Our Journey Increased Employee Engagement by More than 400%

By Peter Callan, Director of Talent Acquisition & Development at University of Missouri Health Care

happy staff

For the second year in a row, University of Missouri Health Care (MU Health Care) has been named one of the “150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare” by Becker’s Hospital Review.

We are honored to again earn this national recognition, not only because it reflects our employees’ belief that MU Health Care is a supportive and empowering place to work, but also because just six years ago we were struggling to address an employee engagement rate of less than 15 percent. 

The journey we’ve taken to increase employee engagement by 56 percentage points has not been easy, but we believe our success and continued growth has benefitted deeply from three foundational elements:

We transformed our culture.

Organizations across the country are focused on creating and sustaining a meaningful workplace culture. Like other health care systems, MU Health Care was committed to our employees and our patients but hadn’t quite codified a culture that drove the level of meaningful engagement we desired. 

In 2013 our organization embraced a collaborative ‘Culture of YES,’ a new mindset that put YES at the core of everything we do to make lives better. We made the campaign stick beyond the launch period by putting practices in place that made YES a constant and consistent driver.

We began framing every interaction as an opportunity to focus on new opportunities. We supported and empowered our employees to think outside of the box, feel safe to share their thoughts and feedback, and take initiative to collaborate and bring their ideas to life. These are what we call and celebrate as YES Moments. 

Five years since launch, our Culture of YES has become an ever-present part of how our entire organization approaches our work together and continues to be the cornerstone of all our programs and employee engagement efforts. TJ Sweet, a practice manager in our cancer center, noted, “many of us get involved in health care because we want to help people. Having our organization turn around and do the same for us, to focus on the importance of what we do, and to recognize our work, makes this culture of YES so important. Everyone feels much more included.”

We doubled down on two-way dialogue.

With more than 6,000 employees, our organization is full of diverse people and ideas. This diversity is key to delivering compassionate and personalized care to people from every county in Missouri and beyond – but also means that we must foster and encourage a wealth of perspectives, goals and needs to help ensure everyone within our workforce is fulfilled.

To create more two-way dialogue and foster consistent and meaningful personal development, we abandoned the archaic annual performance evaluation and replaced it what we term GROW Conversations. These year-round conversations encourage ongoing dialogue and discussion between the employee and manager. We empower employees to drive conversations with their manager or supervisor every quarter to set goals, to discuss how they are progressing and to solicit help when needed. GROW Conversations also provide managers with educational opportunities and tools they can apply to helping themselves and their teams continue to achieve even higher levels of performance and engagement. Bethany Naughton, director of Clinical Operations, has seen significant value in the the quarterly discussions, specifically the areas in which employees consider goals and growth. Naughton believes that “it’s important that at any stage in life we continue to ask our employees what they want more of so they can continue to grow and evolve.”

We also instituted more structured rounding processes, with consistent and collaborative monthly meetings. Leaders throughout the organization use conversation guides to ensure that the discussion is prescriptive, not perfunctory – the new rounding approach enables managers and leaders to more quickly recognize achievements, harness employee strengths, and make real-time and ongoing improvements.

We focused on what employees wanted and needed and looked beyond the work day. 

Inspiring and motivating our staff is critical to our success. We are committed to fostering an environment that builds and enhances relationships; recognizes one another and our accomplishments; supports growth and improvement; and provides our employees with a sense of belonging. 

Based on the feedback we receive in our annual employee engagement surveys and gather via rounding and GROW Conversations, we continually review and enhance our benefits to ensure that we not only recruit the best candidates but retain our valued employees at all levels throughout the organization. We are constantly challenging ourselves to identify ways to improve our workplace and encourage our employees to feel more engaged and passionate about the role they play in making a difference. Brenda Quinlan, an employee relations specialist on our team, summed this up perfectly: “In the world of health care, we are doing serious work every day, and it’s important to build camaraderie.”

We’ve seen positive response to some of our new and expanded programs such as student loan repayments, continued educational opportunities, and retention and referral awards, and the Career Institute whereby select staff who have not attended college and provide them with the education, training and support to become healthcare professionals. We also believe in sharing and celebrating the great work that’s taking place throughout MU Health Care. Signage and posters provide public recognition for employees and projects that have made a difference, and events that bring our staff and their families together have helped strengthen and expand our MU Health Care community.

For our patients to have the best experience and continue to receive the best care, it is vital that our employees are passionate about what they do every day. Our journey to engage and support our employees has been both challenging and rewarding, and we are committed to continuing to find new ways to listen, collaborate and innovate to ensure we continue to be one of the best places to work in healthcare for years to come.