3 Strategies to Improve Employee Engagement in Healthcare

Caitlin Kirwan

Internal Comms & Engagement Expert

27 Aug 2023

There are few industries where employee engagement is as important as it is in healthcare. Research shows that increasing the engagement of hospital workers by just 1% leads to a 7% reduction in patient readmissions and a 3% reduction in hospital-acquired complications. But challenging working conditions, high-pressured roles, and resourcing issues have resulted in high employee turnover and low engagement becoming the norm. So what can healthcare organizations do to boost employee engagement, and ultimately improve patient care?   

It’s no surprise that employee engagement in healthcare took a bit of a battering during the COVID-19 pandemic, with workers facing stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. The healthcare industry experienced a bigger decline in employee engagement than all other sectors in the US between 2019 and 2022, according to Gallup data

In this blog, we explore the main barriers to engagement within the healthcare industry and provide three strategies to tackle them. Let’s jump in!  

Barriers to engagement in healthcare organizations   

Healthcare workers are the backbone of any functioning health system. Understanding the challenges that create a barrier to employee engagement is the first step to identifying the best ways to overcome them. 

  • Health, safety, and wellbeing challenges – Healthcare workers face a wide range of occupational risks associated with both physical and mental health. A study of more than 30,000 healthcare workers during the pandemic found that over half felt burnt out, stressed, and overworked. The World Health Organization reported that 63% of healthcare workers globally have been exposed to violence in the workplace. On top of this, healthcare employees are at a much higher risk of being exposed to hazardous chemicals, infectious diseases, and have one of the highest risks of musculoskeletal injuries.
  • A deskless workforce with varying shift patterns – As with around 80% of the world’s workforce, a large proportion of those working in healthcare are frontline workers with varying shift patterns and inconsistent access to online communication channels. Research shows that only 39% of deskless employees feel heard by their organization, and that internal communication is often seen as fractured or ineffective by those working varying shifts. 
  • High employee turnover – between 2018 and 2023, the average hospital in the US turned over 105% of its workforce, with a turnover rate of around 23%. And in the UK, a recent report showed that one in seven National Health Service (NHS) employees were actively looking to resign, mainly as a result of stress (66%), resource shortages (62%), and pay (55%). Largely influenced by the pandemic, employee intent to leave and disengagement is high across the global healthcare industry. 

A higher-than-average level of occupational risk, a predominantly deskless workforce, and high employee turnover are the perfect recipe for disengagement and demotivation. Thankfully, there are research-backed strategies that healthcare organizations can adopt to address these challenges and increase engagement. Let’s explore the top three. 

How to improve healthcare employee engagement

Engaged healthcare employees deliver high-quality patient care, offer more discretionary effort, have lower absence, and are less likely to leave. Data gathered from 92,000-plus healthcare professionals from over 80 Australian hospitals across six years found that high employee engagement resulted in:

✅ Reduced hospital costs

✅ Increased treatment effectiveness 

✅ Reduced hospital-acquired infections and conditions 

The following three engagement-boosting strategies address some of the most common challenges faced by employees working in the healthcare industry.  

Reduce information overload

The first way to improve employee engagement in healthcare organizations is to address information overload and take steps to streamline communications. 

Effective communication is a key foundation of employee engagement, but often healthcare workers are completely bombarded with messaging that they’re unable to keep on top of. 

Research shows that 43% of employees miss important information and updates due to the sheer volume of messaging and notifications received alongside it. This is particularly pertinent for healthcare professionals, who need to consume and process important medical information every day on top of company messaging, news stories, and operational updates.

Healthcare organizations can proactively reduce information overload by filtering employee communications to assess the value, importance, target audience, and urgency of each message. It’s also important to consider the most appropriate channels for messaging to be shared, which will vary depending on roles and working patterns. 

Our recent blog, Tackling Content Overwhelm: How to Avoid Bombarding Your Employees, provides advice and guidance to combat information overload within your organization. 

Invest in employee recognition 

The most successful organizations view employee recognition as a strategic investment, as research has found that 82% of employees feel more engaged when they are recognized for their contributions.

Regardless of department, role, or grade, healthcare workers deserve to be recognized for their work. There is nothing more disengaging than feeling unappreciated and unrecognized in your job, particularly when you’re operating in a high-pressure environment with an incredibly demanding workload.    

High-recognition organizations have 31% lower voluntary turnover than those with poor recognition cultures, and 83% of employees believe that their motivation is impacted by the recognition they receive. 

Employees should be recognized for going above and beyond, achieving significant milestones and demonstrating the organization’s values. Organizations with formal recognition programs in place are even shown to be 12x more likely to have strong business outcomes… which definitely justifies the investment!    

Prioritize employee wellbeing 

Given the health, safety, and wellbeing challenges presented to healthcare professionals, organizations need to make employee health and wellbeing a top priority in order to improve engagement. 

There’s no avoiding the fact that employees working in the healthcare industry are exposed to a higher-than-average level of occupational risk, and are often required to work long shifts in high-stress environments. And while it might not be possible to change those characteristics of the industry, there are things that healthcare organizations can do to support employees and show that their health and safety is a top priority.  

Proactively building a culture of safety in the workplace helps increase engagement and minimize risk by ensuring everyone across the organization is involved, empowered and feels valued. Organizations with the best safety cultures communicate regularly about health, safety, and wellbeing, provide regular employee training, have robust mental health support systems, and have solid procedures and reporting platforms.

The National Safety Council reports that 40% of healthcare employees who feel unsafe at work will also experience symptoms of mental illness, compared to just 1% of employees who feel safe at work. So launching a new Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or promoting enhanced counseling services simply won’t cut the mustard if action isn’t being taken to address physical safety concerns as well.

To demonstrate to employees that employee health and wellbeing is a top priority, healthcare organizations should – 

  • Introduce clearly-defined employee safety procedures
  • Launch and promote robust incident reporting systems
  • Create an open dialogue about employee safety and wellbeing, regularly asking for feedback 
  • Encourage employees to make use of EAP services
  • Provide a comprehensive health, safety, and wellbeing training program
  • Communicate the next steps and actions being taken to address concerns that employees have reported 

Start engaging your healthcare employees today

We hope this blog has provided you with some inspiration and guidance to improve employee engagement within your healthcare organization! 

Workvivo’s comprehensive employee experience platform makes use of the latest mobile and desktop technology to enable you to communicate clearly and effectively with all employees. 

Say hello to schedule a demo and see how we can help!