Workplace engagement at Texas health system earns one of 12 Gallup awards

Mentoring program, employee dinners are among access initiatives

At Hendrick Health System in Abilene, TX — one of 12 organizations worldwide to receive the 2007 "Gallup Great Workplace Award" — the focus on workforce engagement is stronger than ever, says Susan Wade, CHAM, director of admissions, who oversees more than 50 employees in several access areas.

"Gallup has proven through years of research that if employees are engaged in what they do, they are more productive, safer at work, and turnover is less," she adds. "When we received our [winning] scores, we were proud, but there is always improvement to be made."

That kind of engagement has been enhanced in the admissions department by, among other things, a morale committee that plans employee activities and oversees the awarding of a quality award.

Wade, two admissions supervisors, and the department's training coordinator rotate being on call every weekend in case staff need assistance, she says. "If it's my weekend to be on call, I go in and check on the staff. I get to see employees I don't normally see during the week."

Gallup, the international survey and research organization based in Princeton, NJ, uses a 12-question survey and a best practices portfolio to determine how well organizations measure up against its criteria for engaged workforces. (See related story below.)

12 employee expectations part of 'engagement' survey

High scores linked to strong performance

Researchers at Gallup have identified 12 employee expectations that, when satisfied, form the foundation of strong feelings of engagement in the workplace. Out of that research, the company created a survey in which employees rate their response to 12 statements on a scale of one to five.

High scores on the survey, shown below, have been linked to strong worker performance and good business outcomes, the company says.

1. I know what is expected of me at work.
2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing     good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a     person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is     important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my      progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Award criteria

To be eligible for the Gallup Great Workplace Awards, applicants must meet the following criteria.

1. Have a sample size of at least 1,000 employees.
2. Have a survey response rate of 80% or higher by employees.
3. Have a GrandMean score of 4.15 out of five or higher in at least half the     organization's work groups.
4. Submit business impact results that link work-place engagement to     business outcomes.
5. Submit a best practice portfolio that includes:

  • A strategic plan and proof of implementation in a summary of steps taken to increase workplace engagement.
  • Examples of best practice organization-wide initiatives and best practice work-group level plans.
  • Examples of a total program or process that have been used or created to increase engagement in the workgroup.

Based on Hendrick's survey results, Wade says, each department in the hospital selected a "strength" and an "opportunity" with which to build on the employee engagement the organization already had achieved.

Access employees met as a group, she notes, to choose the survey questions — actually 12 statements that are rated on a scale of one to five — that are most important to them. "We let them vote on the questions they want to work on, and then brainstorm about what we can do."

The focus is on the first six questions, Wade adds, because if those are in line "the others take care of themselves."

For example, the "strength" chosen by her staff — based on departmental results — was No. 5: "My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person."

Three "action items," explained below by Wade, were selected to further build on that strength:

• Quarterly employee dinners.

Employees are invited to meet and have a meal together to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. The overall attendance level has been about 50%.

• A 10-minute open discussion period at each departmental meeting.

This time has been spent, for example, talking about advance directives, with someone brought in to lead the discussion. The next meeting's session was to feature a Gallup tool designed to promote engagement by asking employees: What questions do you have? What suggestions do you have? What is the best recognition you've ever received? What experiences are you challenging yourself with this year?

• Adding an employee spotlight to the department's newsletter.

The monthly newsletter, "Admit Alert," is part of an on-line access department Share Page that also includes information about insurance changes and new policies. The new feature will highlight two access employees, sharing information about their families, where they grew up, and their youthful aspirations.

Survey question No. 6 — "There is someone at work who encourages my development" — was chosen as the "opportunity" for the department to explore, Wade says. "This was a place where we had a lower score than we would have liked."

Employees decided upon several action items to support that idea:

• Mentoring of new employees.

Specific people in each area of the access department are asked to be mentors, not only to answer work-related questions, but to help with issues related to the hospital. It was also suggested that these employees might, for example, include the new hires in their lunch plans.

• Cross-training employees who are interested.

This initiative builds on an effort that was already in place.

• Allow employees, on a voluntary basis, to observe in an area of the department in which they do not normally work.

This practice is also followed with new employees, who go to each area and observe before beginning work in any one area. The department recently added an employee specifically to handle forms training, and that training is now done when an employee is observing in the area where the form is used.

• Quarterly meetings.

These meetings involve two entities for which a cooperative relationship is essential. The meeting might be between two different parts of the admissions department, or between scheduling and radiology — any areas that work closely together and may have questions for each other. Originally arranged under the direction of area supervisors, Wade explains, the practice has evolved into a more informal process whereby groups schedule a meeting if an issue needs to be addressed.

"What we find," she adds, "is that we begin things and just keep building and adding to them. If you do the same thing over and over, it can get stale."

As Hendrick personnel have initiated efforts toward enhancing workplace engagement, Wade says, "we've also found that it's important to tie it all back together, to remind people of what we're doing: This is the plan, this is the progress we've made, and if it's not working, eliminate it."

Getting employees involved in improving their own morale and in creating ways to increase engagement is key, she emphasizes.

One of the ways the admissions department has recently tweaked its workplace initiatives, Wade notes, is to have the various work groups report directly to supervisors rather than be assigned on a department-wide basis.

"We wanted some personal accountability," she says. "What happens with a big group is that a lot of times it's a select group of people [doing the work]."

In one of the areas that reports directly to her, Wade adds, "the employees decided they want to revise the training process and make it a little more formal."

Another idea was to introduce new hires to the department in a more formal way, so those employees will interview their new colleagues and submit the information to the "Admit Alert" newsletter.

Keeping in mind that employee engagement is driven to a great extent by the person's relationship with his or her supervisor, Wade says, she meets quarterly with staff who report to her directly.

During these quarterly sessions, Wade says, she helps staff "figure out their personal goals and their expectations of me as a supervisor, instead of me doing all the talking." To assist her in that effort, she uses a tool called the "Four Keys Coaching Guide."

Some of the questions from the guide are:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you do best?
  • What do you enjoy most about your current role?
  • What do you want to accomplish in the next month… the next six months?
  • What do you expect of me this year?

"I especially like that last question," Wade says. "I've encouraged my supervisors to look at that tool, too."

Wade says she tries to meet with every employee in the department once a year. "My door is open always," she notes, but actually scheduling an appointment with each individual adds focus to that message.

(Editor's note: Susan Wade can be reached at