Culture: The Heart of a Successful Healthcare Organization

By: Tanya Fish
 healthcare professional holding a felt heart
Want to know why organizational culture is so important, especially in healthcare? Two words: stress and retention.
This is probably not a surprise as stress and its consequences have been front of mind in the pandemic world. For example, a recent search of Google news for “stress in the workplace” yielded:
For many industries and organizations, stress is an unavoidable fact of life—and it’s most noticeable in the healthcare industry. A strong organizational culture is among the best ways to alleviate that stress.

Stress in the Healthcare Industry

In a nationwide survey by Money, several healthcare roles, including physicians and nurse practitioners, are among the top 25 most stressful jobs.
Most people don’t want to stay in incredibly stressful positions. Many healthcare workers face the difficult mental-health decision of whether they should leave the industry in favor of a calmer career. This retention problem puts hospitals at a major disadvantage, both financially and experientially.
That’s why the healthcare industry is working to reduce stress and increase engagement—and they’re doing it by focusing on intentional work cultures.

Nurse Engagement Empowers Organizations

Nurses are the key connecting point through which healthcare systems, patients and physicians work to identify and prevent potential medical errors, according to a recent Gallup study.
If that’s the case, why not just hire more nurses? More nurses mean fewer errors, right? Not exactly. As the same Gallup study elaborates, the engagement level of existing nursing staff should be prioritized, not the constant introduction of new ones.
The most important metric at any healthcare organization is patient mortality rate. The lower the rate, the better the nurses have performed in their roles.
Several factors affect mortality rate, including the number of nurses on a team and the ratio of nurses to total patient days (the number of days patients stay). The number one factor that affects mortality rate is nurse engagement—their job dedication and effectiveness.
Dr. Rick Blizzard, the author of the Gallup study, had some stern takeaways for healthcare organizations about 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 these questions, their patient care quality is at risk.”
Put simply, are your nurses properly supported and celebrated? If not, it’s important to improve your workplace culture.
Related: Nurse turnover hurts hospitals and patients alike. Learn 8 ways to help prevent it.

Physicians Need a Strong Organizational Culture

For many, the term “company culture” simply means workplace perks, such as ping-pong tables, casual dress and free snacks. These perks don’t always mesh with a medical environment. What organizational culture is actually about is building an atmosphere of appreciation, support and community.
This supportive culture is vital in the healthcare industry, especially when it comes to physicians.
From the first moment of medical school, physicians are met with a daunting culture—one where they’re expected to make countless consequential decisions throughout the day and deal with stacks of clerical paperwork. Couple that with the ever-present tension of beeping and buzzing alarms that could signal life-or-death situations and you’ve created a role that’s constantly under enormous pressure.
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 shift the paradigm away from this breakneck, competitive culture. Self-care and patient care aren’t competing interests—and building a culture that embraces this fact might be your organization’s saving grace. 

Why Organizational Culture Matters in Healthcare Today

While there isn’t a hall of fame for organizational cultures, there are a few brands that have carved a niche around theirs: Zappos, Warby Parker, Southwest Airlines and others. The common thread that makes these corporate cultures work is they put their teams first, not their customers.
That mindset might seem counterintuitive for the healthcare industry—you would probably expect organizations to focus on the health of the patient instead of on their employees. The team-first mindset does makes sense in healthcare too though. Medical professionals must take care of themselves—physically and mentally—to effectively champion the health of their patients.
This is where culture comes in. Healthcare leaders must step up to create a supportive, comfortable atmosphere for nurses and physicians or they’ll experience a formidable financial impact.
And the facts don’t lie about how engagement levels are impacting the healthcare industry:

Three Components of a Thriving Healthcare Culture

When you instill a strong organizational culture by focusing on your people first, the benefits are evident. Culture is about the wellbeing of your team, especially in a high-stress industry like healthcare. But how can your culture shift to put more emphasis on your team?
Concentrate on these three areas:
  • Demonstrate appreciation for nurses and physicians. Give them a sense of belonging and purpose. When you show how much you care about your people, loyalty and engagement will follow.
  • Reward autonomous behaviors with real-time recognition and awards. 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 team and organization. When people can see their progress toward personal and organization-wide goals, they’ll stay engaged and motivated.
When supported by a strong organizational culture that takes care of its employees, healthcare workers are better equipped to deal with stress and take care of the health of others.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out how we helped a healthcare provider revamp their recognition program for frontline workers, improving motivation and reducing turnover.

Tanya Fish
Tanya Fish

Tanya Fish is the Leader of Employee Experience Solutions for ITA Group. She drives the insights, strategy and evolution around employee experience for the organization while offering advisement for client engagement and employee programs. Tanya 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 guide her unique perspective on organizational health and success. Tanya is energized by achievement, learning and empowerment and balanced by time with family and friends and being outdoors. Bonus points if it’s by a body of water.