Guest Columns

Employee engagement: Bringing head and heart to every action, every day

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Editor's note: This is the third of three parts on employee engagement and the impact it has on leaders and staff. The first is here and the second is here.

My staffing holes were filled, my schedule was complete and I felt content that I was being a good manager. I shared with the charge nurse my inner joy about my achievement. She looked at the schedule and after a few minutes, mumbled, “Great — you have scheduled nothing but Refrigerator Nurses.”

“Refrigerator Nurses” is a well-understood label to those of us in the profession for nurses who pick up extra shifts to earn money. The perception is that they will do what is necessary but not much more. I never understood the resentment of the regular staff. I shrugged it off as envy of the so-called refrigerator nurses' ability to define their own work hours. 

As a manager, once I had staffing schedules filled, I felt I was doing a good job. Later, as I grew in my leadership capacity and depth, I gained a deeper understanding of the impact a lack of staff engagement was having on my organization and how labeling employees can impact culture and working relationships.

For a long time, employment relations have focused on employee satisfaction, or the measurement of “happiness” with current job and conditions. Employee satisfaction is important, but engagement is where leadership must focus their efforts.

“Employee Engagement” measures the employee's emotional commitment to an organization. It takes into account the amount of discretionary effort an employee is willing to expend. Remember the charge nurse who was not excited about my approach to scheduling? She understood that there was a minimal level of engagement by who was scheduled. She worried about the impact it would have on patient safety and quality outcomes. She was ahead of her time. As the research now shows, there is direct correlation of employee engagement to outcomes and precision performance. 

What can a leader do to advance employee engagement? Think about getting grounded back into the foundations your organization is based upon. Employees want to be inspired to do their best work. I call these “Muse Moments.” Inspiration can come through connecting employees to the mission, vision and values of the organization.  Leaders can use storytelling to connect employees to the vision, and also the envisioned future is another action that leaders need to develop for advancing employee engagement. In looking to generational workforces, the number one driver for millennials is the need to believe in the organization's mission, just as it is for baby boomers, X's and Y's. 

The Human Spirit Must Be Inspired To Generate Energy — I call it “Engagement of the Heart.”

Willing To Exceed Expected Level of Effort — I call it “Engagement of the Head.” 

Employees look for clear expectations of performance and advancement. They also look for recognition and acknowledgement in an authentic manner. What does authentic mean? It means being real or not superficial.

Watch for the types of behaviors you want to see in your organization. Instead of just saying thank you for a good job, describing the positive behaviors seen in an employee will help grow a culture of excellence. Then follow up your verbal appreciation with a handwritten note, mailed to their home. You want to enforce the right actions instead of focusing on the wrong ones. Remember that excellence inspires others to commit to a similar action. 

Bringing engagement of head and heart together creates personal motivation that helps organizations succeed. Organizational success is about relationships, not rugged individualism. In today's environment, employee engagement is truly the secret sauce for the future.

Martie Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ, is the chief nursing officer at Medline Industries Inc. and a corporate advisory council member for the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.