What separates good workplaces from great ones? 5 leaders weigh in

The working environment at hospitals and health systems has always been crucial when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees. This environment is even more important amid healthcare workforce shortages

That raises the question: What separates the good workplaces from the great ones?

Here, Becker's asked five leaders to weigh in on that topic.

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

Joanne Conroy, MD. President and CEO of Dartmouth Health (Lebanon, N.H.): The creation of Dartmouth Health's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Task Force is one of our most critical initiatives to elevate our organization from "good" to "great" and truly be an employer of choice. We've been very intentional in this initiative, from working with consulting firm Cook Ross to identify where improvement is needed, to the hiring of Teresa Malcolm, MD, as our vice president of DEIB. Without a focus on equity, well-intentioned diversity initiatives will not be effective. We have identified a number of areas that need improvement, prioritized fair access to resources and opportunities and continue on our journey to celebrate the spectrum of beliefs, experiences and backgrounds in our organization. Our goal is to create and sustain an environment that supports all of our efforts to prioritize equity and belonging.

Liz Dunne. President and CEO of PeaceHealth (Vancouver, Wash.): Workforce challenges — a result of external forces that have disrupted our social and economic landscape—are impacting hospital operations nationwide and are most acutely felt by healthcare workers. Workplaces that will stand out as great are those that prioritize the resiliency of employees while preparing for the workforce of the future. This involves a deliberate focus on physical, mental and emotional health, including work-life balance, flexibility in formerly rigid jobs, and creating and expanding forums so that the workforce is better heard, valued and holistically supported.

At PeaceHealth, we've invested heavily in what most impacts resilience: employee well-being. This approach was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather than reversing course we doubled down with new or augmented programs — whole-person care and proactive solutions for childcare, housing, pets and more. Our holistic wellness program focuses on both short-term and long-term health, nutrition, stress management and physical fitness, and we enhanced our employee assistance program to include a variety of personalized tools available to all caregivers and their dependents, including on-demand self-help exercises and access to counseling that is culturally responsive and evidence-based. We credit these and other efforts for PeaceHealth's consistent recognition as one of the nation's healthiest employers, and for helping us become a great place to do the essential work of caring for others.

James Hereford. President and CEO of Fairview Health Services (Minneapolis): Healthcare is a people business. And for a healthcare system to be great, it's about creating a culture that attracts and retains the best people and is committed to excellence. At M Health Fairview, I’m lucky to work with a remarkably talented team who has weathered a tremendous storm throughout the pandemic to emerge better than we were before. Our people worked tirelessly to convert thousands of people to remote workplaces. We opened one of the first COVID-only hospitals in the country. In response to a growing mental health crisis, we opened the first two emergency psychiatric assessment, treatment and healing units in Minnesota, which are reimagined emergency departments designed for people experiencing mental illness. How did we do this? By empowering great people to do great work and believing that tomorrow can always be better.

The concept of optimism has certainly faced a challenge the last several years. The uncertainties of COVID-19 and the subsequent burnout among healthcare professionals across the country have left people feeling weary. But examples like these show that when we come together, we can beat even the longest odds. Optimism now is more important than ever before. And as we slowly — but steadily — emerge from the pandemic and the challenges that stem from it, this unwavering belief that tomorrow can be better is what makes great possible.

Chris Van Gorder. President and CEO of Scripps Health (San Diego): To move from good to great, it takes an organizational commitment from the board, the CEO and the entire management team because it involves making a cultural shift that could take years of focused attention. It starts with what I call "situational awareness," meaning understanding what your employees both want and need through surveys, focus groups and other channels, and then making the incremental changes in benefit structures, market salaries, and educational and growth opportunities in a way that is sustainable over time.  

In Scripps' case, we started with surveys and CEO-run leadership academies — the Scripps Leadership Academy, which is a yearlong program for managers and above; the Front-Line Leader Academy, which is an eight-month program for supervisors; and what we call the Scripps 100 — a six-month program for 100 front-line staff members. They are detailed orientations to how Scripps operates, designed to open discussions on the many issues of the day that we might be dealing with. This combination of forums for education and transparency, coupled with engaging staff at all levels, has helped Scripps earn a spot on Fortune's annual "Best Companies to Work For" list for 14 years.

Margie Vargas. Chief Human Resources Officer of Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, Fla.): The employee value proposition must be reevaluated and redefined to reflect the changing priorities of the healthcare workforce. If a hospital is to retain its key employees and attract new talent it must not only focus on the individual but on that person’s extended family, however that unit may be structured. 

Today's highly engaged workforce is looking to be heard and have their needs addressed in a holistic fashion. The environment/culture of the workplace must be compatible with the quality of life the employee desires and provide intangible benefits that have value. Additional time off and personal leave, when necessary, are part of that, but also offering scholarships to the dependents of employees is one thing we're doing that we believe makes us an employer of choice, able to attract talented individuals from any industry or geographic area.  

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