Engagement – The Key to Improving Healthcare Performance

October 13, 2017

For decades, people interested in improving healthcare organizations have focused on putting problem employees into “performance improvement” plans.  The traditional approach has held leaders responsible for poor performing employees and provided remedial training in how to hold their employees accountable.  However, a quick review of the Gallup longitudinal data demonstrates that these approaches have not had a significant impact on employee engagement or organization performance.

In a 2016 white paper “The American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders,” Gallup reports that employee engagement has not changed substantially since they started measuring it nearly 15 years ago.

Gallup reported that 52 percent of American workers described themselves as “not engaged” – emotionally disconnected from their workplaces.  These employees no longer cared about the organization’s mission or their leader’s goals.  That attitude translated into minimal motivation, disengagement from coworkers and customers, and lackluster performance.  People in this group described living lives of “quiet desperation.” Disengaged workers were “clock watchers” who doing the minimum to get by until quitting time. They were missing key ingredients essential for flourishing, such as finding ways to have meaningful engagement in their work and enjoying the positive emotions that come from significant accomplishments.

Here is the truly disturbing data. Another 18 percent of workers admitted to being “actively disengaged”, which, according to Gallup, means that they are “more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.” This segment of the population is suffering from – and spreading – some serious unhappiness in life.

On the other hand, Positive Psychology studies have shown that engaging employees in the process of learning how to create a more positive and productive life is an effective strategy for improving workplace performance.

The six PROPEL Principles use a different methodology, which has produced some big improvements. Research has revealed it is far more effective to engage employees, as well as leaders, in the change process.  But not any employee, at least not in the beginning.  PROPEL studies show that the best way to change the culture and performance on a unit is to create a “tipping point.”

Consider the impact on the climate of a unit with a few BMWs (Blamers, Moaners, and Whiners).  When a BMW starts spewing forth negativity by pointing out what is wrong, who is to blame, and why it will never change, everyone on the unit can quickly become deflated and discouraged.  Even when the manager or others attempt to curtail the negative comments, the atmosphere on the unit has already been poisoned.

If a few “actively disengaged” employees can have that kind of impact, then doesn’t it seem possible that a group of positive people could affect the opposite outcome?

Bringing the most highly engaged staff together and teaching them to use Positive Psychology strategies creates a team capable of getting the people in the middle 50 percent to join forces with them.  As the middle group begins to experience the benefits of a positive working environment, a tipping point is achieved.  The case studies in the chapters that follow show how this shift in numbers allows staff to make high performance possible.  PROPEL Teams are able to generate a wellspring of innovative ideas, abundant energy for implementing them and ample amounts of resilience for overcoming setbacks.

Learning to use the PROPEL enables people to harness the power of Positive Psychology. By translating the scientific findings into a series of specific steps, healthcare professionals can win the trifecta: high staff engagement, excellent patient care, and cost containment. Here are a few real-life examples:

  • Staff turnover dropped 80%
  • Staff callout and FMLA decreased 75%
  • Wait times for chemotherapy infusion reduced 6 hours
  • Pediatric MRI scheduling driven down from 14 weeks to 10 days
  • Bone marrow transplants increased by 50%
  • ED diversion due to psychiatric patient boarding virtually eliminated
  • Patient fall rate cut by 70%
  • Use of agency & traveler nurses abolished
  • Patient satisfaction up by 50%


Dr. Tom Muha is the Director of the PROPEL Institute and author of PROPEL to Quality Healthcare: Six Steps to Improve Patient Care, Staff Engagement and the Bottom Line.

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As the science of optimal human functioning has emerged, Dr. Muha has become a leading practitioner of positive psychology. He has been at the forefront in the study of how people involved in healthcare systems can achieve the highest levels of success and satisfaction. The PROPEL Principles empower healthcare professionals to apply six positive psychology principles – Passion, Relationships, Optimism, Proactivity, Energy, and Legacy – to overcome challenges and achieve remarkable results.

For more information regarding Speaking, Coaching or Consulting Services:

Website: www.PROPELinstitute.com

Contact: drtommuha@PROPELinstitute.com


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