. They are so closely intertwined. Taking care of our employees results in a strong culture of excellence. Everyone has the desire to row the boat in the same direction, focusing to be the best and creating the ultimate patient care experience. I know this sounds simple, but our approach to live the UPMC values creates the strongest culture of employee engagement, and that includes treating everyone with dignity and respect. We have consistent programs to enhance communication, including town hall forums, senior leader rounding, hardwired 1:1 employee meetings with feedback and coaching, and many celebration and recognition events. Our teams appreciate being recognized for their effort, and we work to have a relationship of trust and open, two-way communication. The most significant part of communication is listening with compassion. We also prioritize investing in training and development to ensure our staff have the right resources to be successful for our patients. We support growth and development, and at UPMC, we believe what is recognized is repeated. We always look to celebrate meaningful contributions and new relationships. All of these things ensure employee engagement.  

Russell Showers
senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Tower Health (West Reading, Pa.) 

One critical lesson I've learned about ensuring sustained employee satisfaction (or engagement) is the need to hardwire practices that give people the opportunity to connect with their purpose for being there. Some examples include creating connection between leaders and their staff, engaging employees and giving them a voice on issues that impact their work, and creating programs and environments that demonstrate how the organization values its team members. The second lesson, equally important, is that it takes a lot of work, and some days you are more successful than others. You need to keep at it every day. 

Linda Venner, MD
senior medical director of med surg operations for Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City) 

Allowing time and space for dialogue around difficult problems, rather than rushing to a "solution" that isn’t supported. Everyone wants to be valued, and for their work to be meaningful. Creating mutual purpose and psychologic safety is necessary as an invitation for involvement to build something better. Creating mutual respect allows for dialogue, even with a difference of opinion. And high quality, objective data always helps!

Kevin Vermeer
president and CEO at UnityPoint Health (West Des Moines, Iowa)

You have to regularly celebrate great work. People want to feel valued. They want to know their work has meaning and take pride in being a part of something impactful. That's why we invest heavily in recognition opportunities at UnityPoint Health. For instance, our teams send tens of thousands of "thank you" cards on a monthly basis to each other. We turned Valentine's Day into our own holiday: "You Matter" Day, where we show appreciation to our teams. And every summer, we honor the anniversary of our shared company values. On the day-to-day level, I make it a point to say "good job" to at least one person, and ask our leaders to do the same. Your team is the heart and soul of your organization, so make sure they know it. 

Juliya Volansky                
patient experience administrator in Montefiore Health System's radiology department (Bronx, N.Y.)

One of the ways we ensure employee satisfaction is to recognize our staff with a "thank you" email. If a patient or an employee has a great experience in radiology, the management team sends an email to the whole department saluting those employees who were recognized. It's a great opportunity to highlight our staff and motivates the entire team, overall. 

Alpa Vyas
vice president of patient experience at Stanford (Calif.) Health Care

I think from my leadership perspective is to really be as transparent as possible in terms of decision-making process, sharing of information that is at an organizational level. I don't ever want my teams to be in a situation where they don't understand context or information that they're responsible for and also that is important to the organization, so if I'm hearing something in the senior leadership meeting that is appropriate and something I should share, I try to do that with my leadership team and then that's my expectation. The more people know and feel connected to the overarching goals of the organization, the better we are at advancing to meet those goals, whether it's the individual at the front line or the management tier trying to set context and direction. I think transparency and context of decision-making is important.

Michael Yungmann
president of Mercy Health – Paducah and Irvine (Ky.)

Working in healthcare is complex, demanding and sometimes thankless for everyone. Yet every person is blessed with the awesome opportunity to serve someone during that individual's time of greatest need. Our job as leaders is to place our fellow employees in a position to achieve — to fulfill their mission to make a difference. 


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