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5 ways to make a healthcare company culture better and why it matters

Talent — finding it, attracting it, acquiring it, and retaining it — is commonly cited as a top concern by healthcare executives. As the U.S. unemployment rate continues to fall, the availability of skilled healthcare workers remains limited, and competition for universally relevant skills (e.g., data analytics) is stiff.

In their search for answers, healthcare organizations overlook the one factor completely within their control and already proven to deliver talent and business performance: culture.

A new survey shows that workplace culture has a significant impact on employee commitment, job performance and their organization’s success. The survey insights are especially important given that U.S. labor statistics show a record “tightness” in the healthcare jobs market that impacts both employees and employers.

In the healthcare industry, it’s been a job seeker’s market for years, and executives are rightly deeply concerned about retaining employees. Losing top talent leads to financial losses and declining employee morale. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, it costs up to 60 percent of employees’ annual salary to replace them if they leave and high turnover rates both lowers efficiency and productivity as well as negatively impacting morale—which drives more turnover.

The result of employee disenchantment is especially acute in healthcare where the connection to mission is strong and the employee-to-consumer connection is human-centered. In this setting, employee morale – so closely tied to workplace culture – has a decided impact on a company’s bottom line. According to a Great Place to Work report, companies with great cultures have three times better stock market performance than those that do not.

Our survey on the state of organizational culture in the American workplace, from the worker perspective, shows that employees recognize the tangible impact of workplace culture and a sizable majority (63 percent) say it directly impacts their organization’s success.

So what can healthcare companies do to get the morale of their “work family” in order for both the benefit of their people and their business?

Our survey results show that five elements of culture matter most:

Core values
Organizational core values are not rules, but rather, set the foundation for behaviors across an organization. For core values to truly express the organizational DNA, they must be embraced and embodied by everyone. Many employees do not even know if their organization has core values, possibly because values are often not infused into the environment. Disconnects between what individuals value and what organizations value provide fuel for cultural mismatches, which can create organization-wide collateral damage.

Employees take their cue from leadership when it comes to culture and core values. Leaders are – or should be – visible champions of workplace culture, setting the tone, modeling the behaviors and encouraging engagement. Our survey signals a trust gap between employees and the C-suite—a red flag for culture. Yet a full 70 percent of respondents say they trust their direct supervisor, possibly because they typically know them well. Regardless of the size of a company, lack of trust in the people who embody the culture can become a lack of trust in the culture and organization itself.

If core values and leadership are the enablers of workplace culture, relationships are the experience of it. Group dynamic means everything and fortunately nearly three-quarters of our survey respondents say they trust their colleagues. Respondents most commonly pointed to teamwork and collaboration, followed by respect and trust, and excellence and quality as the most active parts of their organizational culture. With peer relationships being such valuable cultural currency, it makes good business sense to put structures in place to make them even stronger.

Authenticity — or how people feel in their own skin at work as a result of the workplace culture – is more of an internal barometer of culture. Respondents’ views of authenticity are overwhelmingly positive, with 79 percent saying they feel comfortable being themselves at work. But only one in four strongly agrees that how their organization advertises itself reflects their experience. It could be that leadership is out of touch with what makes the workplace great, or decision-makers could be projecting a specific image to differentiate the organization from competitors or to compensate for aspects of the culture they view as weaknesses.

This is the end game of a strong workplace culture, at least from the employee perspective. It is a good measure of people’s overall view of their experience at work, in terms of their happiness, engagement and commitment. The employees we surveyed are largely satisfied at work, with 58 percent saying they would stay at their organization even if offered a similar position elsewhere. However, when employees report being happy at work, that number jumps to 72 percent. In contrast, only 11 percent of those who say they are not happy would stay in the same situation.

Investing in workplace culture makes sound business sense in the healthcare industry. To gain lasting return on investment (ROI) in culture, organizations must not only maintain a pulse on it, and also course correct regularly. By assessing and measuring culture within the context of this five pillar framework, healthcare organizations can consider critical questions to prioritize their culture investments, and get the actionable insights they need to move the needle on culture—and on their future success.