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ATD Blog

Healthcare Employee Engagement: Proven Strategies for Uncertain Times


Mon Mar 11 2019


Most talent development professionals are aware of the organizational benefits of employee engagement. The numerous benefits include increased retention, productivity, profitability, attendance, and loyalty. In healthcare organizations, we also see improvements in safety, patient outcomes, and satisfaction.

Unfortunately, according to the Quantum Workplace healthcare engagement report, only 57 percent of healthcare workers are engaged at work. Thirteen percent are actively disengaged or hostile.


I have written four books about employee engagement using research. After working with hundreds of organizations over the last 10 years, I found the following three reasons why engagement isn’t improving:

  1. Leaders talk about employee engagement and how it benefits the organization. Employees don’t care.

  2. Leaders take on too much of the responsibility for engagement of others. Employees take the easy route of pointing fingers instead of owning engagement themselves.

  3. Leaders see employee engagement as something on their to-do list. It’s not a one-time thing; it’s an all-the-time thing that can be woven into everything that happens at the organization.

Here’s how to overcome these challenges.Create a Focus Shift Instead of focusing on why employee engagement benefits the organization, change the focus to how it helps the employees themselves.

Did you know that “employee engagement” is one of the top 20 most annoying business buzzwords? According to an Accountemps survey, it’s right up there with “out of pocket” and “pick your brain.” Many employees hear “employee engagement” and think “do more with less,” “increase productivity,” or some similar sentiment. It’s a management buzzword that doesn’t feel helpful at all.

To make things worse, most healthcare organizations conduct an annual engagement survey and employees are left wondering, “Will this really make a difference?” Talent development professionals have a chance to bring meaning to the responses if they change the conversation from employee engagement for the organization to professional paradise for the individual.

Yes, you read that correctly. Professional paradise. It’s not an oxymoron and it’s not an actual place to work. It’s a mindset that drives positive actions that lead to positive outcomes. Change the way you talk (or don’t talk) about employee engagement for the organization. Instead, focus on engagement because you genuinely care about the members of the team and want them to feel the joy that engagement brings.Create a Responsibility Shift Another mistake healthcare leaders make is taking full responsibility for the team’s engagement. Many employees and leaders are under the misconception that leaders alone can engage others.


In 6 Shortcuts to Employee Engagement: Lead & Succeed in a Do-More-With-Less World, I share the It Takes 3 model. This model says that successfully engaging employees includes a commitment from the organization at a strategic level, leaders at a tactical level, and employees at a personal level.

Organizations that support engagement at a strategic level make it part of their strategic plan. They live the mission and values, ensure a safe environment, and provide fair compensation and benefits. They communicate openly and provide opportunities for growth and development.

Leaders (and those who support them) should embrace employee engagement as a key element of their job. They create individualized connections with team members. Another role of engaging leaders and talent development professionals is to remove obstacles and roadblocks and celebrate wins and successes. When the going gets tough, leaders and others can support the team as they deal with the uncertainty and frustration of working in healthcare today. Finally, leaders need to measure and monitor engagement more often than the annual survey.

The real key to engagement is individuals feeling empowered to take responsibility at a personal level. Employees who manage their mindset around their role in engagement find that professional paradise is within their reach.Create an Implementation Shift Healthcare leaders have way too much to do and not enough time or staff to do it. Productivity goals are at an all-time high and everyone’s watching quality and safety. This is all good, except when it comes at the expense of employee engagement.

Instead of making employee engagement something that shows up on your to-do list, think about engagement while you are doing everything that’s already there. Go from engagement dread to the engagement thread. Weaving engagement throughout the work that is already being done is the key to success.


Leaders and talent development professionals are spending time on engagement whether they recognize it or not. One approach I frequently see is being reactive because “there’s no time.” These leaders are managing problem employees, dealing with high turnover, and satisfying unhappy customers. A more productive approach is proactive. When leaders embrace employee engagement as the main thing instead of one more thing, then the workplace improves.

Please join me at Session M-120 at the ATD International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 2019. You’ll better understand how to overcome these three challenges and be prepared to make a positive difference for employee engagement.

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