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Four Ways to Feed the Health of Your Employees and Your Health System

I love whole foods and can eat veggies nonstop. My body returns the favor with loads of energy and the endurance I need to focus and get through the day. But like so many people, when I’m busy and overwhelmed, the first thing I neglect is my health. Whether it’s eating junk food, ignoring the treadmill, or feeding my soul useless thoughts and doubting self-talk, I begin to suffer from a lack of self-care and concern. I get sluggish. I become lazy, unproductive and feel empty and uptight.

Oh, the irony.

The same is true for the health of your health system. Regardless of today’s stressors – the immense pace of change, technology, your race to improve HCAHPS scores and reduce hospital-acquired infections – at the end of the day, healthcare is still a people business. What you feed your employees is reflected in your patient experience scores, reputation, revenue and even the state of your bricks and mortar.

These four ingredients provide the immediate nourishment your employees and organization need to stay healthy and productive:

  1. A cup of curiosity – Research shows that curiosity is vital to performance. Fostering an environment of curiosity in the workplace, while showing genuine interest in your people, is essential. As humans, we crave attention and long to know that someone cares. The simple act of asking questions to learn more about your employees meets this basic need and leads to better engagement and higher levels of productivity.

But take it one step further. Look for opportunities to create time and space for curiosity each day. A great way to begin is by asking leading questions before interjecting your ideas or the outcome. Be willing to pause, listen and acknowledge when you don’t know the answer. This vulnerability establishes trust and connection.

The bottom line: Curiosity helps us think more deeply and sensibly about decisions. It also improves collaboration, fuels innovation and creative solutions to complex challenges, while strengthening our ability to adapt to change and pressure more quickly.

  1. A tablespoon of collaboration – Employees need to have a voice; it’s critical to their health. When you create an environment that honors and supports two-way dialogue and communication, employees are happier, more collaborative and productive.

Fostering collaboration lines up closely with fostering creativity. Do a pulse check during your next meeting. Ask questions and call on people to share their thoughts and ideas. Consider calling on people by name, or saying, ‘We’ve covered our agenda, what else is on your mind?’ to draw input from those who may not have spoken. Rotate who leads your daily meetings. Ask everyone to share a win from the week. Also, from time to time provide an outlet for anonymous opinions through a dedicated phone line or online pulse poll.

The bottom line: Outlets for expression foster an environment of innovative thinking, improve teamwork and promote a healthy balance between new ideas and the tried-and-true.

  1. A dash of recognition – The majority of employees aren’t solely motivated by their paycheck. A study in Harvard Business Review revealed that 87 percent of employed Americans don’t feel they’re recognized enough, and 40 percent admit they’d work harder if they were recognized more.

Do you recognize your people? Not the “great job” recognition, but the “I see you and know who you are” recognition. Do you know their names, where they work, what they do and how they like to spend free time? I worked for a CEO who insisted on access to photos, names and job titles of everyone working in the hospital. He cared so much that he could call every person in the building by name when walking the halls. He even studied the surgical services’ roster before walking into the unit. This paid huge dividends when nurses on the unit were recognized and called on by name by the CEO.

How are you recognizing your people?  Healthcare workers were some of the most celebrated heroes in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. As time has passed, the fanfare has quieted, and for many, it’s now business as usual (or as much as it can be at this moment). With burnout and PTSD at all-time highs for healthcare workers and leaders, it’s more important than ever to keep recognizing your people. The best appreciation is honest and authentic. Take time to write a thank-you note and mail it to an employee’s home. Strategically place sticky notes on employee’s cars. Give public thanks in a group setting when it makes sense, or buy coffee for the nurse in line needing it to get through his shift. And don’t forget your leaders. They carry a heavy burden to ensure employees are engaged. They need to know they’re doing a great job as well. Consider delivering a meal to their home or create a leader award to recognize leaders at all levels of the organization.

The bottom line: Only one-third of U.S. workers strongly agrees they’ve received recognition for doing good work in the past week, and employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year, according to Gallup. That’s a high price for something that doesn’t cost much.

  1. A pinch of possibility – Employee development and growth opportunities are critical to the health and viability of your health system. We know it’s less expensive to retain quality employees than to find new ones. Demonstrating there’s a future with your organization keeps employees engaged. Tuition reimbursement, leadership development training, online classes and access to webinars goes a long way in developing your team. It helps you remain competitive, reduces turnover, increases productivity and equips your people for the future.

The bottom line: There’s a correlation between engaged employees and development opportunities. A Quantum Workplace study found that 72 percent of hostile employees feel they receive too little training, compared to 43 percent of engaged employees. Competition for healthcare talent is only going to become more fierce, a pinch of possibility sweetens the pot.

It sounds so simple: “Feed your insides well and you’ll shine on the outside.” The reality is, it takes time, energy, effort and intense focus to deliver a five-star experience that will set you apart from those who are starving for great health.

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