What makes a hospital a 'best place to work'? 3 hospital leaders weigh in

Amid the pandemic and nationwide staffing shortages, workplace culture and strong leadership have never been more important for hospitals when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees. 

Four hospitals and health systems recently made Glassdoor's list of "Best Places to Work": Houston Methodist; Memphis, Tenn.-based St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; Cincinnati Children's Hospital; and Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic. Glassdoor's rankings are based on the input of employees, who voluntarily complete a review of their job, work environment and employer over the past year.  

Becker's spoke with top executives from three of the organizations to determine what makes their system a great place to work and if there were any characteristics or strategies that helped differentiate their organization from others.

Editor's note: Responses were edited lightly for length and clarity.  

Question: What differentiates your company culture from other health systems?

Marc Boom, MD. President and CEO of Houston Methodist: This is an easy one. We are a values-based organization where everything we do is grounded in what we call "I CARE" values: integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence. These are not corporate buzzwords; we live these values every day. It is how we treat each other and our patients, and how we conduct business every day. These values set us apart, and frankly, are why we have made it through five COVID-19 surges stronger than ever, despite the many challenges.     

Dana Bottenfield. Senior Vice President of Human Resources at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: Our mission: Finding cures. Saving children. It's a simple statement but it represents the heart of every employee and every supporter of St. Jude. Even though our work spans many disciplines, most notably research and clinical operations, you can see our mission connects employees and drives our decisions. It's remarkable to be a part of a culture that is based on both what we can do and what we should do.  

Steve Davis, MD. President and CEO of Cincinnati Children's: To maintain our vibrant culture, Cincinnati Children's seeks to hire and retain extraordinary people. That includes doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers, as well as scientists, staff, administrators and leaders. We are committed to attracting and inspiring a diverse workforce — at all levels. Our goal is to help every team member fulfill their dreams while helping us advance our mission and values. 

Q: Why do you think your organization is worthy of this recognition?

Dr. Marc Boom: We have a saying here that we don't chase awards, but rather focus on the fundamentals of safety, quality, service and innovation. When we do that, the awards tend to follow. When we get outside recognition like this, it reinforces the importance of always focusing on our employees who selflessly give themselves for our patients day in and day out. Glassdoor is especially gratifying because it reflects our employees' own opinions. That's what matters — what our own employees think. Year after year, employees tell us in our annual employee opinion survey what they think — the good and the bad. Every year we rise above national benchmarks. The praise goes to the employees — they preserve and promote the culture here.

Dana Bottenfield: This is a humbling recognition because it comes from our employees and their feedback. However, we understand it's a snapshot in time. Just like we continue to push the boundaries in our research and our approach to clinical care, we have an obligation to keep finding ways to provide a space where employees can bring their whole self to our campus and do their best work. 

Dr. Steve Davis: Because of our clinical, research and education expertise, Cincinnati Children's is a magnet for the best talent in the world. That helps explain why in the last fiscal year, we had 1.5 million patient encounters — including children with rare or complex disorders from all 50 states and dozens of other countries. Cincinnati Children's is among the top recipients of pediatric research grants, and nearly one-third of our employees are engaged in scientific research. With a workforce of 16,500, Cincinnati Children's is the largest hospital system and the second-largest employer in our region. We are dedicated to ensuring that every one of those employees has a sense of belonging and feels valued. We also want every patient, family and visitor to feel welcome and safe. Investing in our people is essential to that. 

Q: What is a needle-moving strategy that you've recently implemented to help build a positive work environment?  

Dr. Marc Boom: During the last surge, it was easy to see how exhausted our employees were. As an organization we have treated more than 30,000 COVID-19 patients. So we designed a strategy to show our appreciation in real ways. We announced the "Summer of R&R" to encourage our employees to take time to refresh. The program lasted for months and we launched it by rolling out a $1,000 thank you bonus to all 27,000 employees, and followed by prize giveaways and a series of appreciation activities. Building on the strategy of showing appreciation, that program was followed up in the fall with each employee and physician receiving a $500 gift card to a large grocery store chain to make Thanksgiving a little better for everyone.

The strategy went beyond appreciation. We offered numerous mental health programs to support our employees, including extended free therapy sessions and daily affirmations.

Dana Bottenfield: We have many strategies that focus on listening to our employees, but the last few years have tested all of our "traditional" approaches. I think the fact we kept our performance review process as well as our strategic plan development moving forward provided stability for our employees. Beyond the traditional, the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020 was a scary time for everyone. Our focus on keeping staff, patients and their families safe and informed over the past two years was a tremendous demonstration of our commitment to their physical and psychological safety. We made an intentional effort to not just communicate campus changes and policies but also to provide a clear and informative channel for our employees to understand the virus and how to stay safe. In a time where the world was putting out a lot of conflicting information, we stayed focused on providing a steady supply of accurate, frequent and relevant information for our employees. We heard from many employees that they viewed our CEO's updates as their best and most trusted source of information about the pandemic. We appreciate that trust and continue to take that responsibility seriously.

Dr. Steve Davis: A January surge in COVID-19 and other contagious diseases such as flu and RSV prompted us to launch "Operation: One Cincinnati Children's." Amid the community-wide rise in respiratory illnesses, a significant number of our healthcare providers needed to take off work to care for themselves or their children, which put a strain on our systems. At the same time, we had many non-clinical team members asking what they could do to help. 

In response, we created opportunities for employees to volunteer for tasks outside of their typical job duties. Over a three-week period, more than 1,000 employees signed up for everything from delivering meals for frontline providers to restocking supplies. 

Some of the volunteers had been working from home for two years because of the pandemic, but they wanted to come on campus to help their colleagues. Our clinical people appreciated that the rest of the organization understood their needs and responded quickly.

Currently, as staffing gets better, we are reducing the number of areas covered by volunteers. And yet, because many told us they feel even more connected to our mission as a result of their experiences, we are exploring how to continue having employees do such volunteer work on a smaller scale after COVID-19. The connection to mission is key to engagement and joy at work.

We have already received inquiries from other hospital systems around the country asking how we accomplished this. The answer is simple: Cincinnati Children's has some of the most dedicated and collaborative employees in the world. They truly make a difference and work as a team, each and every day.

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