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TD Magazine Article

Healing in Healthcare

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Thu Jun 15 2023

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The BEST Awards recognize organizations that demonstrate enterprise-wide success as a result of employee talent development. The winners use learning as a strategic business tool to get results. View the entire list of 2023 BEST Award winners.

Leaders prioritize well-being and self-care to ease staffing emergency.

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Stressed. Burned out. Dissatisfied. While those adjectives could describe employees in many sectors of today's economy, they are especially accurate for those in healthcare and tangential fields, where the mental and, in some cases, physical effects of the pandemic and resulting labor shortage had the most profound impact. Many of their employers are now in the precarious position of retaining current staff while planning to fill the roughly 2 million new jobs the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates will be created by 2031.

"The pandemic and a new generation of workers has made it exceptionally clear that company culture and career growth are the top influencers in whether [an employee] stays or goes," says Amy Sandala, director of L&D for Medical Solutions, a national healthcare staffing agency with nearly 2,700 corporate employees and thousands of clinicians located across the US. Within the company's internal team, "a human-first culture and investment in employee engagement and talent development programs are among the most stated reasons for employees joining Medical Solutions and staying," adds Sandala.

Along with Medical Solutions, three other organizations with ties to healthcare—the American Cancer Society, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Best of the BEST winner (earning a BEST Award 10-plus times) University Health—implemented distinctively different employee-centric well-being practices into their overall talent management strategies in the past year. They cite the importance of demonstrating care and individual respect for employees as the rationale for emphasizing such tactics.

"Reducing workforce stress and compassion fatigue isn't a new concept; healthcare workers know that providers often sacrifice self-care for patient care," explains Denise Pruett, executive director of the Center for Learning Excellence at University Health, based in San Antonio, Texas. "Organization leaders quickly realized that caring for our workforce was no longer something that was 'good to do' but crucial in ensuring sufficient workforce to care for our patients."Active listeningThermo Fisher Scientific offers a program focused on emotional, physical, social, and financial well-being topics customized based on current events taking place around the world. Employees can access various support services that promote mental and emotional health. The company also offers tools and resources to help them cope with grief and loss, complex trauma, financial stress, depression, anxiety, and political- and war-related uncertainties. The business delivers content through monthly webinars and a digital platform where participants can access additional resources, activities, and assistance.

By providing personalized resources that address worldwide contexts, the company empowers employees to care for their well-being, explains Aimee Hollis, Thermo Fisher Scientific's director of benefits and global well-being. "We wanted to provide our employees a self-paced and personalized environment that offered culturally relevant information, addressed important topics for employees, and created an anonymous setting where employees felt comfortable expressing themselves."

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The business's wellness-delivery team relies on active listening to align content with employees' well-being needs. The team has successfully categorized more than 200 staff-submitted questions into main topics—such as stress/concern, financial strain, war-related stress, and grief/death—as well as identified valuable content to assist employees.

Much like the Thermo Fisher Scientific L&D team, learning leaders at the American Cancer Society have used more active listening strategies to develop and refine content curriculum. The organization's talent management and development teams believe applying that to L&D decision making ensures the offered courses align with the priorities of their workforce.

As outlined in its leadership competency framework, the American Cancer Society expects its people leaders to ensure "employees feel respected and that the organization cares for them individually." Leaders offer staff professional development and progression of work while also respecting the work-life balance of all 2,835 team members.

"We strive to include a culture of inclusion and belonging in every learning experience," explains Laura Hilbert-Trice, senior director of L&D. "In our virtual instructor-led sessions, we use breakout rooms to foster psychological safety. We encourage the use of pronouns and are intentional in using participant names. Prework sets clear expectations for our participants of what they will be asked to share, and we schedule offerings to allow learners to participate in summer Fridays and other work-life balance initiatives."

American Cancer Society employees also have the option of participating in the Healthy You program to address individual health and wellness needs.'Connecting' careEncouraging frontline employees to switch mindsets and see the value in self-care and its connection to patient care is now mission-critical at University Health, according to Pruett.

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"The pandemic took a heavy toll on our frontline staff and stretched support departments to their limits," she says. "If we were going to make it through the pandemic and beyond, we needed to look inward and learn how to heal ourselves."

Now, staff use a variety of holistic practices daily—including recharge rooms, self-care carts, and huddle reminders—and the practices are "hardwired throughout our organization," she explains.

In most healthcare environments, intercom code systems alert staff to patient-care situations and various weather or safety warnings. University Health added "code lavender" to the code lineup specifically for supporting internal staff. "It is a rapid response from a team of specialists and is called when an individual or team has reached their emotional limits," explains Pruett. "Tools include Reiki, music therapy, social work, guided imagery, and nutrition/wellness services."

Pruett credits the new culture of well-being and the multiple holistic approaches for the organization's 20.5 percent employee turnover rate, which is more than 6 percent lower than the state average. "This was despite the many factors working against us, such as agencies offering lucrative contract positions, an uptick in retirement-related resignations, and employees who did not return from their leaves of absence."

Medical Solutions' path to connecting care focuses on authentic relationship building as well as a "human-first" professional environment. Following a period of rapid growth and a shift to hybrid and remote work, employees said they felt disconnected from colleagues. In response, the L&D team identified DiSC (dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness) as a company-wide communication, engagement, and talent development tool.

"What made our programming innovative [last] year was transforming and interweaving DiSC concepts throughout the entire employee journey," Sandala explains. "The programming is now mapped in successive levels to help employees acquire skills at the right moments, give them opportunities to apply [those skills] in their everyday work, and take their performance to the next level."

In addition, Medical Solutions' three-level professional development programs implement a blended-learning approach that enables participants to work closely with the L&D team, their individual leaders, and their fellow cohort members to forge new relationships as well as develop new skills and perspectives.

To graduate, participants must deliver a presentation or final project that effectively applies key principles learned and their outcomes to program facilitators, peers, and leaders. Participation in the professional development program grew more than 55 percent in 2022 and led to increased investment to expand the programs further.

"Our talent development programs are highly rated because we encourage our employees to focus on themselves and their self-awareness, as well as show up as their best selves—or, simply put, 'human first,'" concludes Sandala.

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