It’s been seven years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In that time, someone new to the medical field could have started a career, earned a master’s degree, and be well on the way to a management position. All the while, the industry has reshaped itself around new rules and payment models while keeping pace with consistent innovation in treatments and technology.
Change is no longer a discrete event for health care employees. It’s an ongoing part of their work.
With the fate of the ACA still an open question, the 2017 Best Workplaces in Health Care offers some exceptional examples of organizations showing resilience in the face of so much uncertainty.
“At its core, this is about people,” says Paul Thallner, a partner at Great Place to Work, which released the Best Workplaces in Health Care list with Fortune. “Challenges from industry-wide changes aren’t resolved only with strategic plans and board meetings. They require buy-in at every organizational level to be effective. Supporting all employees in the right ways is essential whenever an organization reinvents the way it does business.”
Hospitals on the list have higher average HCAHPS scores, measuring patients are more likely to recommend them to friends—that’s no small feat in a sector undergoing widespread consolidation. The winners also outperform other Great Place to Work–Certified health care organizations on employee ratings of organizational transparency, team cohesion, and training offerings.
Consistent communication in times of change
Among 87,000 employees surveyed to rank the Best Workplaces in Health Care, those who say they’re consistently informed about important issues and changes are four times more likely to look forward to coming to work and twice as likely to give extra work and time as employees who aren’t kept in the loop. In other words, when companies are better at communication in times of change, employees are more productive and motivated.
The best health care workplaces ensure messages from management match what front-line team members actually hear. That means no more confusing games of “telephone.” At top-ranking workplace Texas Health Resources, senior leaders conduct regular “rounds” to check in with the departments implementing their plans. Face-to-face exchanges focus on work-related issues and inform how executives solve problems. Adds one THR employee: “The level of transparency our leaders endorse is unprecedented in our industry. Texas Health leaders share goals and plans, so every person knows why we do what we do and how we will get there.”
Building a safe and socially supportive environment
At the best health care workplaces, 93% of employees say their teams are friendly and welcoming to newcomers. Their coworkers are also more likely than those at peer companies to say they have an emotionally healthy work environment. In an industry known for high levels of burnout and emotionally taxing work, these results are telling.
One of the best ways to create positive relationships in a health care workforce is to unite people around the pride they share in their work. Even if daily demands and processes change on short notice, organizations can help keep morale up by encouraging social bonds and connecting workers to a bigger purpose.
“There is a sense of belonging to a ‘family’ when you work here,” says one employee at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Everyone is striving for the same mission, and everyone is happy to work here.”
Training employees to adapt
Outstanding workplaces develop the skills of their teams early and often. Surveyed health care employees who say they’re offered training opportunities are two times more likely than employees who aren’t given professional development to say they have a great workplace. They’re also twice as likely to say they want to stay with their organizations over the long term. A targeted focus on training can be key to better retaining health care staff.
The Best Workplaces look for ways to fit in training with the demands and time constraints of their employees. At Baptist Health South Florida, in-house instructional designers produce just-in-time educational resources. When employees said traditional classroom sessions weren’t meeting their needs, Baptist Health developed an e-learning system with professional coursework. At the same time, leaders continued to study hands-on training, job shadowing, stretch assignments, and job rotations to help team members explore their potential.
As Great Place to Work’s Thallner notes, staff in the compliance department (or billing or a clinical area) have to put new procedures into practice, and they are often a long way down the operational chain from executives making the decisions. A consistent message from the top—backed by robust professional development and a supportive environment—can ensure complex directives get implemented as planned. “Investments in people are the best hedge against uncertainty in an evolving industry,” he says. “When change is constant, success comes down to which teams are best prepared to adapt while sustaining a passion for their mission.”
Ed Frauenheim and Tabitha Russell are director of research and content, and certification program manager, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces lists, including the Best Workplaces in Health Care.