Taking Care of Your People

Hospital Staff, Scripps Health,  San Diego

There’s nothing like knowing that someone has your back when you need help.

That’s true in our personal lives. It’s also true in the work environment, but that kind of support doesn’t always exist. In fact, it might be a rarity.

At Scripps, this approach can be reduced to a single simple concept: Take care of your people.

Companies have to do more than just pay employees a fair wage and benefits. They should provide what workers need to excel at their jobs. Managers should see themselves as being part of a culture of advocacy, where workers feel they’re not alone.

Making this concept real in the workplace can defuse tension among people and leave employees feeling like they’re part of a family where their voices are heard, their needs are met and their opportunities are plentiful.

But how do you create that kind of environment? I can point to number of ways we accomplish this at Scripps.

Our unique, in-house Employee Assistance Program (EAP) plays a big role. With a team of trained psychologists, the EAP staff is there when employees have personal needs that require attention or when conflict arises.

One member of the program serves as director of work life services, stepping in to help Scripps employees when they are dealing with a crisis, such as a major illness, a natural disaster or the loss of a loved one.

In 2008, employees in the environmental services department of one of our hospitals turned in the lowest results of any department in that facility when answering the organization’s annual employee satisfaction survey. A team — the human resources director, the department manager and a professional from EAP — was soon assembled to review those results and figure out what was wrong.

As a neutral participant, EAP representatives often are more able to have the delicate conversations needed to uncover many workplace problems. In the 2008 case, environmental services department staff members felt their manager wasn’t listening when they expressed concerns, and he was falling short in mediating conflicts that arose with people outside the department. The discussions produced specific ideas from the staff for resolving the department’s festering problems. And managers agreed to pay more attention to staff’s input.

A new manager in the department even learned Spanish to better communicate with the many workers in the department who spoke Spanish as their native language.

We also give voice to Scripps employees through a survey conducted each year through the Great Place to Work Institute. This tool lets staff members weigh in on a wide range of topics. After more than a decade of using the survey, it has become a core part of our culture and management strategy.

Results are incorporated into annual performance reviews of managers and our budget planning. And I personally read all of the written comments submitted by employees as part of the survey, which typically numbers around 2,000. The results have triggered a wide range of changes and innovations, some as simple as posting an information board in the middle of a unit to improve communication. Other changes have been more sweeping, such as the creation of a “phased retirement” that lets older employees cut back on their hours gradually while maintaining medical and dental benefits.

Scripps also offers employees extensive career planning resources that reside in an intranet “Career Planning Toolkit.” Our commitment to hire from within Scripps whenever possible is a necessary complement to the programs that are part of this toolkit.

These efforts and others have produced great results.

In 2014, the average length of tenure of a Scripps employee was 9.6 years. That was more than double the industry average of 4.4 years. That same year, the employee turnover rate at Scripps was 10.7 percent, below the national rate 12.3 percent for the industry.

Look for ways in your own organization to serve as an advocate for the people who report to you. If you’re not playing this role, you’re falling short of being a true front-line leader.