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HR AdministrationGive Employees a Say to Keep Them Engaged

JoAline Olson believes in giving employees a voice in how they do their jobs to help increase connectedness.
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JoAline Olson, Chief Human Resources Officer, Adventist Health System, Roseville, California.

Improving employee engagement is easy to talk about and complicated to carry out. JoAline Olson is learning that as she tackles multiple initiatives to improve employee engagement while overhauling HR at Adventist Health System, a faith-based health care system with 23,400 employees operating in 25 communities in four states.

Olson, 60, took over as Adventist’s CHRO and senior vice president in 2013. Before that, she spent several years as vice president of innovation at the Roseville, California, nonprofit, which runs 20 hospitals, four retirement centers and other health care agencies. The experience taught her about what goes into changing how things get done, and why employee buy-in is essential. “A good idea on its own doesn’t add value if it doesn’t meet employees’ needs, and if it doesn’t, it’s not really an innovation,” she said.

Olson is redoing HR to streamline and modernize processes and increase productivity. She also wants to make the organization a more attractive employer at a time of ongoing shortages for nurses, therapists and other in-demand health care professionals.

Helping employees feel connected to their work is one way to retain people in a competitive job market. Giving them a voice in how they do their jobs can increase that connectedness. In one example, as Adventist’s innovation vice president, Olson instituted while, she used cloud-based software to crowdsource employees’ ideas for improving clinical information system workflow. Doctors, nurses and other practitioners use the clinical workflow system to track a patient’s treatment, history and other data to plan their care. The previous system relied on manual updates and had no mechanism for prioritizing suggestions. The crowdsourced feedback system lets employees who normally wouldn’t be involved in making decisions share ideas for improving the workflow system, vote other ideas up or down, and make comments.

wf0117_womenofhr_200pxwide“It’s a whole different level of engagement than a five- or 10-minute discussion in a staff meeting,” Olson said.

Based on employee suggestions, the 100-person clinical information system department reduced time spent on clinical workflow by more than half, from a cumulative 25 days a year to 12. The changes directly benefited 9,000 employees, or slightly less than half of Adventist’s workforce. Olson expects to use the crowdsourcing tool in other departments as well.

In another stab at employee engagement, Adventist started a wellness program three years ago that 92 percent of employees enrolled in. In the near future, Olson plans to make more HR technology available to employees on mobile devices, including time and attendance functions, and software for hospital rounds. She’s also considering doing away with annual performance reviews.

Changes instituted so far have seen employment engagement scores increase to 4.08 in 2015 from 3.89 in 2014, according to results of an internal poll published in the provider’s latest annual report. Olson calls the jump “dramatic,” but won’t pin it on a single improvement.

“Really it’s a Rubik’s Cube, in that there are so many elements to it,” she said. “If one (element) is out of sorts it can affect an employee’s ability to be engaged. When they’re all firing, we have the highest engagement.”

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Michelle V. Rafter is a contributing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.