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Is There a Magic Pill for Employee Engagement in Healthcare?


Thu Feb 15 2018

Is There a Magic Pill for Employee Engagement in Healthcare?

At a recent conference, I watched a magician perform one of those up-close magic tricks. A woman from the audience was asked to select a card. She then wrote her name on it and put it back in the deck. The magician shuffled the cards, and the audience member looked for the card she had written on. It wasn’t there. It was in the magician’s wallet, which was in his back pocket. How did he do it with the audience closely watching him the entire time? We were amazed!

People love magic because it challenges our reality about what’s possible. We also love magic because it makes the impossible look easy. It’s no surprise that healthcare leaders and talent development professionals long for a magic solution when it comes to employee engagement.


Here’s the bad news. There is no magic pill.

Here’s the good news. There is magic everywhere if you know where to look.

There’s Magic in Engaged Employees

I’d venture a guess that you are aware of the organizational benefits of employee engagement. If you put “benefits of employee engagement” in your favorite search engine, you get more than 4 million citations. Officevibe shares a list of benefits that include increased retention, productivity, profitability, attendance, and loyalty. In the healthcare industry, however, engaged employees also leads to improvements in safety as well as in patient outcomes and satisfaction.

At an intellectual level, it’s easy to understand these benefits. The magic comes when you see the impact on individual employees. For instance, when you see someone excited at work, with a literal skip in his or her step, it’s apparent that engagement is good for each of us. Our bodies and minds respond positively to problem solving, producing results, and making a difference. Those are just a few of the things that make it a good day at work.

But engagement can be little bit like the tree that makes noise when it falls even when no one is around to hear it. Employees are engaged at all hours of the day, every day of the week. Sometimes they notice their own engagement, other times they are so absorbed in the work that it passes them by. Leaders who want to harness the power of engagement will be paying attention when it’s happening. Leaders and others who support the team will speak up and notice the magic that’s happening right before their eyes.


There’s Magic in Your Mission

In healthcare, our mission is magical. The mission is full of promise and hope. A typical healthcare mission possesses the ultimate motivation for doing a good job at work: improving and saving lives. We pride ourselves on serving those in need at their most challenging times. You might think that is enough to engage employees, but think again.

As a registered nurse, I came to learn that over time it’s easy to become unconsciously competent. The work goes from being your “mission” to being a “job.” The higher purpose gets lost in the day-to-day challenges of high acuity patients, difficult family members, and long hours.

To find the magic and rekindle engagement around your mission, leaders and talent development professionals can help employees remember why they chose healthcare as a career. Ask an employee to tell you about how he chose this profession. Why did they become a nurse or choose food service or security in a healthcare setting? If you already know the story because you were part of it, take the time to remember it together. Stories help us recognize and remember the meaning we find in our work. Meaning is a key element of engagement.

There’s Magic in How You Talk About Engagement

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.” If you think about it, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

Do you know anyone who sits around and talks about employee engagement with friends? When was the last time you had Sunday dinner with family and someone asked, “How was your level of engagement at work today?” It just doesn’t happen. Many employees hear such phrases as “employee engagement” and think “do more with less” or “increase productivity” or some similar sentiment. It’s a management buzzword that doesn’t feel magical at all.


To make matters worse, most healthcare organizations conduct an annual engagement survey that’s received with as much enthusiasm as an annual physical. (Sorry, doctor friends.) We ask employees to respond to a series of sometimes confusing questions about their level of engagement. There’s usually a big push for folks to fill out the survey because we need good participation levels to make sure results accurately reflect the employees’ opinions. During this push, leaders share how much they want to hear from team members. In some organizations, it’s almost a circus-like atmosphere, with kick-off events and prizes for completion. However, employees are left wondering, “Will this really make a difference?”

Weeks (or months) later, just as folks are forgetting they even took a survey, the results arrive. They are shared with the executive team, senior leaders, and frontline leaders. Finally, data may roll down to staff. Here’s where you can find some magic, though. Leaders can 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. In SHIFT to Professional Paradise: 5 Steps to Less Stress, More Energy & Remarkable Results at Work, I share the positive by-products of focusing on the personal benefits of engagement. Engaged employees have more positive connections with others, inside and outside of work. They experience better health, more energy and sleep better at night. They are more appreciative and feel connected to the meaning in their job.

That’s the conversation you want to have. At the survey results meeting (or any staff meeting) ask employees to write down what makes them feel satisfied, energized, and productive (my definition of engagement) at work. Then ask them to write down the benefits to themselves when they feel that way. You don’t have to call it “engagement.” Use whatever terminology makes sense to you.

As human beings, we are wired to care about ourselves. It’s an issue of survival. So, create some magic in the way you talk (or don’t talk) about employee engagement. Instead, focus on engagement because you genuinely care about the members of the team and want them to feel the joy that engagement brings.

There’s Magic in Sharing Responsibility for Engagement

Another mistake leaders make is taking full responsibility for their teams’ engagement. Many employees and managers are under the misconception that leaders alone can engage others. That’s not true. Dr. Zinta Byrne, in her book Understanding Employee Engagement: Theory, Research & Practice, defines engagement as a “state of motivation wherein one is psychologically present and psychophysiologically aroused.” We know that motivation comes from within, so that automatically implies shared responsibility for engagement.

Is There a Magic Pill for Employee Engagement in Healthcare?-Hess - It Takes 3 Model.png

In 6 Shortcuts to Employee Engagement: Lead & Succeed in a Do-More-With-Less World, I share the It Takes 3 model (see figure). This model illustrates 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 also communicate openly and provide opportunities for growth and development. When these foundational elements are in place, leaders and individuals can do their part.

Leaders who work to create a positive workplace culture that enables employees to connect directly with what makes them feel satisfied, energized, and productive embrace employee engagement as a key element of their jobs. 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. Leaders 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 creating an environment where individuals feel empowered to take responsibility at a personal level. Employees who manage their mindset around their role in engagement find that paradise is within their reach. They work to shrink their own challenges and grow their connection to internal motivators. I’m not suggesting that there won’t be bad days at work, however, I am suggesting that engaged healthcare employees are more resilient and have the ability to bounce back quickly. Finally, engaged employees own their own engagement. They are in the driver’s seat and love the fact that they have the power to create their own professional paradise.

There’s Magic Everywhere

Think you need to make a reservation to visit Hogwarts to learn the magic of engagement? Think again. There is employee engagement magic everywhere … if you put the wand away and roll up your sleeves. There are opportunities to weave the engagement thread into your leadership and talent development actions every day. And the best news is you’ll create your own paradise in the workplace as employees create theirs. Abracadabra!

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