Physicians Leading | Leading Physicians

Becoming an Employer of Choice

Article · September 12, 2017

I’m a mom of two kids in elementary school. I’m a wife. I’m a friend. And, I’m an executive, a board member, and a constantly active member of my community. How do I juggle, for example, the different yet equally important goals of helping my daughter learn how to spell and helping my colleagues accomplish our organization’s objectives?

I don’t need to tell you that it’s not easy. But I have help—as do the 20,000 team members at WellStar Health System.

For the past nine years, WellStar has been on a journey to become an employer of choice.  By caring for our people, we actively improve the care we provide and improve the health of our community. This has led WellStar to be recognized as a great place to work by Fortune Magazine, Working Mother magazine, the National Association for Female Executives, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and many more.

Gallup research and other workplace studies have shown that organizations with high employee engagement levels have lower turnover, lower absenteeism, and fewer accidents and patient safety incidents. We’ve learned that when a clinical team focuses on improving its employee engagement scores, patient and physician satisfaction scores also improve. That’s the holy grail in today’s health care landscape.  It’s the right thing to do.

At WellStar, 83% of our workforce is composed of women—many of them in critical patient care roles, which are in high demand across the country. If we want to keep this skilled and experienced workforce in place for our patients, we must create an environment that breeds trust and engagement.

To do so, we needed a strategy to foster trust and engagement. We are blessed to have strong HR leadership, which put forth the business case for our engagement strategy. We knew that by becoming a great place to work, we could differentiate ourselves in the market.

Assessing Employee Engagement

To start the process, we benchmarked ourselves against other companies—not only in health care, but across other industries.  Results of our first employee engagement survey showed tremendous room for improvement. In 2007, WellStar ranked in the 15th percentile for employee engagement. This served as a great learning experience and provided tangible areas for development. By 2013, WellStar was in the 97th percentile.


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Achieving a specific score or award was not the goal. What was—and continues to be—important is what our scores represent: a strong connection by team members to their workplace and commitment to their profession.

This success can involve removing, as much as possible, mental and emotional distractions from the workplace. To that end, we now offer employees on-site day care and back-up care for team members whose regular child care or family care arrangements have fallen through at the last minute; a concierge service to help with daily errands, such as dry cleaning, car maintenance, and even grocery shopping; and an internal health program called the Center for Best Health, which offers a comprehensive approach to controlling weight, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol, all under the supervision of a physician.

Career development is another component of creating an engaged workforce. At WellStar, we look to provide growth opportunities and career paths. In nursing, we have created a fellowship program encouraging outstanding nurses to stay and build a career within the organization. The fellowship provides education and training, typically eight to 16 weeks, to help nurses transition from one area of specialty to another. For example, a critical care nurse might want a career in emergency medicine, which requires a different set of competencies, skills, and critical thinking. The fellowship typically leads to a nationally recognized certification.

Leadership development programs are another way that we foster engagement. We are seeing team members grow their skillsets and progress up through the leadership structure. Last year, 70% of our leadership openings were filled by internal hires. At the assistant manager level, which for many is the first step into leadership, we proudly had 92% of hires from internal candidates. Not only are we able to maintain a high level of institutional knowledge in the organization, but we demonstrated trust in the team and career advancement potential.

Reaching for the Quadruple Aim

These initiatives not only improve our employee engagement survey scores, they are a critical part of the Quadruple Aim of health care—adding the clinician experience to improved patient experience, better health outcomes, and lower cost of care. We look to strike a balance between work life and personal life, but beyond that, we are going a step further to actively help team members be successful at work and home. Ultimately, our ability to recruit and retain top talent will have a direct impact on the quality of the patient care we provide. With an increased emphasis on value-based care, improved quality can have a direct impact on the bottom line. By doing what is right for our team, we also create benefit for our system and its patients, as well as increase our ability to reinvest in our communities.

Getting buy-in from all levels of the organization is key. At WellStar, we are lucky to have a Board of Trustees that sets forth a clear vision of excellence. Senior leadership understood the importance of creating a culture focused of employee wellness and engagement. We made our engagement initiatives an integral part of our messaging for internal and external audiences. By demonstrating WellStar’s commitment to its team, we are not only recruiting and retaining top talent, but ultimately improving our ability to provide better health care to our patients and community.

With so much change and uncertainty in health care, it would be easy to focus our efforts elsewhere and put off implementing many of these initiatives, but we see it as an investment in our people—and therefore as an investment in our community.

These efforts are having measurable effects on our culture, team member engagement—including for me—and retention. Creating a great place to work—especially for women—is not a luxury.  It’s an imperative for our patients.

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