Why Physicians Should Care about Employee Engagement

Many physicians are overworked.  Nearly 50% report signs of burnout.  But I’m going to suggest that we add something important to the growing list of skills and tasks we expect of them.  Fortunately, it’s not a heavy lift and it can help them achieve their goals.

For several years, organizations have been focused on employee engagement.  Generally, though, it’s not been a discussion that’s involved physicians.  Physicians, in fact, are their own target of system “engagement” efforts.  In our experience, physicians, by and large, have not been too impressed by, or involved with, either effort.

If physicians are wondering why they should care about employee engagement, consider the following:

  • When staff feel like they are valued and part of a team with shared values, they are more engaged and dedicated to their work, and to the organization.
  • Every physician is a leader.  Even without a title, the entire staff sees the physician as a leader.
  • As such, everything physicians say or do, impacts how staff feel about the organization’s mission, commitment to patients, to them and to the culture.
  • If physicians are concerned about quality of care, coordination of care, and the best patient experience, they need to realize that when people are engaged, they are more effective  – at supporting the physician and at meeting the needs of patients.  Culture matters.  Communication matters.  Employee engagement matters.
  • It should be part of every physician’s job description to support efforts to make sure employees feel valued – because it’s better for patients.  What is more important than attracting, retaining and developing people – other physicians, APCs, nurses, and staff?

Of course –  First and foremost, physicians need to be outstanding clinicians.  If we think about things more holistically, though, physicians need to learn how to support people, how to lead, how to be a good team member – to communicate effectively, to demonstrate emotional intelligence and compassion – not just toward patients, but toward colleagues, and staff, too.

Some physicians will respond to this idea by asserting that people should just be focused on doing their job well and ensuring good quality outcomes – that this entire discussion is designed to make people feel better about themselves and about being “nice” – when all that matters is the quality of care we provide.

What these physicians fail to realize, though, is that better teams, better cultures, better communication, an engaged, passionate workforce – all mean better care and mean that the organization, and the physicians, can achieve their goals. 

Robert Crossey is a primary care physician and President of Premier Medical Associates, the largest multi-specialty group in Western Pennsylvania.  The group routinely achieves high scores for quality, patient experience, and employee engagement. 

I asked him how his group thinks about staff engagement.  “Physicians are trained to function as independent professionals – thinking primarily about themselves and their patients.  Healthcare today, though, is driven by teams and high functioning teams improve quality, the patient experience, staff engagement and retention – and allow a physician to achieve his or her goals, and to have a long and rewarding career.”

Robert Crossey, D.O.
President Premier Medical Associates

He added, “This is even more important today as the group adapts to new care delivery models and technology.  Providers are under more pressure.  High-functioning teams of engaged people make it easier to overcome these challenges and, honestly, just make for a more pleasant, rewarding work environment for everyone – including physicians.”

“Any change is impossible without physician buy-in.  Physicians can be naturally skeptical of change. They are, rightfully, protective of their time and worried about how any initiative will impact their ability to provide good care, have work-life balance, and of course, their compensation.  So, it’s critical to engage physicians early on in any initiative and teach them that employee engagement is in their best interests and only takes a little learning and a little effort.”

It’s not hard for physicians to support staff engagement efforts.  It doesn’t take a lot of time or work.

For example:

  • Sincerely thank staff for doing their job well.  It’s not expected but makes a real difference.
  • Ask for input from staff on what everyone can do to improve the patient experience or practice processes.
  • Support front line managers – they have difficult jobs.
  • Learn to use different leadership styles for different situations.
  • Show up at staff meetings and be supportive.  Just seeing the physician in the room conveys the message that staff are valued.
  • Learn solid, productive, team communication and conflict management techniques.
  • Demonstrate leadership. Don’t tolerate physician or staff behaviors that are counter-productive.  This is a hard one for physicians, who rarely have experience handling behavioral issues.

Dr. Crossey added, “When we interview physicians, we are looking for certain cultural attributes – for people who want to be part of a team and value the contributions of staff.  Some physicians struggle because they’ve never really developed these skills.  When that’s the case, we coach them.  We model the right approach and talk about these issues.  We don’t ignore them. Over the years, there have been a handful of physicians who didn’t get it and we know it’s better for us in the long run for those people to find another place to practice. Culture matters that much to us because it supports our ability to achieve our goals.”

Medical schools and residency programs have limited time to work on professionalism, teamwork and communication skills, but they are, indeed, ACGME competency requirements.  Few physicians leave their training with the type of approach or skills that Dr. Crossey is discussing. 

These skills are important enough, though, that practices and health systems, need to commit resources to helping, particularly, younger physicians, to develop them – the investment will not only improve engagement scores but give an organization the best chance to achieve its goals.

To learn more about how J3Personica works with physicians and physician leaders to improve performance and career success, visit our website www.j3personica.com