Ten years ago, the concept of employee engagement was rarely even mentioned on surveys of hospital and health system leaders, when they were asked about priorities or concerns for improvement. Employees were there and did the work they were hired to do. They were part of the process of delivering care and service.

Slowly, as the importance of patient satisfaction became more of a concern to leaders (albeit the focus was primarily on raising HCAPS scores to affect reimbursement), there was a growing awareness that employees actually have a central role in delivering the service and determining the patients’  feelings that drive those scores. And so, we have moved to a new era where employee satisfaction shows up on the priority list of leaders at innovative and high-achieving hospitals.

“I was so focused on growth and budgets and reimbursement levels and those 40,000-foot challenges, but I finally realized that the work and commitment of our employees plays a critical role in patient experience and satisfaction, productivity and cost efficiency, quality, really to everything we do,” said a CEO who now preaches the gospel of employee engagement. “If our employees feel involved, valued and appreciated, if they feel their needs and concerns are listened to and addressed, it’s only common sense that they will be encouraged and enabled to do their best.”

Public relations and communications professionals were asked to be a part of the process, once the sole purview of HR, and given more support in developing communications programs that began with information to make sure employees knew what their organizations were doing, planning and most importantly, where they fit in the process and how they can help. This simplest of messages – you are the heart of our efforts and you matter to our success – has made significant changes in employee satisfaction, as have broader efforts including town halls, huddles, great intranets, and more.

Marketers have supported these efforts because they understand the importance of satisfied patients in terms of word-of-mouth marketing, and have brought their skills in research, analysis and persuasion to this process. Along the way, there has been a growing awareness that employees are also one of the absolute best marketing channels for provider organizations.

With the right information and the right motivation, they can be hospitals’ absolute best personal “sales force” in the community. Who knows a hospital better than its own people? Employees leave the hospital and go home – right into the community where they interact with neighbors, friends, family, colleagues, at church and at kids’ schools. And they are asked – more often than some might imagine – for information and for their opinions. In a recent focus group, the phrase, “I ask my neighbor – he’s a nurse” and variations were a continual theme in a discussion of how people sought information or recommendations about health care institutions.

As the ultimate influencers, employees have the potential to deliver their up-close POV to people who know and trust them. If they are satisfied with both their work and how they are appreciated and engaged, and have the right information – details on the new primary care practice, the new procedure heart surgeons are doing, how the mammography technology is superior to what’s available elsewhere and more – they are ready to tell the organization’s story in the most powerful way.

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