Mercy's action is just one example of the various ways hospital and medical group leaders across the country are working to improve morale, as frustration levels among caregivers rise. Providers are requesting more staff input to make sure their needs are met. They're using new tools to measure employee satisfaction, and also trying to ensure better patient-to-staff ratios. Some are establishing more training programs that could lead to promotions, while some have even created incentive-driven wellness programs, which reward staff with prizes like extra vacation days for healthy behavior. About 86% of hospitals have established workplace wellness programs, according to the American Hospital Association.
Yet recent surveys show the effectiveness of these morale-boosting measures still have a long way to go. Though career satisfaction among nurses remains high with 90% happy with their choice of profession, fully 35% say they feel like quitting their current position, up from 33% in 2012, according to a soon-to-be published survey from the AMN Healthcare consultancy. The number expecting to be at a different job a year from now ticked up a percentage point in the past year to 33%, which is significantly higher than the restlessness registered among nurses in 2010, the first year AMN did its nurse survey. Another troubling indicator: Fully half say they worry about their jobs affecting their health.
Among nurses, many voice frustration that they are working longer shifts without breaks or vacation time, said Zenei Cortez, a co-president of the California Nurses Association and a registered nurse at a Kaiser Permanente medical office in San Mateo, Calif. Low morale can make even basic tasks such as responding to a patient call light difficult. “Nurses' morale is plummeting because they feel like they can't do their jobs given what's going on,” she said.
California is the only state with a law that mandates specific nurse-patient ratios, and that law helps preserve morale, Cortez said. But the union still feels they don't have enough nurses on duty and that resources are spread too thin.
Ensuring staff isn't overworked is just one key trait of a successful organization. Other signs of a positive workplace environment include job security, respectful treatment of employees, confidence in management, and a culture of high-quality patient care, Cortez added. Research from Press Ganey also links morale and engagement with quality of care, readmission rates and performance of hospital core measures, concluding that “employee engagement has very real financial implications.”
“Passionate and visible” leadership is a common thread for successful organizations, said Deborah O'Brien, senior vice president, consulting and education services for Press Ganey. Leaders need to plan out their departmental rounds with goals. They need make their time seeing staff count—whether that's delivering a message or looking at a particular concern. That also breeds an environment of accountability and trust.
“It's not just walking the halls, but it's about actually bringing the information back and sharing it with the others out at the hospital and then acting upon it,” O'Brien said.
Press Ganey's data tied higher CMS Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems scores, which reflect hospital performance, to high employee engagement. Hospitals with a high average engagement ranking scored 16 points higher in overall hospital ratings, compared with facilities with low engagement ranking.