The first thing most healthcare administrators think about when considering the current physician shortage is, “How are we going to recruit to fill vacancies?” That is certainly a valid question, but it is one that needs to be asked in tandem with, “How are we going to retain the physicians we already have?” According to Gallup research, workplace culture is one of the leading drivers of physician retention, and healthcare organizations that ignore that fact are setting themselves up for a steady stream of physician vacancies.
Over the past several decades, physicians graduating from medical school are increasingly diverse and come from a wide range of ethnicities, religions, and world views. This level of diversity in our healthcare system is an achievement. But a diverse workplace doesn’t necessarily mean an inclusive one, and that is an important distinction. An inclusive environment is supported by a workplace culture where the collective group of employees all feel welcomed, valued, and included. With the role that culture plays in retention, let’s review some strategies that will contribute to a more inclusive work environment.
Instill a top-down approach.
In healthcare organizations where the executives and other higher-level administrators are too far removed from what is happening in the trenches, there is no way of gaining a full appreciation of the actual workplace culture that exists. A prime example of this was illustrated in the results of a study conducted by Jackson Physician Search, where significant differences were found in how executives and physicians rated their workplace culture. For example, in response to a statement about physicians always being treated with respect, only 48% of physicians agreed versus 78% of the executives. Administrators and other leaders have to be personally invested in fostering a culture of inclusion and engagement in their organization.
It’s more than a one-hour sensitivity training.
Healthcare organizations that do not conduct periodic sensitivity, diversity, or other bias-related training sessions are less likely to have an inclusive workplace environment. But these types of training sessions are only part of the solution. Utilizing a one-hour training class to check a box is not getting it done. As alluded to with our top-down approach, sensitivity, and other training sessions have to be used to develop proactive, actionable items that can be implemented throughout the organization. The classes are a tool to help educate leadership and staff at all levels about behaviors that are inappropriate. A proactive result from the training might include a mechanism for reporting bias or a strategy for how to deal with employees who exhibit harmful behavior. Another way a healthcare organization can demonstrate a true commitment to inclusion would be in the formation of an employee-driven inclusion committee. Most likely, your organization has a celebrations committee, forming one that is dedicated to driving a more inclusive workplace is a strong first step.
Give everyone a voice.
If you don’t have a clear picture of what type of culture exists in your workplace, it is important to find out before it is too late. A Mayo Clinic study on physician burnout and well-being cited workplace culture as a major factor in physicians leaving to find a better opportunity. Creating an environment where all staff is encouraged to respond to workplace surveys or participate in focus groups is the only true way to understand workplace culture. It is critical for healthcare administrators to think about the type of culture that will keep staff engaged, drive them to better performance, and support the organizational brand. A few keys for managing this include:
- Conduct a full audit or assessment to gain a data-driven measure of the environment.
- Identify gaps regarding inclusiveness and bias.
- Collect, measure, and report on the data.
- Develop strategies and set goals, and publish them.
- Communicate why you want an inclusive culture and how it impacts the bottom line.
Celebrate Your Diversity.
We have already suggested the formation of an inclusion committee, but even if you aren’t prepared to take that step, you can still celebrate the diversity within your workplace. It is important to remember that it is as much about celebrating and recognizing diversity as it is about removing bias. From creating breast pumping rooms to having meditation or prayer rooms, employing physicians and other staff from such diverse backgrounds means that unique solutions are needed. Another strategy to combat unintentional bias is with a more creative pot luck program. Let’s face it, your hospital or health system has regular pot luck luncheons, we all do. These informal gatherings provide the perfect opportunity to center them around a different ethnic or cultural background. Encourage your teams to discover new recipes and post fun cultural facts that will help everyone to appreciate and gain a better understanding of varying cultures.
Most healthcare organizations have some form of gratitude program. Is it effective? How many of your physicians make an effort to formally recognize others? A well-constructed and properly intentioned gratitude program is one that encourages anyone to recognize anyone else at any time. Whether it is a patient recognizing their doctor or nurse, a doctor recognizing maintenance staff, or a nurse highlighting a security guard, gratitude should always be more than a “program.” Having a culture that fosters the expression of gratitude can be a powerful part of a healthy workplace environment. It is also a means to understand and eliminate unconscious bias that may exist by learning who is being recognized and how often. Wouldn’t it be helpful to learn which departments are engaged with the recognition program and which aren’t? Or if physicians were being recognized by staff, but they weren’t reciprocating that appreciation in return. Using these tools to identify gaps and taking actions to address them is a valuable exercise in developing a healthier workplace.
If you need help finding ways to recruit and retain physicians for your vacancies, partner with a firm that was founded on decades of healthcare industry success. Contact the professionals at Jackson Physician Search today.