The healthcare industry’s workplace culture these days is a lot like a sick hospital patient who faces a seemingly simple choice: follow a treatment plan laid out for her and achieve a healthy recovery, or keep up the harmful patterns that landed her in the hospital in the first place and watch as symptoms worsen. For the healthcare industry, the choice is between the possibility of embracing the change being demanded by employees and evolving accordingly, or of struggling to maintain hierarchies and efficiencies to the detriment of healthcare workers and patients alike.

Some level of change has become inevitable for the healthcare industry. One of the biggest drivers is the shift from fee-based to value-based services, which means that patients have to report satisfaction and show measurable improvement for their healthcare providers to be paid. The move from a sometimes-transactional mindset to an outcomes-focused one could—and, in my opinion, absolutely should—lead to a just-as-significant transformation in the healthcare industry’s workplace culture itself. Add to that the generational turnover that healthcare is currently experiencing, and you have a rare opportunity on your hands to rethink central assumptions about what the healthcare industry’s workplaces look like. The 2016 OPEN MINDS Executive Compensation & Retention Survey reported that more than a third of all health and human service executives (including managers, directors, and C-suite executives) plan to leave their organization within the next five years. In most cases, this is because they’re retiring.

Moving into many of the open roles created by the shakeup are millennials, the generational cohort whose members fall between 18 and 34 years of age and who outnumber Baby Boomers. Millennials have already begun to change the healthcare workplace with a perspective on work that differs in some sharp ways from that of their elders. As the inevitable turnover continues over the next five years and beyond, it’s crucial that the changing healthcare industry embrace them.

For one thing, millennials have made it clear that they require more than a decent salary to feel satisfied in the workplace. They want the organizations they work for to be more mission-driven than profit-focused. The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 revealed that nearly nine in ten millennials believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” In addition to a higher purpose, young employees want a workplace that values work-life balance, and one that strives to protect against an issue faced by almost anyone who has worked in healthcare: burnout. The Deloitte survey also found that two-thirds of millennials hope to leave their current companies by 2020, and many of them cite an inadequate work-life balance as the reason.

I believe these young people are on to something. For too long, healthcare workplaces have been built around the priorities of efficiency and attention to hierarchies, a system leading to overly taxed healthcare providers and patients who haven’t always received the best possible care. The move to a value-based fee structure demands that we do things differently.

There are real, specific changes we can start instituting in the workplace to encourage the evolution that wants to take place in the healthcare industry, if we just allow it to. Here are a few ideas to get us started:

Take the time to articulate an organizational mission statement, and make sure employees hear it often. This doesn’t just apply to millennials. Almost all employees feel more loyalty to and derive more satisfaction from a job when the higher-ups are communicating a mission tied in to the greater good. More importantly, employees need to buy in to and believe in the stated mission.

Encourage better work-life balance. Take just one specific healthcare example: People who work as counselors become mentally and emotionally depleted when they’re doing their work well. These are people in need of some “me-time” – even if the personality type that gravitates to the counselor role doesn’t tend to take it. We need to promote and allow for self-compassion in an industry where the focus is typically all on others’ mental and physical welfare. To keep employees happy and healthy, employers should offer perks like flexible schedules, parental leave, and dedicated personal time. For example, Southwest Airlines offers its employees one day per month of paid leave to do with as they please. These gestures could make a huge difference in the well-being of people charged with so many others’ well-being.

Make employees feel recognized and appreciated. It’s basic human nature to feel motivated by positive reinforcement and recognition for a job well done. Even though it may not be expected, hardworking employees want to feel like the dedication and passion that they are devoting to their job is being noticed. They will often respond to something as small as a certificate of recognition, gift card, or even words of appreciate that encourage the continuation of their performance and commitment to their patients.

Get serious about a company wellness program. If the goal is healthier patients, one of the means has to be healthier employees. Implementing health and wellness programs can bring about a multitude of benefits for employees and employers alike. For example, one company that I know of offered all of their employees free Fitbits to wear. Not only this, but they also provided employees with $150 to purchase tennis shoes as an incentive to continue with their wellness program. On the whole, they lost weight and were as a result happier and healthier workers. Are you seeing a pattern? Small perks can make a big difference. It’s important to encourage employees to take time for their own well-being. After all, if we can’t allow employees to take proper care of their own health, how can we expect them to take care of their patients?

Dr. Wendy Boring-Bray is an Assistant Director and professor of behavioral health at the Cummings Graduate Institute for Behavioral Health Studies

About the Author

Dr. Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Wendy Boring-Bray is the assistant director of the Doctor of Behavioral Health program at the Cummings Graduate Institute for Behavioral Health Studies.

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