February 03, 2016

Employee engagement: Who's doing it well

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As UAB Medicine employees, we hear the term "engagement" frequently. Leadership recognizes the importance of cultivating staff who are actively involved in their work, take pride in their responsibilities, and contribute ideas and initiative for improving the care and services they provide.

The annual Employee Engagement Survey and Faculty Engagement Survey are important tools for measuring engagement at UAB Medicine – and empowering leaders to focus attention on areas that need it. Engaged leaders are more inclined to react to the survey results, while engaged employees are more likely to embrace the resulting changes.

destination excellenceHighlighted below are just a few of the clinical and operational areas that posted excellent survey scores last year and farther back in most cases.

Hematology Oncology Specialty Unit

Faye Williams, Administrative Director for Medical Nurses in the Hematology Oncology Specialty Unit (HOSU), says the annual survey helps her managers improve morale, which in turn fosters better service to patients.

"Patient satisfaction is of utmost importance; that's always been my focus," Williams says. "I accomplish that by taking care of my staff, because a happy staff means happy patients. Very simple measures can provide that sometimes."

Williams was the nurse manager for HOSU at one time, so she is familiar with those simple measures that carry so much weight with staff.

"I used to always ask my nurses if they want to self-schedule or use a block schedule," Williams says of a practice that continues today under current HOSU Nurse Manager Katherine McKibbin. "Giving them the choice of a very flexible schedule allowed them a lot of preferences and control by improving their work-life balance, and a lot of times it removed the stress of swapping shifts or finding someone to fill in."

McKibbin also takes advantage of the fellowship and candid conversation that tends to emerge when team members share a meal together; she makes pancakes for her staff on a regular basis.

"I come in around 3 am and cook a batch for the night shift, and I do another round for the day shift," McKibbin says. "While I'm cooking, we can all talk about things in a relaxed way. It's a great opportunity for me to interact with the staff on a different level than as their nurse manager. I have received very positive feedback from both night shift and day shift regarding the good eats as well as the camaraderie."

"Another simple but important factor is communication," McKibbin adds. "I have an open-door policy. Any member of the staff can speak with me about patient concerns, other staff members, or personal matters. They need to be comfortable bringing anything to me. I make sure that anything brought to my attention is addressed appropriately and that follow-up is provided in a timely manner. Nothing gets brushed off."

Health System Information Services

Patrick Fisher, Director of Health Information Systems, says the survey revealed opportunities for his management team to improve communication, recognize performance, and better define internal job responsibilities. As management began to address these issues, the survey scores for his team began to improve over the next two years.

"We met one-on-one with each manager to review survey results for their team, and our efforts were focused on areas with the lowest scores," Fisher says. "We met with our team members to obtain feedback on how we could improve communication, recognize performance, and provide more structure and guidance through better defining job requirements and expectations."

Sustaining positive scores in some of Fisher's areas proved to be challenging given the number of promotions during the past two years.

"Twenty-two employees from my teams have advanced to higher levels within Health System Information Services (HSIS)," Fisher says. "Replacing that many staff members could easily have disrupted support and workflow if we did not take the time to define basic structure and receive feedback from our teams."

"We also looked at what we could do better in the way of communication and recognition," adds Sam Gaston, Manager of Systems Support Enterprise. "We were already holding weekly meetings, but now we also carve out time to talk about topics and issues and recognize staff members."

"We are building the skills and knowledge to help our individuals take the next steps to succeed within UABHS," Fisher says. "The Employee Engagement Survey has been a great tool to help guide our teams through this process."

Internal Medicine II – The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital

Deborah Warren, RN, Internal Medicine II Clinic Supervisor, says survey results are reviewed in a full staff meeting each year and consistently lead to positive changes.

"We try to ensure that staff have the opportunity for more input on decisions that affect workflow," Warren says. "We also took steps to improve communication, in the way of sharing good news, thank-you cards, and rounding with employees. I made sure that every employee has my cell phone number, and they know they can call me anytime with problems."

Respiratory Care

Sherry Polhill, Director for Labs and Respiratory, says the Employee Engagement Survey helps her identify where management enhancements are needed. A new management structure has incrementally evolved since 2003, the culmination of a larger effort to provide a culture for respiratory therapists to be an integral part of the medical care team.

"The vision includes incorporating the right management matrix to listen to the needs of the employees 24/7, where effective supervisors and managers take care of problems and serve the people," Polhill says. "The management members are there to remedy issues, to be an advocate for the employees, and to assist when needed so that the staff are able to focus on providing effective care."

Responding to survey results reinforces to employees that their voices are being heard, Polhill says, adding, "UAB Medicine has excellent therapists, and it is a privilege to serve them."

"The staff appreciates knowing that management is sensitive to their needs and that we are going to engage them when solving problems," she says. "That creates a mutual respect. It also produces better outcomes, because it helps us pull together to provide the best care for patients, to help one another, and to serve the disciplines around us."

This year, the Employee Engagement Survey and Faculty Engagement Survey are being conducted earlier than in the past; they go live on February 15 and close on February 29, and they are available 24/7 from any computer with Internet access during that two-week window. Click here to learn more.