Pattie Clay Aug 16, 2021 10:05:02 AM 12 min read

What is Staff Engagement and How Can It Help My Practice?

Teachers often say that the students who act out the most are the ones who need the most. In my experience, that statement also holds true for behavioral health patients. And while this makes providing healthcare services in the behavioral healthcare space especially rewarding, it also, at times, makes things feel especially challenging.

Yesterday, I had a provider call me on the verge of tears. In the last week, she had seen two separate patients who cursed, yelled and slammed the exam room doors. As much as we remind ourselves that behavioral health services are critically needed in our communities, the truth is that this is hard, emotionally taxing work. In order for it to continue being successful, we need to take care of the people who are caring for others.

The Positive Impact of Staff Engagement

In the last article we discussed how providing a positive patient experience can lead to improved patient health outcomes and a better bottom line for healthcare businesses.

But if you pull pack further, you’ll find that there are also direct, data-driven links between the level of staff engagement in our organizations, the quality of the patient experience and our practice revenues.

One study by Sara Heath found that “A one-point increase in the employee engagement scale correlated with a half-point increase in patient satisfaction scores for the overall medical center. Better employee engagement scores resulted in a quarter-point increase in satisfaction with specialty or primary care providers.” (Heath, 2019)

Similarly, the Harvard Business Review noted that “…hospitals that saw a performance gain of greater than one percent or more in both communication with nurses and employee engagement had an average performance gain of six points in overall hospital rating.” (Lee, 2019)

If that’s not convincing enough, consider that the Lee study also determined that every one-point increase in the hospital’s overall patient experience rating was associated with a .4% increase in profit margin.

But Wait…What Exactly IS Staff Engagement?

 So we know that staff engagement is tied to everything from workforce performance to customer satisfaction to turnover and more, but do we truly even understand what it is?

To start, it’s important to distinguish between staff satisfaction and staff engagement. Is engagement just the new “it” word for satisfaction? In short, no. They are not the same thing. While satisfaction and engagement are closely related, they are two separate components of the workforce experience.

Per the ADP white paper, “Satisfaction refers to how employees feel – their “happiness” – about their job and conditions, such as compensation, work environment and career development opportunities. Engagement, on the other hand, refers to an employee’s commitment and connection to work as measured by the amount of discretionary effort they are willing to expend on behalf of their employer. Highly engaged employees go above and beyond the core responsibilities outlined in their job descriptions, innovating and thinking outside the box to move their organizations forward…”

It is most likely that your highly engaged employees are also your highly satisfied. However, that’s not always the case, and we all likely have a few employees who are satisfied with their job but have a low engagement level. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2012 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, 81% of U.S. employees reported overall satisfaction with their current job. The same survey found that employees were only moderately engaged, a value of 3.6 on a 5-point scale.  Per Gallup, only 35% of U.S. employees fall into the “engaged” category. (Gallup, 2021)

How to Cultivate Employee Engagement

 Luckily there are ways that organizations can positively impact employee engagement, which I’ve outlined below.

Establishing Values

Healthcare is a values-driven industry. The vast majority of our healthcare providers and staff sought a career in healthcare because they have a desire to help others and to serve. This is never truer than in behavioral healthcare. We are caring for people, both patients and their families, for our communities. When staff sees that their organization operates by strong values, they are more likely to go above and beyond to deliver an exceptional patient experience. That’s because they believe the organization cares as much about their patient as they do. They feel their organization lives up to its values and follows a clear set of standards — with the patient at the center.

Reducing Barriers

It is important that we ask our staff about what barriers they have in delivering high quality care and an outstanding experience to our patients (and listen to their answers). But when we do ask the questions, we must always then take the follow-up step and close the feedback loop to avoid the staff feeling that their input was not valued. We won’t always be able to resolve all of the issues that our staff identify. However, it is vitally important that when we can’t resolve the concern, we communicate back, in a timely manner, the why. It is empowering for our staff to have a voice in how the organization operates.  When employees feel things are done efficiently, that is reflected in how they perform their duties.

Appropriately Leveraging the Skills and Abilities of Each Employee

Another driving factor in employee engagement is creating an environment in which each of our staff members is able to work to the top of their license and training. When our workplace environment reflects this, our staff feel valued and appreciated because the organization enables them to do their best work. Opportunities to use skills and abilities is the number three driver in better employee engagement. Imagine spending four years or more of training to become an R.N. and accepting a role with an organization, only to discover that your daily workload is testing urine drug screens all day. This would likely be neither engaging nor satisfying.

Improving the Relationships Between Managers and the Workforce

The last – and likely the most influential – factor of a positively engaged workforce is the relationship between employee and supervisor. We have all heard the old adage that employees quit managers, not jobs. The inverse of that saying is also true. Managers who have a high emotional intelligence factor (EQ) create lasting investments in their staff. Those staff become highly engaged and are less likely to leave the organization. Someone with a high EQ is able to understand and put into action the ways to motivate and form lasting relationships with individual employees. The easiest way a supervisor or manager to positively impact their staff is to simply invest in them. Both time and energy. Do your employees feel that you care about them as a person? Do you talk with your staff about their goals and development? Do you regularly recognize their wins? “Globally, one in four employees strongly agree that they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week. By moving that ratio to six in 10, organizations could realize a 28% improvement in quality [and] a 31% reduction in absenteeism.” (Gallup, 2021)

Engaged employees are emotionally committed to working hard, demonstrating initiative, and expending extra discretionary effort — and doing so in alignment with strategic priorities to move the organization forward.

Anybody working in or around behavioral healthcare understands that, in doing so, you are participating in a “team sport.” Our next article will discuss the importance of recognizing and developing the full team in order to best serve our patients.

In the meantime, if you have questions or would like support improving your practice’s staff engagement, our team is here to help.

Pattie Clay is a Senior Advisor and Management Consultant, leading MMG’s Behavioral Health Practice. Pattie has more than eighteen years of industry experience and a proven track record as a senior leader in the health system environment. MMG is a national provider of consulting services and back office administrative support to independent and system owned physician practice groups. MMG was once again named a 2021 Northeastern Ohio Top Workplace by The Cleveland Plain Dealer.