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Employee focus groups to ponder meaning of respect

Published on Monday, December 12, 2016

By: Ruth Cummins

When University of Mississippi Medical Center employees say they're respected by their supervisors - or not - just what do they mean, and how have their experiences shaped their beliefs?

Creation of five focus groups by the Medical Center seeks to spur frank conversation about employees' views on being respected by managers and the institution as a whole. Their thoughts will drive change going forward, said Reatha Clark, chief business operations officer. The move is a response to the employee engagement survey UMMC employees took last summer.


“This will be a permanent process, and this is step one,” Clark said. “The organization cares about how employees feel about their work. The survey tells us what people think, but the focus groups will help tell us why. We have to talk to people to understand why.

”Even if employees felt before that their voice was heard, leaders seem to have heard their concerns and are doing all they can to encourage them to keep voicing the concerns and sharing their feelings and ideas so that they can truly understand meaningful changes,” she said. “One of these ways is to hire an objective third party to facilitate focus groups about respect.”

UMMC employees in July completed a confidential survey asking for perceptions of their workplace. The survey, administered by the outside group Press Ganey, for the first time was given UMMC-wide, including all Medical Center clinics in the state. It also queried employees on the culture of safety, asking participants if they believe it's safe to be a patient here and how their jobs impact safety. The response rate was 77 percent.

UMMC managers and administrators don't know who did or did not take part and don't have access to individual survey responses, but they know how many total employees in their department participated. The organization has previously conducted an employee survey of health system employees, and noteworthy improvements were implemented, including a suggestion box and creation of a recognition program “because of the great employee feedback from that survey,” Clark said.

The just-completed survey “also yielded great employee feedback so leaders can act upon the suggestions to make more noteworthy improvements.”

John Michael Churchill, nurse manager of 3 South, talks with RN's Meagan Wiley, left, and Youlanda Jones about a patient.
John Michael Churchill, nurse manager of 3 South, talks with RN's Meagan Wiley, left, and Youlanda Jones about a patient.

UMMC is employing Birmingham-based New South Research as an outside, arms-length facilitator to use its research-based process to form and lead the new focus groups. Managers and staff won't be in the same focus group so that all can speak freely, Clark said. Discussions New South will lead include definitions of respect in an employee environment; barriers to respect; circumstances in which employees feel disrespect; and examples of respect being shown in the UMMC environment.

“This is how we as an organization learn the back story to the answers we got,” Clark said. “Because the focus groups will be led by a third party and will be handled with great sensitivity, we hope employees will feel comfortable sharing their feelings about respect in a group setting.”

The organization “hopes this decision sends a clear message to employees that their feelings about their work are important, and that leaders want to hear employee voices,” Clark said.


“It's very important that we commit to doing this, because we do value our employees' voices,” said Michael Estes, chief human resources officer. “There's not a right or wrong answer. We just want to get a better understanding of it.”

Each focus group will include about 10 people; three groups will consist of staff, and two of managers. All employees can volunteer for a focus group, and a campus memo will be sent out Dec. 14 “for people to raise their hands and say they'd like to be considered,” Clark said.

Even though only about 50 employees will participate in the focus groups, efforts will be made to ensure the five groups are representative of the entire organization. The January focus groups will be limited to UMMC's Jackson campus; other locations will be scheduled later in the year.

“After the first of the year, we'll send out a notice to people asking them to please confirm they can attend one of the focus group meetings at a particular date and time, and we'll do what we need to do with contacting supervisors to make sure employees are given the time to participate,” Clark said.

After receiving feedback from New South, recommendations and an action plan will be developed, she said.

“We have a professional responsibility to respond, and to acknowledge employees' participation,” Estes said. “There were things on the survey that we were proud of, and there were things we absolutely feel like we have to act upon.

“We've got a lot of colleagues who want to be heard. They had a lot to say to us.”