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Employee Engagement: Paying Staff to Innovate

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By Jana Baker and Louise Barker

A significant amount of leadership information focuses on coaching low-performing, engaged employees toward a more positive performance. But what happens to those consistently high-performing employees who look to their leaders to help them excel personally and professionally? Many leaders would welcome the opportunity to focus on what’s right as opposed to what’s wrong, but this change in leadership mindset can require some re-education for those leaders who have spent more time and energy fixing problems rather than looking for ways to take their engaged employees to the next level.

An engaged employee is a leader’s dream, and a facility filled with engaged employees would be even better. Employee engagement can be simply defined as a staff member’s emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and/or the organization as a whole. This employee creates a natural connection with co-workers and truly cares about the outcomes provided by the organization. All employees need to feel that they are listened to by management and that their contribution can impact outcomes in a positive manner.

You can identify an engaged employee as someone who consistently goes above and beyond their job description and works to create a better work environment for themselves and their co-workers. These staff members view their employment as a career – not a job – and they are the same individuals who stay late to complete a project, volunteer for a committee dedicated to workplace enhancement and who give of themselves with small kindnesses throughout the day. Be careful though not to confuse employee satisfaction with employee engagement. Employee satisfaction is defined as simply liking the people you work with and being happy with the pay and benefits. Leaders don't necessarily have a direct effect on employee satisfaction, but they can have a significant impact on employee engagement.

Enhancement of employee engagement begins by clarifying the “why" of what leadership is asking employees to do, as well as defining how their actions directly affect the facility and other staff members. A leader recognizes that employees will notice something is not working before it comes to the attention of the leaders. At Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital, this need for adjustment came to the attention of leadership through feedback provided on the annual employee survey. All the answers on the employee survey came back with above-average scores, except one. The question, “I have opportunities to use initiative and ingenuity on my job," came back as the only answer below the 75th percentile. Leadership at the hospital interpreted this response to mean that the hospital’s employees had ideas to share, but they did not feel those ideas were being heard by its leaders.

In response to this finding, the leadership team at Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital created a two-fold action plan to increase employee engagement and provide value and recognition for its employees. The first prong of the plan was the creation of a “Bright Ideas" contest, instigated after an employee brought forth an unsolicited cost-savings idea that was beneficial to the hospital. Recognizing the cost savings created, as well as the employee’s initiative in bringing forth the idea, the leadership team at the hospital took the concept to its board and partners to implement it as an official program at the facility.

To participate in Bright Ideas, employees submit ideas to a formal leadership committee composed of the facility administrator, a board member, two doctors at the hospital, the chief financial officer and the chief nursing officer. Managers are not eligible for the “Bright Ideas" program, but there is no limit to the number of times an employee can enter the contest.  Each idea must have a minimum savings target of $5,000, and actual cost savings are analyzed by the chief financial officer on the leadership committee.

Each winner of the Bright Ideas contest receives 1 percent of the annual savings from their submitted idea, with the overall payment received in installments. Upon approval of the idea, the employee is mailed a check for 25 percent of anticipated savings, along with a thank-you letter from leadership, recognizing the employee’s initiative. The second 25 percent is received after six months, and the remaining percentage, reflective of the overall savings, is paid at the end of the year. Winners are also recognized through email communications with staff, shareholders and physicians and on tri-fold display boards placed in the lobby and in the break room at the facility.

Ideas submitted in the savings range of $1,000 to $5,000 are eligible for an equal opportunity drawing award. Within the first three months of the program, the facility received six ideas – and anticipates more based on the competitive nature of the facility’s staff. Leadership at Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital plan to update or refresh the Bright Ideas program on an as-needed basis. The second part of the hospital’s action plan addressing the employee survey includes top leadership attending department staff meetings so they can participate and hear employee ideas first-hand.

What could have been easily ignored as a misnomer in an otherwise above-average scoring survey became an opportunity for Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital to boost cost savings while improving teamwork and collaboration. By leaders at the hospital asking the important “why" question, they were able to connect the dots between what they know and what employees know in order to have a direct effect on employee engagement – creating a more positive work environment for everyone involved. Recognize and reward your high-performing employees and your facility will reap the results.

Jana Baker is the Director of Training at Nueterra Healthcare in Leawood, Kan. She has seven years of experience in the training and development arena and a passion for leadership development. Established in 1997 as a diversified healthcare management company, Nueterra creates partnerships with physician groups and healthcare systems to establish and operate successful healthcare initiatives that address the changing needs of today’s physicians and healthcare consumers domestically and internationally.

Louise Barker, RN, is administrator and CEO at Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital in Alexandria, La. She has more than 35 years of experience in ASC and hospital administration.

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