3 ways to engage disengaged employees


You learn patient satisfaction measures on the ortho floor are decreasing. You dig deeper and discover, your once, star physician, is no longer interested in community events or other marketing activities. Managers and supervisors say eyes glaze over at monthly meetings and other staffers are starting to withdraw. While their work is adequate, it’s slacking. Sound familiar? Getting disengaged employees to re-engage in their work may seem like too big of a task – especially when it could be irreconcilable differences among employees. But what if the disengagement is between the employee and your company? You know, the external reasons. Gallup’s State of The American Workplace released earlier this year, indicates an astounding 52% of all full-time workers in the country are not involved in or enthusiastic about their work, and an additional 18% are “actively disengaged.” Does that mean only 30% of the workforce actually enjoys the work that they’re doing? Maybe.

You can bring wayward employees back into the game by changing a few things around from a culture standpoint. I spoke to WHPRMS conference keynote speaker and member, Kristin Baird, president/CEO of Baird Group, who offered advice on how to reignite your staff.

Before we review this advice, it’s important to understand why they become detached in the first place. There are a multitude of reasons for disengagement. Kristin says some are personal and internal while others are externally driven. “Internal is essentially attitude. If you think the world is horrible, it is. External drivers of disengagement include poor communication, lack of connection to purpose and feeling your boss doesn’t appreciate you or your ideas,” said Kristine.

One very important reason for disengagement is that bad behaviors among employees are not addressed. “When problem employees are allowed to stay on the payroll, you send a strong message that it’s okay to behave badly.”

Why should your employees be engaged? Engaged employees drive the patient experience. Kristin asks us to think about the experiences that you have outside of health care. Like at the grocery store, convenience store or a restaurant. How does that experience differ based on the engagement level of the employees you interact with? A negative dining experience is one thing. A negative health care experience is quite another.


“Highly engaged individuals are very clear about how their work contributions align with personal values,” said Kristin. Furthermore, employees who have withdrawn have withdrawn for a reason. Maybe it’s a personal problem or maybe they feel unappreciated. The approach should be ‘What can we do to help?’ rather than ‘You need to shape up.’

When work is held in high value by the employees, turnover is not a big issue. The The Incentive Research Foundation (formerly known as the SITE Foundation) says recognition, praise, and special incentives are tools that can raise the value of work to employees.

Whenever a company supports its employees, turnover rates drop significantly. If employees feel better and/or inspired by their jobs, they are less likely to leave. Even more importantly: they will try to be better at what they do. By raising motivation levels, worker turnover can be reduced up to 53%.


Feeling undervalued and unappreciated is one of the major reasons an employee becomes disengaged. “Recognition goes a long way but you have to make it personal, pertinent, prompt and plentiful!” said Kristin.

Disengaged employees often have potential, but don’t feel that their perspectives are being heard. So resolve to listen more. Be transparent. Ask questions. Kristin says transparency and recognition are key. “The health care organizations who are doing it right are successful because they can admit problems and actively seek resolution. They are also very generous in giving recognition.”


Studies show that lack of praise and recognition is a top reason that employees are unhappy at their jobs. This is your chance to rethink how your health system gives feedback to staff, positive and/or negative. The way you deliver positive messages should be the same way you deliver negative news.

Furthermore, turnover can be a blessing when it’s the disengaged people who leave. “It is far more detrimental to have disengaged people working alongside the fully engaged. In these cases, it’s the fully engaged people who are at the greatest risk of leaving,” said Kristin. “The bottom line is that our leaders need to know how to spot engagement and coach accordingly.”

Kristin offers a variety of methods that can be used to understand the link between culture and the patient experience (originally appeared HERE):

• Mystery shopping with photo documentation records experiences from the patient perspective including feelings and reactions to processes, communication and specific employee encounters

• In-depth interviews with physicians, executives and other key stakeholders to gain insight into the cultural norms

• Focus groups with frontline staff, patients and managers to gain insight into beliefs and attitudes that are currently shaping the culture. (One common belief is that “no one has ever been fired here for delivering poor service.”)

• Data: patient, employee and physician satisfaction survey data and current patient complaints.

As health care marketers and communicators, it’s our job to take some action to make sure these engagement policies are in place, make recommendations to leadership and/or develop an engagement plan. Working in tandem with human resources and organizational leadership, we can make a difference in the way employees view our hospital brand and/or organization.   

What programs, initiatives and culture changes do you implement to engage employees? Share below and join the conversation!

This post was written and researched by Trish Skram. If you have other news, resources or links to share, please comment below or email Trish Skram, blogger and research content specialist for WHPRMS, at trishskram@gmail.com.


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