Want to Bring Sustainability Programming to the Next Level?

Practice Greenhealth’s new Employee Engagement Toolkit can help.

By Janet Howard, Director of Member Engagement and Healthier Hospitals, Practice Greenhealth on January 14, 2016

Healthy Environments = Healthy People, Employee Engagement PosterWHILE MANY Practice Greenhealth members have realized success in achieving environmental stewardship activities that are considered “low-hanging fruit,” the next level of engagement is the challenge for many.

Energy conservation, single-use device reprocessing and red-bag reduction are one thing, but a formal written sustainability plan, DEHP-free medical devices, renewable energy procurement, LEED certification for new construction projects and a green revolving fund? These goals are more challenging to most Practice Greenhealth members.

How can green team activities or departmental efforts mature into formalized programming that involves every level of health care operations with firm leadership support? There isn’t one answer to this question. To achieve the strategic priority of your organization, there are numerous drivers to consider: risk avoidance, safety, cost savings, community benefit, quality, patient experience, population health and mission, to name a few. However, another avenue to consider is employee engagement.

It’s challenging to get the green light for sustainability projects when the financial return is hard to quantify, even when health benefits are identified. So hospital sustainability teams benefit from a multipronged approach. A broader view, like employee engagement, can complement individual project value analysis. In short, teams can investigate the broader view of sustainability as it relates to staff engagement.

Through this increased engagement, sustainability programming can increase its pace and expand throughout the medical center by empowering staff to take action within their own areas of focus. Enhanced messaging can help workers understand what’s in it for them. But the benefit doesn’t end there. “Green hospitals” can further attract the next generation of health care workers and enhance staff retention. And with health care’s 2014 turnover rate at 16.5 percent, that’s something worth exploring.

Sustainability Leads to Happy Employees

The cost of replacing an employee is one and a half times their annual salary. U.S. businesses lose $11 billion annually as a result of employee turnover. Even further, according to a 2014 Towers Watson Global Workforce study, only slightly more than half of the 32,000 health care survey respondents expressed a generally favorable view of their organization’s leadership. According to the data, here’s what employees seek from leadership: inspiration and motivation, respect of individual and cultural differences and seeking feedback to identify opportunities to learn and grow. Other factors that drive engagement are that employees are treated with respect and that employers understand employees to the same degree that employees are expected to understand customers.

The 2014 Greenbiz Group Employee Engagement Survey showed that organizations with “advanced” sustainability programs saw these programs as a competitive advantage.

Logos for Advocate Health Care, Beaumont Health System, Cleveland Clinic, Hackensack UMC, Inova Health System, Johnson & Johnson, MetroHealth, Ridgeview Medical Center, Stericycle, UCSF Medical Center, University Hospitals, Virginia MasonIncreasingly, prospective employees are seeking job opportunities in organizations that reflect and align with their own values in regard to environmental stewardship. The year 2015 marked the first time the millennial generation outnumbered their older colleagues in the U.S. workforce. Generation Xers and millennials are not driven by financial rewards alone. They look for inspiration and creativity. Employees want to be on the winning team.

But it’s not enough to improve environmental performance. Practice Greenhealth member surveys have identified that sometimes sustainability programming is lost on the employee. Communication, education and branding are part of the package. Increasingly, hospitals and health systems are recognizing the need for a more formalized engagement and communication strategy to best connect with various stakeholders from clinicians to front-line staff, department leaders and the community. By working with marketing and communications, messaging can be tailored to meet the needs of the stakeholders, and a variety of communication strategies is key.

Some common employee engagement themes were highlighted in the 12 case studies that are part of the Practice Greenhealth employee engagement toolkit, Sustainability and Employee Engagement—A Winning Strategy (offered as a benefit to all Practice Greenhealth members). The health systems and companies featured in the case studies for the employee engagement toolkit are: Advocate Health Care, Beaumont Health System, Cleveland Clinic, Hackensack University Medical Center, Inova Health System, Johnson & Johnson, Metro Health Hospital, Ridgeview Medical Center, Stericycle, UCSF Medical Center, University Hospitals Health System and Virginia Mason Health System. Highlighted themes include:

  1. Get them when they come in the door. New employee and departmental training at hire creates the expectation and clearly articulates the role that sustainability plays in the day-to-day operations of the organization.
  2. Empower departments with a departmental champion program and departmental checklists. Empowering departments helps increase communication, promotes passionate individuals and addresses the numerous small steps that need to be taken at the departmental level to achieve environmental goals.
  3. Offer certification programs. Certification programs move beyond education and toward a higher level of learning. While more time intensive, certification ups the ante on realizing successes, boosts team learning in middle management and empowers staff.
  4. Award and recognize. Celebrating success and giving attention where warranted is key to sustaining programs for the long term. Taking the time to reflect and give thanks provides needed pacing in the complex health care environment.
  5. Share information. Multiple stakeholders call for multiple strategies for communication. Doing the work without proper messaging will keep programs from reaching their fullest potential.
  6. Develop an employee green benefits program. Programs that benefit the health of workers in the community and at home help extend healthy environments beyond the workplace.
  7. Make it fun. Enough said.
  8. Measure, measure, measure. Measuring satisfaction levels, cost savings and other outcomes associated with healthier environments can help identify and highlight the additional impacts of demonstrated commitment. This is an area of growth and opportunity.

Sustainability in the health care environment, after all, isn’t about the work of a single person or a single team. It really should be a part of the culture of your entire organization. Employee engagement not only creates happier employees, but it can help you get to the next level of hospital sustainability.


Download Our Toolkit Today

The Practice Greenhealth employee engagement toolkit, Sustainability and Employee Engagement—A Winning Strategy, can save you time by sharing proven strategies, a resource list, 12 case studies, a PowerPoint with script, white paper and more. Download the kit, gather the evidence, add employee engagement to your next team meeting agenda and brainstorm next steps. Ask your facility engagement liaison for support in making an appointment with human resources as you explore sustainability as an employee engagement strategy. Learn more at www.PracticeGreenhealth.org/topics/engaged-leadership/employee-engagement-toolkit (login required). And join us on Twitter
@pracgreenhealth and #EmployeeEngagement.