An engagement survey won't fix the healthcare retention crisis. Try these 10 metrics instead.

Here’s something I hear depressingly often in my daily conversations about employee engagement. “We know it’s important. And we’ve got it covered. We do a survey every year.”

Most healthcare workers know staff engagement matters. There are plenty of studies that show how important it is.

That’s because the Annual Engagement Survey is the primary tool wielded by most healthcare organizations.

It asks employees to rank answers to statements like “I would recommend my trust as a place to work” on a five-point scale.

When everyone has labored through the questionnaire, frontline managers receive team results. Then, someone tallies the average score. First for hospitals, then for the organization as a whole. Most healthcare organizations repeat this exercise every year.

And unfortunately, when it comes to measuring employee engagement in healthcare, the Annual Employee Engagement Survey is ineffective. The best-case scenario: it isn’t enough on its own. Worst case scenario? It actually makes employees less engaged.

Why an employee engagement survey isn’t enough.

The format is too rigid Employees rank based on inflexible, pre-determined, multiple-choice answers. There’s no room for the more varied input or nuance needed to get a clear picture.

The questions don’t yield actionable answers. Standard engagement metrics on predictors outside most leaders’ control: e.g., How motivated do you feel?

The metrics are fluffy. The most commonly-used questionnaire uses “percent favorable” metrics. These inflate scores and creates blind spots by making an appearance of high engagement without the outcomes to back it up.

The answers aren’t necessarily honest. No matter how many times managers tell employees surveys are anonymous, there will still be a nagging sense that if they are frank, someone will link the questionnaire to their name – and it may have repercussions. It’s a human thing.

Once a year is not enough. Bank account. Weight. If something matters to you, you’ll check it regularly. You wouldn’t rely on a once-a-year snapshot to get a clear picture of what’s going on. An annual survey is a snapshot in time, and many random factors can influence results. How a healthcare worker feels on that particular day isn’t reflective of how they feel year-round.

An employee engagement survey in itself is not enough. If something matters, you act on it. But most organizations finish the study and then move on.

Year after year: employees toil through the same one-size-fits-all form. No real changes happen. The same questions appear on the survey. And by the middle of the second quarter, any hopes for change fade again.

But what else can you do?

Surveys can be useful as an annual check-up. But healthcare leaders need to supplement them with regular, focused check-ins. Some companies choose to do this with pulse surveys. However, we find this leads to questionnaire fatigue. In a sector as demanding as healthcare – especially in the current climate – there will be even less patience.

The alternative? Monitor the vital data that contribute to engagement in the first place.

The following factors reflect how engaged your workforce is. By adding up averages and totaling scores, you will get a birdseye view of engagement across the organization as a whole and specific departments.

The 10 engagement indicators all healthcare leaders should be tracking:

  1. Employees on a leave of absence.
  2. Workers who have filed compensation claims.
  3. The number of employees who have quit in the last 12 months.
  4. The number of training hours employees voluntarily attend.
  5. Performance appraisal and evaluation ratings.
  6. The number of discrimination complaints and legal claims.
  7. The average commute time (the shorter, the better). 
  8. The average amount of relevant education employees undertake.
  9. The number of employees on zero-hour contracts.
  10. The number of employees progressing in their roles.

Keeping an eye on your workforce’s ‘health’ in this way isn’t complicated. Technology will do it for you. Specialized engagement platforms like Blink make engagement patterns in your organization visible and highlight where you need to invest more time and energy.

The format is flexible. You can adjust the set of factors depending on the way your organization operates.

The results are actionable. Because the metrics are so focused, it’s clear what the issues are and whether it’s in your control to improve them.

Data doesn’t lie. These results are black and white, unsusceptible to individual moods or concerns about anonymity.

It’s ongoing. You can monitor these results weekly, monthly, annually, and even daily.

And finally…

There’s no need to pester busy healthcare workers. You can save the questioning for when it really matters.