How WellStar Health System improved staff engagement

Healthcare workers gathering by a window in a hospital
WellStar Health System has kicked off its journey to become an “employer of choice.” (Getty/Jochen Sands)

To improve employee engagement and job satisfaction, WellStar Health System began a multiyear transformation to become an “employer of choice.”

It's well established that staff engagement and satisfaction have a direct impact on patient experience. Team building and connections between employees can improve their work experience, and that filters down to patients, too, says Scott Kashman, the chief administrative officer of Cape Coral Hospital, part of the Lee Memorial Health System in southwest Florida.

Consider, he says, how the words in patient experience questionnaires such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems focus on employees. They include "responsiveness," "listened," and "helped," he says. 

On its path to better human relations, Atlanta-based WellStar first assessed its employee engagement and benchmarked itself against other companies, some within and some outside of the healthcare industry, writes Carrie Owen Plietz, WellStar’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, in a post for the NEJM Catalyst blog.

In 2007, WellStar was in the 15th percentile for employee engagement and by 2013 had risen to the 97th percentile by focusing on initiatives such as wellness and career development.

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Among their tactics: On-site childcare, a concierge service, an employee wellness program, fellowship programs for nurses and an emphasis on promoting from within, Plietz writes. Many of the initiatives are designed with the system’s majority-female workforce in mind; 83% of WellStar employees are women.

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Stephen J. Swenson, M.D., medical director for leadership and organization development at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said his facility has identified six ways to bring some of the joy back to the workplace, FierceHealthcare previously reported. His suggestions: 

  1. Encourage leaders to support and engage with employees.
  2. Include staff in decisions and leadership seeks out their opinions.
  3. Build a sense of camaraderie.
  4. Identify and address the major drivers of stress and burnout.
  5. Find ways for staff members to support one another.
  6. Promote both physical and metal resilience among employees.

Organizations must focus on social, physical and mental resources for staff, Swenson notes. The wellness and other programs that WellStar put in place certainly fit that bill.