The power of positive emotions in empowering, retaining staff

Sparrow Health uses tech to share uplifting interactions across the organization, emphasizing the importance of gratitude for clinicians’ service.

Gratitude and appreciation by patients for caregivers can create virtual cycles that support job satisfaction and retention.

Every day, healthcare leaders have strategic meetings to decide how to conquer post-COVID pandemic challenges and other issues posed by healthcare. Often absent from those discussions is the need to offer care and gratitude to those on the front line.

In an HDM KLASroom presentation, Wambi CEO Rebecca Metter and Sparrow Health’s Michael Zaroukian, MD, the system’s vice president and chief medical information officer, promote a facet of healthcare that’s often far from the top of a typical C-suite exec’s to-do list.

“The one thing that seems to be missing early in the conversation and that's reinforced by the end is the idea of care for our caregivers — the gratitude and appreciation of our patients and the need to create virtuous cycles of appreciation, of gratitude, of improvement,” Zaroukian contended. Sparrow Health is using Wambi's technology to better enable communication of positive affirmations to its employees. 

A starting point for retention

What can gratitude do for a healthcare organization? Metter hails it as a critical first step of problem solving, citing the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions developed 20 years ago by Barbara L Fredrickson. a professor at the University of Michigan.

“It's the concept that we need to amplify positive emotions within ourselves and within each other in order to expand our thinking of what's possible and to inspire creativity,” Metter said. “By practicing gratitude, we build a muscle of strengthening relationships. This is also the gateway to more positivity.”

Healthcare leaders may be tempted to dismiss positivity as “soft stuff,” but, as Metter pointed out, “There’s no harder ROI that saves organizations more money right now than improving retention."

“The data shows, from a retention perspective, that yes, we need to pay people at parity,” Metter added. “But the second and third reasons why people stay really are because they feel valued and that they belong at the organization. Those two things will be so critical for us if we want to be able to tackle the retention challenges that every health system in America is facing right now.”

Achieving deeper fulfillment

Gratitude and recognition from both leaders and patients help clinicians feel that they are fulfilling their purpose. Zaroukian stressed the need to include time and space for these feelings to be expressed, such as in a “gratitude moment” at the beginning of each group meeting or email.

“When appreciation starts to pervade your meetings and your organization, we believe it creates a virtuous cycle where people feel safe where they work, feel like they belong, and really start to see a future together,” he says.

Unfortunately, too few leaders have put these measures in place. “The data shows that over 50 percent of leaders want to recognize their teams, but only 17 percent of their teams feel recognized. That's a major delta,” Metter said. “We have to do things technologically to make it easy so that leaders can see folks in the way that they want to be seen.”

One example of leveraging digital tools to recognize providers is a program created by Metter and her colleagues.

“At Wambi, we created an internal social network within our health systems that capitalizes on patient gratitude and recognition,” she explained. “It makes the feedback very, very easy to view and to interact with across an entire network.” With the digital system’s sharing capability, “When a team member has a good experience with a patient and family, it can be shared across not just her whole unit, but her whole hospital, and even across her whole health system,” Metter said. “We’re seeing multiple levels of leadership, all the way up to even the CEO of the organization at the health system level, being able to react to and comment on amazing moments and stories.”

To Metter and Zaroukian, Wambi’s social network isn’t “just another tool,” but they contend it enables organizations to access and build on positive emotions that benefit the broader organization.

“People are very hungry within healthcare organizations to bring joy back into the work,” Metter concluded. “We need to drive people back to their ‘why’ — back to their purpose — and give them solutions that are going to actually help them to show up better and just feel good personally and professionally.”

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