Culture: The Heart of a Successful Healthcare Organization

Tanya Fish
Tanya Fish

Healthcare professional holding up a heart

Want to know why organizational culture is so important, especially in healthcare? Do a quick Google search for “stress” and you’ll see:

And that’s just within the past month.

Though the headlines may sound sensationalist, the truth is plain as day: stress is bad news. But for many industries and organizational, it’s an ever-present, unavoidable fact of life.

Most notably, stress is extremely evident in the healthcare industry. In a nationwide survey by CareerBuilder, healthcare workers, such as physicians and nurses, were found to experience the most stress in their jobs compared to all other industries—more than salespeople, police officers and countless other careers.

No one wants to stay in a stressful situation. That’s basic human instinct—fight or flight. Often, instead of fighting for their patients, they take flight to calmer careers, putting hospitals at a major disadvantage, both financially and experientially.

That’s why the healthcare industry is growing to understand the importance of reducing stress and increasing engagement. And they’re doing that through building impressive cultures.

Here’s what you need to know.

Nurse Engagement Empowers Organizations

As a recent Gallup poll describes, nurses are the key connecting point through which systems, patients and physicians work together to identify and prevent potential medical errors.

If that’s the case, why not just bring more nurses on board? More nurses equals fewer errors, right? Not entirely.

As the same Gallup poll elaborates, the level of engagement of a facility's existing nursing staff should be the first priority, not bringing in a constant churn of new ones.

The most important metric at any healthcare organization—the one by which all others pale—is the mortality rate, or the number of deaths within a set population of patients. The lower this number, the better nurses have done their job.

The number of nurses on a team affects this, as does the ratio of nurses to total patient days (the number of days patients stay). But the number-one indicator of high mortality is nurse engagement—the dedication they have for their job and how effective they are.

Dr. Rick Blizzard, the author of the Gallup study, has some stern words for healthcare organizations downplaying the importance of engagement:

“Are your nurses loyal and psychologically committed to the organization and their jobs? Are nursing managers selected for their management talent rather than just patient care skills? Do nursing staff members have all their performance-related workplace needs met? If hospital administrators can't answer 'yes' with conviction to all of these questions, their patient care quality is at risk.”

Physicians Need a Strong Organizational Culture

The term “company culture,” for many people, brings a connotation of Silicon Valley startups—ping-pong tables, beer fridges and hoodies. All of which, of course, won’t really mesh with a medical environment.

Here’s the rub: stop thinking of organizational culture as something reserved for tech companies. It’s way more than little perks.

For the healthcare industry, it’s about building a culture of appreciation, support and community. Especially when it comes to physicians.

From the first moment they’re in medical school, physicians are dealing with a daunting culture, where they’re expected to make countless consequential decisions throughout the day and deal with stacks of clerical rigmarole. Couple that with the ever-present tension of beeping and buzzing alarms and you’ve got a recipe for stress.

And that stress is as poisonous for physicians as it is for nurses—resulting in poorer quality care and adverse effects on the personal lives of physicians, according to one New England Journal of Medicine article.

For the benefit of patients and healthcare workers alike, it’s up to clinical leaders to lead the paradigm shift away from this breakneck, competitive culture. Self-care and patient care aren’t competing interests. And building a culture that embraces that fact might be your organization’s saving grace. You can see how strong your company culture is with our interactive organizational culture assessment.

Why Organizational Culture Matters in Healthcare Today

While there isn’t yet a hall of fame for organizational cultures, there are a few companies that have carved a niche for themselves around theirs: Zappos, Google, Southwest Airlines and others.

What’s the common thread that makes their cultures work? They put their people first, not their customers.

If that sounds counterintuitive to what healthcare is—everything should center on the health of the patient—take a step back. After all, only medical professionals who care for themselves, both physically and mentally, can do effective work.

That’s where culture comes in. Healthcare leaders must step up to create a supportive, comfortable atmosphere for nurses and physicians or they’ll see a formidable financial impact.

And the facts don’t lie:

Three Components of a Thriving Healthcare Culture

When you focus on your people first, the benefits are evident. But how can your culture shift gears to put more emphasis on the wellbeing of your team?

Concentrate on these three areas:

  • Demonstrate appreciation for nurses and physicians and give them a sense of belonging and purpose. When you show how much you care about your people, loyalty and engagement are sure to follow.
  • Award autonomous behaviors with real-time recognition and rewards. Better yet, give your people the ability to reward each other—not just top-down recognition—for a job well done.
  • Communicate key metrics related to the success of your people and organization. When people can see their progress toward personal and organization-wide goals, they’ll stay engaged and motivated.
Tanya Fish

Tanya Fish

Tanya’s focus is on creating innovative solutions across industries that engage the hearts and minds of employees to drive better results. She loves inspiring passion in people, something she believes impacts the individual, the organization and the community. Tanya’s past work and studies on organizational leadership in business, employee health and well-being, culture and health insurance guides her unique perspective on driving organizational health and success. Tanya is driven through achievement, learning and empowerment and balanced by time with family and friends, a good margarita and time outdoors.