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Employment engagement survey: You spoke, and you were heard

Published on Monday, October 9, 2017

By: Ruth Cummins

When University of Mississippi Medical Center employees last year took a voluntary, confidential survey gauging their opinions on job satisfaction and workplace engagement, they were asked if they’d like to be working here three years from now, and overall, if they’re a satisfied employee.

Fast forward one year. Results of the 2017 survey show improvements in key areas that make up what’s called “employee engagement,” and in targeted areas such as communication and respect that employees previously said needed attention.

It’s gratifying news to Medical Center leaders who took the 2016 results to heart, creating specific initiatives to provide a better experience for both employees and patients.

“We saw improvements in the six main items that make up overall engagement,” said Liz Youngblood, chief executive officer of the adult hospitals and metro-area clinics.

“We’re really excited about our results for two reasons: We had a huge response rate, well over the national average. And, we had a higher response rate from the prior survey, which was already high. That tells us that our employees believe we will do something with the results. They wouldn’t respond if they didn’t believe that.”

The Employee Engagement and Culture of Safety survey is administered by Press Ganey, a national firm that uses data-driven surveys and a “listen and learn” approach to improve the employee and patient experience. The number of employees taking the survey offered in late July and early August jumped significantly – 81 percent, or about 7,000 employees taking it, compared to 76 percent in July 2016. The Press Ganey national average is 74 percent.

In the 2016 survey, some of the lowest scores came when employees evaluated these points:

  • This organization treats employees with respect.
  • My pay is fair compared to other health care employees in this area.
  • This organization makes employees in my work unit want to go above and beyond.
  • Patient safety is a priority in this organization.
  • This organization makes every effort to deliver safe, error-free care to patients.

In the 2017 survey, six key engagement areas received more positive responses than a year ago:

  • I would like to be working at this organization three years from now.
  • I am proud to tell people that I work for this organization.
  • Overall, I’m a satisfied employee. I would recommend this organization as a good place to work.
  • I would stay with this organization if offered a similar position elsewhere.
  • I would recommend this organization to family and friends who need care.

The greatest improvements also were made in responses to these statements:

  • The person I report to is a good communicator.
  • The person I report to cares about my job satisfaction.
  • The person I report to gives me useful feedback.
  • The person I report to treats me with respect.
  • This organization makes employees in my work unit want to go above or beyond.

“Kudos to leadership for working on those areas,” said Cathy Smith, chief human resources officer for University Hospitals and Health System.

But some of the greatest declines were in responses to these statements: My ideas and suggestions are seriously considered. This organization provides high-quality care and service. I get the tools and resources I need to provide the best care/service for our clients/patients. 

UMMC managers and administrators don’t know who did or did not take part in the survey and don't have access to individual survey responses, but they know how many total employees participated.

Just because an area improved doesn’t mean scores are where they should be, Medical Center leadership says. One example: About 74 percent of employees said on the survey that they’d recommend UMMC to others for health care. But not to be lost is the 26 percent who didn’t say that they would.

Dr. Merry Lindsey, professor of physiology and biophysics, said she always takes surveys offered to employees. She believes that employee responses do make a difference.

“Every Friday I read Dr. Woodward’s VC Notes,” she said. “I see clear evidence from the top down of our voices being heard.”

The Press Ganey survey is divided into two sections, employee engagement and culture of safety. The culture of safety section asks employees if they feel it's safe to be a patient here and how their jobs impact safety. Only employees in the clinical health care setting take both the employee engagement and culture of safety surveys. Contracted health system staff in environmental services, food services, and laundry only take the culture of safety survey.

Almost across the board, responses improved on questions pertaining to patient safety, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Henderson. “They’re still below the national means. They’re not fixed,” he said. “But, the survey shows we are clearly going in the right direction.”

The biggest uptick was in clinical employees’ perception of getting a punitive response to reporting an error – meaning their fear of retaliation if they electronically report or personally call an employee’s attention to an error that could impact patient care and safety.

About 40 percent of employees surveyed indicated they don’t fear a punitive response, almost 7 percent higher than a year ago, Henderson said. “In national surveys, that’s always one of the worst areas,” he said.

Alisha Thompson, a respiratory therapist in the pediatric ICU, said she’s grateful that her supervisor “listens to us and values our opinion.

“Everything has its pros and cons, but overall, I’m very satisfied. Our supervisors and directors and coordinators work hard to make sure we have the equipment and resources we need. It gives me more time for my patients.”

Many of the 2016 survey concerns were addressed by multidisciplinary teams of employees taking part in a 100 Day Workout. The workout is a nationally recognized quality improvement methodology that brings together groups of employees to tackle performance, quality, safety or other issues.

Senior leaders also put together focus groups to speak frankly about issues with respect and give administrators ideas on how to fix it. What they heard included: Stop and listen to staff while rounding. Treat employees equally, whether clinical or non-clinical, and regardless of differences in job function. Eliminate favoritism.

The 100 Day workout process “really was our driver for facilitating our efforts around improving employee engagement,” Youngblood said. The next workout begins in November.

“Our challenge is to tap into what it will take to get people not to reply lukewarmly – that instead, they will strongly agree that this employer provides a high level of care and services,” Smith said. “We’re using different techniques to get to the ‘whys’ behind the answers. The only way we can find out the ‘whys’ is to go talk to people. Then we can put tactics in place to get better.”

“If you want anything to improve, you have to voice your opinion about it,” Thompson said. “I appreciate my employer wanting my opinion so that they can get a better scope of what employees are thinking.”