Hospital employees hate their jobs

So, here’s some not-so-great news from the hospital/employee relationship world.  Forty-five percent hospital employees aren’t happy with their jobs, or at least don’t really feel connected to them, according to a new study by Press Ganey.

And here’s a red flag: Among all employees Press Ganey interviewed, those working closest to patient care seem to be the least satisfied and happy. That’s a serious problem, of course. Not only does that have the potential to lower the quality of patient care — unhappy people seldom follow through on their work as well as happy ones — patient satisfaction scores drop too.

What will it take to fix the problem? Well, the usual strategies aren’t going to cut it. Rejiggering pay, benefits or even the content of their jobs won’t really improve the situation, the research firm says. (Does that surprise you? Actually, it made sense to me, but more on that in a bit.)   To strengthen their bond with employees, hospitals must “[create] an environment where employees feel an emotional bond with colleagues as well as with the overall organization,” Press Ganey reports.

As Press Ganey notes, employees need recognition, to be included in decisions and to engage in real-time communication with hospital administration. But that’s pretty tough when you’re working in a stratefied organization where the leadership is figuratively — and sometimes literally! — running around in a world far removed from day-to-day life in the facility.

Unfortunately, a compensation bandaid won’t fix things. If what employees really want is to have some input and be included in key decisions, raising pay, benefits or job descriptions unilaterally doesn’t help.  Moving up compensation is great, and certainly generates some gratitude, but you can only raise salaries so much — and if you’re in a competitive market, others will match you anyway. It’s a great gesture, but won’t do the job on its own.

Besides, far too many hospital administrators seem to see employees as disposable, if expensive, interchangeable assets like their office equipment — and have no doubt that employees know this. A bigger paycheck helps bond employees to their jobs, but it doesn’t foster true loyalty or happiness if they feel like cogs in a huge machine.

What can hospital administrators do to foster real relationships and empower employees?  One strategy that may have an impact is for the CEO to discuss issues and share ideas candidly in a blog; the “Running a Hospital” blog written by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s CEO Paul Levy is a stellar example of this approach.

And now I turn it over to you. What strategies are you aware of that help employees feel connected to their work in a deeper and more personal way?  (Bonus points for case studies drawn from your own experience.)

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • From the point of view of a recent patient, I think actually having enough staff to let people do their jobs without constantly being stretched to be two places at once would probably help a great deal. The nurses and tech’s at St. Joseph’s in Towson were great to me, but so obviously overstretched that I hesitated to buzz them unless I felt it was absolutely necessary.

  • Fascinating study, and so true. Too few hospitals have realized that keeping employees motivated and informed works to their advantage in so many ways; employees can and should also be excellent sources of referrals.

    Also, I just discovered Paul Levy’s blog. It’s excellent.

  • Paul, not to sound snarky, but in 20 years of working as a communications/analyst type, I’ve only worked at a company which seemed to promote a culture of connection to the firm. (OK, one.)

    The fact that hospitals are so hierarchical makes things much, much worse; command and control model isn’t just a way of life, it’s a religion around there. And my experience is that C-suite folks who fight this are subtly or directly cashiered out.

    What do you think might help?

  • Ken, the idea of a Web based campaign tied to service lines makes tremendous sense to me.

    What do you think of the following notion?

    Though there are many pressing problems hospital administrators face, I think communicating the value of EMR deployments — not just to the doctors and senior execs, but also nurses and other folks who touch the system.

    The biggest problem I’ve seen is that right now, my sense if that hospitals leave nurses entirely out of the loop. In fact, if I were a nurse I’d feel EMRs were being shoved down my throat.

    A few months ago, I was forced to go inpatient at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville. During my stay, when I became ambulatory, I noticed that the nurse workstations included a “Cerner is coming!” screensaver.

    While I don’t know if the hospital is doing anything else to get nurses engaged and trained, and it might well be, I found it ludicrous that this seemed to be an incitement to get all het up about the pending installation.

    My guess is that if no other support is going to be offered, other than tech training, the installation will be a very expensive bust.

  • “An expensive bust.” So true. So often, the nurses are overlooked. Hospital marketers worry about attracting patients and appeasing doctors. But they forget about the people most connected with the patients on a day-to-day basis. If you’re not creating EMR champions among your nurses, you’re going to lose.

  • I assume you’re asking me, Katherine Rourke? (I’m Ken.)

    I think it’s possible to empower and motivate employees with web-based communications strategies. I think we forget that hospital employees are a) potentially loyal to their employer and b) interested in health topics. If we provide them with good information to share with friends, we show both interest and trust.

    We’ve had some success promoting “campaign sites” tied directly to service line campaigns that make it easy for hospital employees to get excited about and easily share health information. We encourage hospital employees to take ownership of these sites and look for new ways to connect the good work of the hospital with people who may require health care.

    Your “command and control” comment is exactly the problem for most hospitals. Online conversations can’t be controlled. Until hospital administrators are willing to trust employees to represent them out in the world, they’ll continue to have to deal with people who hate their jobs.

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