Staff Engagement Begins With Hospital Managers

by Rick Blizzard, D.B.A.
Health and Healthcare Editor

Managers more engaged than workers

Most healthcare organizations already know that in order to improve patient care, they must help their employees become engaged -- or emotionally committed -- at work. What approach should hospitals take to engage employees? Gallup research shows that one of the best places to start is with hospital managers. The managers themselves must be engaged in order to foster engagement among the staff members who report to them.

The good news is that, according to Gallup's healthcare employee engagement database, healthcare managers do tend to be more engaged than do non-managerial healthcare workers. Forty-three percent of directors, managers, and supervisors are engaged, compared with only 32% of non-managers.

So how can hospitals capitalize on engagement among managers to improve the engagement of their workgroups?

Increasing Engagement Through Manager Actions

In an April 2004 poll of employed U.S. adults*, Gallup determined respondents' level of engagement with their workplace, and then asked them to describe their managers' style. Respondents were asked to rate their level of agreement with two statements -- "My supervisor focuses on my strengths or positive characteristics" and "My supervisor focuses on my weaknesses or negative characteristics" -- on a scale of 1 to 5.

Invisible Managers

Some managers may feel they do not have the time to interact with their employees. These invisible managers believe the best thing they can do is to stay out of the way and let their staff members do their jobs -- essentially ignoring them. But Gallup's data suggest that the absolute worst thing a manager can do is be invisible to his or her employees. Among employees who gave low scores to their managers on both of the above statements -- suggesting their managers focus on neither their strengths nor their weaknesses -- only 2% were engaged and 40% were actively disengaged.

Judgmental Managers

Other managers always tend to "go negative," focusing primarily if not exclusively on what their team members are doing wrong. When an employee sees this type of manager coming, his or her first thought is, "I hope she isn't coming to see me." One might think invisible managers are better than negative managers, but that's actually not true: 45% of workers with managers who tend to focus on their weaknesses were engaged, while 22% were actively disengaged.

Great Managers

What if the manager does everything right? The best managers look for employees who provide good patient care and recognize them for it. They don't avoid employees who are having a bad day, but rather seek them out and try to help them -- always looking for a positive approach. It's no surprise that managers like these yield the best results -- among employees who say their managers focus on their strengths and positive characteristics, 61% were engaged and only 1% were actively disengaged.

Bottom Line

Engaged healthcare managers need to set the tone for their workplaces to improve employee engagement. They can do this by making themselves visible and accessible. Mediocre managers may tell their employees they have an open-door policy, but the best managers know leaving the door open isn't enough. They use the open door to go out and see their employees, recognizing positive behaviors and addressing small problems before they become big. The strategy is simple, but often undervalued by managers -- to the detriment of their team members' engagement levels.

*Results based on interviews with 1,003 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, conducted in April 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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