The Future of Healthcare Organizations: Designing for Employee Engagement

Healthcare is a relationship-based services industry.  Whether we term it patient-centered care or the triple aim, building and maintaining trust from patients is central to operations at any healthcare system.  Having an engaged, productive team of employees working towards this goal has been shown to not only increase patient satisfaction but also quality of care outcomes1.

With over 68% of U.S. workers disengaged in their jobs2, it is mandatory that healthcare leaders develop the skills to recognize signs of employee stress and consider how the foundations of their workflows can be adapted to better motivate collaboration and team cohesion.

People want to feel connected.  When employees start to feel that their work isn’t connected to a purpose or their values, they start to lose motivation and shut down or withdraw.  For physicians, nurses, or care coordinators, these feelings are compounded by the guilt brought on by not going the extra mile for their patients.

The most common signs of disengagement include:

  1. Isolation: One of the first signs of disengagement can be an employee who stops chatting with their coworkers or shutting their office door for the majority of their day.
  2. Absenteeism: This can take the form of physical absence from work and meetings or a mental absence, not being present in conversations with fellow staff or patients
  3. Apathy:  When a team member stops raising their hand to work on projects or participating in non-essential tasks, such as focus groups or conferences, take notice and look for other signs of disengagement.
  4. Mistakes: Overlooking details and simply getting the job done is a product of disengagement.  People will find it difficult to focus on tasks, increasing the likelihood of errors and less quality work.

While professional development, mentorship, and employee wellness programs are great tools to support employees in the workforce, they don’t address the root causes that are leading employees to feel disconnected from their careers.  At the most basic level, the issue of employee engagement centers on whether or not organizations, as systems of production, allow employees to feel valued as contributors to the mission.

As the nature of work has evolved, the need to drive collaboration, experimentation, and continuous improvement across organizations has become an essential part of business success.  I often hear clients refer to this as “breaking down silos” or “building a culture of learning and iteration.”  Empowering individuals to take initiative means rethinking our assumptions of hierarchy in leadership.

The paralyzing paradigm of the hierarchical organization is that it organizes people as machines (think about the performance objectives your physicians are expected to meet) while simultaneously striving for ingenuity to drive growth.  As Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organizations, describes, “We have turned hospitals into cold, bureaucratic institutions that dispossess doctors and nurses of their capacity to care from the heart.”

In order to create more efficient organizations that are able to better serve the growing number of patients, we must build systems that empower employees to make informed decisions while distributing the authority required to manage projects.  Rather than developing long-term, clearly defined strategies, leaders must focus on communicating purpose and develop systems that sense and respond to change across the organization.

In future articles, we’ll explore case studies of teal organizations and discuss techniques to drive collaboration and engagement in your organization.  To gain a better understanding of the ideas discussed in this article, I’ve included resources for continued reading.

Sherwood, R. (2013, November 3). Employee Engagement Drives Health Care Quality and Financial Returns.

Gallup Daily: U.S. Employee Engagement


Continued Reading