Building a culture of belonging in healthcare

Building a culture of belonging in healthcare

October 12, 2021
October 12, 2021

In the current healthcare environment, there is significant risk involved with the people who provide care. Burnout is endemic, related to the demands and stress related to caring for those with COVID-19. Problems with healthcare employee turnover and retention have gotten worse, to the point that they are a catastrophe. Older workers are retiring in increasing numbers, and others are leaving the healthcare profession at alarming rates. Changing the internal culture of a healthcare organization is a significant part of addressing this dilemma.

Investigate safety & belonging in the workplace

To understand why it matters for employees to feel safety and belonging in the workplace, it is essential to first understand the need for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in any organization. To start, there's really strong evidence that having a culture of safety and belonging leads to improved retention, reputation, performance, and profitability, as well as other improvements across the workforce. An example is a study from BetterUp, which found that workplace belonging can lead to the following estimated benefits:

  • 56% improvement in job performance
  • 50% reduction in turnover risk
  • 75% decrease in employee sick days

A related finding from the same study was that a single incidence of micro exclusion can lead to an immediate 25% decline in an individual's performance. Given the labor-challenged world we're living in now, especially in terms of staffing shortages, we really can't afford to lose staff to preventable turnover or unnecessary sick days.

Addressing workplace culture

According to a Deloitte study, 79% of organizations said that fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12 to 18 months, but only 13% are really ready to address the trend. In a similar Gartner study, 7 out of 10 employees said their organizations failed to promote inclusion. Even though 2020 has been an extraordinary year, especially in healthcare, it is nevertheless essential for organizations to pay attention to improving culture via belonging and inclusion, which can be a real driver of success.

To build a culture of safety and belonging, you first really need motivated people, and that's generally the challenge.  A lot of it is really just trying to figure out, "How do I motivate my people, both in leadership and in the frontline?" Safety and belonging truly require a dedicated and committed workforce. It can't just be seen as a human resource initiative and really has to involve everyone at the organization. The closer you get to the employee, the more success you'll have.

Focus on motivation

Motivation is based on how people are seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Whether developing new skills or embracing new ways to do their jobs, they are never standing still. If leaders pause to truly understand what motivates their people, they could find an incredible opportunity to shape their culture, and correspondingly, results.

Belonging is essential to humans, and on par with our need for love. Because the need to belong is both universal and fundamental, focusing on it has the power to draw in the entire workforce. In a world where very little is available to really bring us all together, that is very important. What creates belonging? Your team should feel comfortable at work, treated fairly, and respected by their colleagues. If your staff feels connected to the people they work with, and the team they are a part of, it can contribute to meaningful outcomes that impact the organization's culture.

Include staff in every culture creation process

In order for your entire team to feel represented, they must be included in the process to effect change. Try approaching this initiative from a bottom-up approach versus top-down to facilitate ways to involve your people by giving them a voice in the process. People are naturally motivated to want to help fix things, and they want to do it collaboratively. Rather than leaders needing to start putting action plans together, they need to acknowledge they don't know the experiences of all of the people involved. Instead, they should seek staff feedback and have employees help to create the environment they want to be in. Ask employees how they want their workplace to be and what their hopes are within their work.

Eleven suggestions for supporting a culture of belonging and safety

Here are multiple ways healthcare organizations can improve how employees feel about and engage with their workplaces.

  • Define and communicate what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean for your organization.
  • Establish what behaviors will not be tolerated and how to safely report incidents.
  • Check in with your team regularly.
  • Create a common organization vocabulary about mission, vision, and values.
  • Solicit feedback and ideas.
  • Promote team successes as voices for change.
  • Get team members involved in advancing culture.
  • Empower team members through education they can share.
  • Be transparent about communicating goals and KPIs and recognizing team contributions.
  • Get creative with team benefits.
  • Regularly pause to reflect on your culture and practices.

This blog post is based on the HealthStream webinar, Building a Culture of Safety & Belonging. In this webinar, Trisha Coady, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Workforce Development Solutions at HealthStream, discusses the importance and impact of building a culture of safety and belonging. Access the webinar recording to learn how to promote belonging, promote safety behaviors, and build a sustainable healthcare culture that optimizes retention and quality of care. Learn more about HealthStream solutions focused on workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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