Employee Engagement Higher at Religious Hospitals

by John Bisaha and Rick Blizzard

Workers seem to have stronger sense of commitment

Hospitals can usually be divided into one of two categories: those that have a religious mission and those that do not. Although all hospitals conceivably have the same basic mission -- to support healing and promote health in their communities -- a hospital's religious affiliation (or lack thereof) may affect the way it operates.

How might employees at sectarian hospitals differ from employees at non-sectarian hospitals? To answer that question, researchers used Gallup's healthcare employee engagement database to compare the engagement levels of employees in these two categories. Gallup's employee engagement grandmean scores show that employees of sectarian hospitals are more engaged in their jobs than those at non-sectarian hospitals. But is this because sectarian hospitals operate differently or because they attract a different type of employee?

Sectarian Employees More Engaged

Engaged employees are psychologically committed to their work and go beyond their job expectations to fulfill their organization's mission. Gallup measures engagement using its 12-item Q12 survey, in which employees rate a series of statements about their workplaces on a scale of 1 to 5. Looking at the 50th percentile of the Gallup healthcare database, employees at religious hospitals score higher than employees at non-religious hospitals on all 12 items. The biggest differences between the two groups occur on the following items:

  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  • I have a best friend at work.
  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

In addition to the 12 engagement questions, Gallup also asks healthcare employees how satisfied they are overall with their employers as a place to work. At both the 50th percentile and the 75th percentile of the Gallup database, employees at religious facilities are significantly more satisfied than those at non-religious facilities.

More so than employees at non-sectarian hospitals, employees at sectarian hospitals seem to feel that they are truly valued as people, that they have what they need to do their jobs, and that their managers are committed to fostering their development at work.

The difference between sectarian and non-sectarian employees on the "mission" item ("The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important") is not as large as differences found in ratings of several other items, suggesting their commitment to the hospital's mission is not, as might be expected, the main point of distinction between the two groups.

Instead, it seems religious hospitals are better than non-religious hospitals at infusing their mission and core values throughout all aspects of their operations. Non-sectarian hospitals often develop similar mission and value statements, but lacking the moral foundation of religion, employees may be less likely to perceive that the values are deeply held or that they guide the hospital's policies.

Bottom Line

Employees at religious hospitals seem to have a stronger sense of commitment to their jobs than employees at non-religious hospitals. The basis for this is more about the institutional differences than differences in the type of employee. Religious hospitals quite simply are more likely to put their mission and values into practice.

This finding gives all hospitals, sectarian and non-sectarian, guidance for improving employee engagement. One of the three areas in which healthcare employees differ most from employees in other business sectors is their belief that the mission or purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. Engagement can be increased by explicitly relating all decisions to the furtherance of hospital's mission.

Religious hospitals' success here comes from their tendency to link their religious mission and values to employee behavior. The benefits of this strategy are obvious -- if staff members feel it is their mission to treat each other well, they will also extend that behavior to patients and their families. Sectarian hospitals could further leverage this strength by placing even more emphasis on their missions.

Non-sectarian hospitals, in turn, must focus more on their staff members and help them to understand the hospitals' mission to helping patients. Religious hospitals have simply done a better job communicating their mission and encouraging positive staff behaviors consistent with these values.

The Q12 items are protected by copyright of The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ, 1992-1999. All rights reserved.

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