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What Healthcare Leaders Need Do to Prevent Quiet Quitting and Drive Engagement

We’ve all heard the saying, “silence is golden.” In the context of the healthcare workforce, however, silence is often an early warning signal of poor employee engagement. 

While worker disengagement is nothing new, the topic is gaining more attention thanks to social media. “Quiet quitting,” a term used to describe the phenomenon of employees doing the work to meet their job requirements but not going above and beyond what’s expected, has gone viral on social platforms, and it’s no wonder. These so-called “quiet quitters” account for at least 50% of U.S. workers, Gallup finds, and healthcare in particular has seen the biggest drop in employee engagement, falling by nine points from early 2021 to early 2022. 

Many employees in the healthcare industry have reached a breaking point as a result of the pandemic and the Great Resignation. Team members are choosing to “quiet quit” as an effort to focus on a better work life balance and decrease burnout. Huron Consulting Group conducted a study of healthcare workers to compare what employers think employees want with what employees actually say they want, and these researchers found that nurses in particular want greater flexibility with their schedules, to feel valued, to be formally recognized and to have professional growth opportunities. 

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In the absence of these drivers of retention and satisfaction, the trend of quiet quitting shows that workers are pushing back on extra demands, such as working longer hours and picking up extra shifts. This is happening at a time when vacancy and turnover rates are at the highest they have been in 15 years. Up against staffing shortages, turnover and labor strikes, healthcare organizations can’t afford for their teams to stay silent. Between fewer personnel on hand to meet rising demand for services and growing employee disengagement, the potential effects are dire both in terms of patient outcomes and long-term business survival.

With this in mind, here’s what healthcare leaders can do to address quiet quitting: 

Engage in active listening by collecting real-time employee feedback, ideas and signals

It’s impossible for organizations to know what’s going on in the minds of their employees if they don’t take the time to ask employees about their experience and monitor changes in engagement. This can be as simple as asking, “What can we do to better support you?” or “How full is your workload?” Leaders that don’t build trust with their employees on a regular basis run the risk of being in the dark about what’s causing employee turnover and driving quiet quitting. 

By actively collecting feedback, ideas and insights about the employee experience, leaders can get a real-time pulse about how employees feel in the moment and unlock ideas for how to improve engagement going forward. Researchers at the Medallia Institute studied what happens when organizations lack formal employee experience programs and they found that only 28% of frontline workers whose companies don’t ask for feedback would recommend the company as a great place to work.

Additionally, leaders should give employees plenty of ways to share their experiences and ideas. This can be achieved through many mediums, such as when rounding, during a verbal open forum, on a whiteboard in a shared workspace, through a digital employee crowdsourcing platform, via a QR code at the time clock that team members can scan at any time or through text and video-based surveys via SMS or email. It’s important to consider team members’ preferred methods of communication to increase participation. 

Employers should also keep an eye on what’s not being said, but what’s being done. For instance, paying attention to changes in PTO usage can help leaders track and predict turnover. Healthcare leaders should also take a closer look at employee hours logged. Are shifts taking longer to wrap up on a consistent basis? Can anything be done to address operational inefficiencies so more team members can get off the clock and have more time back in their days? Beyond this, it’s also key to keep track of employees’ willingness to take on extra shifts, join employee committees and take part in community outreach or volunteer activities — all of which are indicators of engagement. 

Create an intentionally visible environment to foster open, authentic communication and close the loop with employees

As healthcare organizations begin gathering employee feedback, leaders must then be transparent about what’s being said and close the loop with employees about any action the organization plans to take as a result. To do this, leaders should invest in tools that increase transparency and communication, such as mobile devices to monitor videos and comments in near real-time. This will enable them to easily share what employees are saying, what the top topics and themes are at the organization and department level as well as what the next steps are. 

Intentionally communicate with the team to relay that their voices have been heard and actions are underway to address any concerns. Even if an issue cannot be fixed immediately, it’s critical to communicate that t things are a work in progress. Closing the loop with employees in this manner will foster open dialogue and a greater willingness among team members to share more ideas and feedback in the future.

As part of the same Medallia Institute study, researchers found that when companies ask for feedback, but don’t take action on the feedback, only 25% of frontline workers say they would recommend the organization as a great place to work. Meanwhile 80% of workers whose companies ask for employee feedback and then act on that feedback say they would recommend the company as a great place to work.

Use coworker, patient and caregiver feedback to demonstrate gratitude, offer praise and increase engagement

Sharing positive feedback from fellow colleagues, patients and caregivers that recognize a specific employee or team can help boost morale and demonstrate the value of the work that they  are doing. This can be as simple as a shoutout to a staff member or team via text message or email, via a display in a public space, or even on the company’s social media channels. Healthcare organizations may even consider using video feedback to encourage team members to recognize their colleagues via a quick video submission. These short clips can be shared internally throughout the organization to lift employees up. 

Final thoughts

Now more than ever, the call to action is clear for leaders: it’s up to them to create the type of environment where teams thrive. Creating this environment is a journey and will require prioritization, intentionality and consistency.

By strengthening relationships with employees, fostering trust, open communication and gratitude, healthcare leaders stand a greater chance of minimizing quiet quitting. These factors are foundational to increasing engagement, decreasing turnover, boosting productivity, nurturing high functioning teams, improving outcomes and achieving long-term success. 

Toni Land is Head of Clinical Healthcare Experience at Medallia.

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