Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

Continuing our series on employee engagement, I’ll share another attribute of engagement… meaningful connectedness. Human beings have a deep-rooted need to belong, and to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Our brains are hard-wired for sociability and solidarity.

In the past, our extended families, neighborhood or church communities often met these needs, but now you may not even know your neighbors! Society, in general, has become more isolated. This makes the workplace a natural place to find a feeling of community.

Your opportunity as a manager is to find ways to connect your staff to the organization’s purpose and to each other. There is something very special about being a part of a cohesive team that is doing significant and meaningful work. Reinforcing the fact that employees are helping vulnerable patients recover from an illness or injury, and/or that they are enhancing the quality of life of a frail resident gives employees a sense of connection and meaning.

Reinforcing an emotional commitment among and between team members strengthens trust and teamwork. Employees who experience a sense of camaraderie feel connected to their co-workers and are more likely to put effort into making their team successful. An attitude of “all for one, one for all” permeates the environment.

Contrast this with employees who feel isolated or alienated from the people they work with. This experience feels lonely and disheartening and promotes an “every person for themselves” mentality.

I was recently invited to attend a meeting of the management team in a skilled care facility. The administrator opened the meeting with introductions and asked each of her team members to share their name, their role, and how long they had been with the facility. Following each introduction, the administrator made a personal comment about each of her team members, indicating with pride her appreciation for the unique capabilities of each person.

  • “Sue (Activities Director) has put extraordinary energy into developing a very fun and creative life enrichment program. Our residents love the programs and really appreciate the variety of activities!”
  • “Pam (DON) was promoted into her role four years ago. She had been the day supervisor and demonstrated such great leadership. We were thrilled when she accepted the promotion to DON!”

Not surprisingly, her team had been with the facility (and with that administrator) for several years, and you could tell that their trust and respect for each other, and their cohesiveness, was strong and enduring. The great news for them is that the cohesiveness and engagement of the management team cascades to employees. 

Gallup research indicates that when senior leaders are highly engaged, the organization’s managers are 39% more engaged. And when those managers are highly engaged, their employees are 59% more likely to be engaged.

If you want to create a caring and connected environment for the patients and residents you serve, create that same environment for your employees. Here are four ways to build trusting relationships and a feeling of camaraderie in your facility.

  • Recognize that chit-chat among co-workers, in which they share non-work related aspects of themselves, is not necessarily a waste of time. This social conversation allows people to get to know each other personally and opens the door to trust. Of course, you want to make sure your team stays productive, but appreciate that this type of casual conversation helps employees connect on a more personal level.

  • Provide some easy, fun, interesting ways for people to learn about each other. You may want to use a staff meeting or daily huddle to facilitate a short game that helps co-workers get to know each other better in a safe way. For example, as part of your meeting, ask each person to answer a “get to know you” question such as:

    • What is one of the best memories from your childhood?

    • What makes you wildly happy?

    • What type of music do you like the best?

    • What is your favorite movie?

When people find common interests and connections, barriers come down, and trust finds its roots.

  • Communicate how both individually and collectively your team makes a difference to the patients and residents you serve. Help employees see how team cohesiveness impacts the experience of patients and residents and ultimately impacts the goals of the organization. As a team answer the questions, “Why are we here?” and “What can we accomplish together?”

  • Set an example. When employees are having a challenging day (snow storm causing a staff shortage, state surveyors in the building, high volume of admissions, several events occurring), take on an “all hands on deck” attitude. Management team members are out on the floor, lending a hand and supporting staff in any way they can.

When you routinely and consistently make an effort to build strong and healthy relationships among and between your employees, you create a team of people who feel proud to be a part or your unit, department and organization. Camaraderie and meaningful connectedness contributes to a culture of engagement.

“At the end of the day, humans are social animals and we are at our best when we get to do things with others who appreciate and enjoy what we enjoy. It’s what keeps us human.” – Simon Sinek

Next month, we will continue our series with some thoughts on another key attribute of a culture of engagement: Visible integrity.

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.