Workplace culture can make or break medical practices. Those with good workplace cultures can attract and retain talent, mobilize innovation, and cultivate strong leaders, according to O.C. Tanner, a company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, that specializes in research and education on corporate culture and employee experience.

The company uses academic-grade research published in its annual Global Culture Report to track, analyze, and forecast worldwide culture trends. “We found that cultural factors are critically important to employee retention, regardless of generation,” said Alexander Lovell, PhD, Director of Research & Data Science at O.C. Tanner. “Employees want to work for an organization, whether it be large or small, that fulfills purpose, provides opportunity, makes them feel successful, shows that they are valued, encourages all dimensions of wellbeing, and contains great leaders.”

Current data suggest that individuals more than ever want to work for, and do business with, organizations with strongly defined cultures. An area often not emphasized enough is the culture of the medical practice and whether the leadership matches it, Dr Lovell said. “Aside from compensation and core benefits, workplace culture and employee experience are 2 factors determining employee satisfaction,” he said. “When each of these elements are dialed in, employees are 438% less likely to report that they are willing to leave their organization.”

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Workplace culture and employee experience can determine whether an employee plans to leave a medical practice. A medical practice can have an extraordinary culture, but if employees are struggling to meet their day-to-day needs, it will be difficult to retain staff. Additionally, paying employees at top market can be helpful, but it still may be difficult to retain employees in the current market if they are struggling to meet daily demands. “Authentic, purposeful, and meaningful recognition can help uplift each aspect of culture,” Dr Lovell said. “Recognition is different from incentives, in that it is less about getting the work done, but instead recognizing how an employee went about doing the work.”

The Important Role of Appreciation

Calling out the uniqueness each staff member contributes can create a better outcome. Recognition from a leader or peer signals that the employee has been seen, is valued, and appreciated. “This is powerful, particularly in regards to retention,” Lovell said. The current health care landscape is offering a new opportunity for leaders and employees to leverage a sense of urgency and make meaningful improvements to their cultures. In its latest global culture report, O.C. Tanner examined how outdated and disconnected technologies, programs, strategies, and leadership philosophies can obstruct individual and organizational performance.

The report points out how haphazard implementation of technology can lead to a tangle of tools and processes detrimental to effectiveness and employee satisfaction. Also, stale and impersonal recognition programs fail to achieve their desired effect on experience and culture. A synthesis of multiple research studies involving more than 38,000 employees and leaders from 20 countries around the world were the basis of the report. The analysis demonstrated that working can no longer be a tolerable grind and instead needs to provide inspiring, challenging, and rewarding experiences for all employees.

Workers Want to Feel Valued

Just showing appreciation might not be enough. The timing and delivery also matter. Appreciation needs to be personal and meaningful, said Mark Linzer, MD, Vice Chair, Department of Medicine and Director, Institute for Professional Worklife, Hennepin Healthcare, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He and colleagues studied COVID-related stress and coping mechanisms among US health care workers. They examined intention to reduce work hours and intent to leave in 20,665 diverse health care workers. Among 9,266 physicians, 24% were moderately or more likely to intend to leave in 2 years. Among 2,302 nurses, 40% were intending to leave. In physicians, nurses and advanced practice clinicians, feeling valued by one’s organization was associated with significantly less intention to leave, the investigators reported in Mayo Clinic Proceedings Innovation, Quality & Outcomes. “Thus addressing burnout, fear, mental health concerns, and work overload, as well as having workers feel valued, would all be mechanisms to attempt to reduce intentions to leave the practice and promote worker retention,” said Dr Linzer, Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Brian R. Carlson, Vice President of Patient Experience for Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said small things can make big differences, such as knowing all the employees names and greeting them each day by name. He advocates checking in to make sure the employees have the tools they need to do their job and that the expectations of their job are clear and understandable.

“Another point is that if people have to work in a bad process and then get blamed for the bad process, they will grow more frustrated. Look at your work processes and evaluate are they efficient and effective for all involved,” Carlson said.

It is important to discover what types of appreciation employees value because everyone is different. For example, some individuals want public appreciation but others would prefer to not be singled out. He said it is best not to use appreciation to create favorites. Being fair and transparent in your distribution of appreciation is vital. Carlson said try to find something to appreciate in everyone who works for the medical practice. “Don’t assume money is the appreciation everyone wants. People want to feel valued and respected and part of something bigger than themselves.”