Lisa McCluskey, Vice President of Marketing Communications at CHI Memorial, shares tips on employee engagement in healthcare and lessons learned over the last year.
Among many other shifts experienced during the pandemic, the role of employee engagement in healthcare has become one of the most critical functions within the organization.
As front-line workers and other healthcare professionals experience trauma, stress and burnout, leaders are turning to their marketing and communications teams for expertise in celebrating, inspiring and educating their colleagues.
At CHI Memorial in Chattanooga, TN, Lisa McCluskey oversees internal communications among many other strategic disciplines. She also serves on the COVID-19 Command Center team to inform the system’s more than 4,600 associates, 400 volunteers and 600 affiliated physicians throughout Southeast Tennessee and Georgia.
Prior to 2020, she had developed a multi-channel internal communications platform designed to engage employees, physicians, medical staff and physicians in the community. The pandemic elevated those efforts — and the esteem from her peers in executive and clinical leadership — to an entirely new level.
“The pandemic has thrust the communications team into the limelight,” Lisa says. “That’s one thing that has been good for the art and the profession of communications, as they now have a seat at the table where perhaps before they didn’t.”
To inspire peers working to adapt their internal communications strategy and boost employee engagement in healthcare, Lisa shares a few lessons learned during 2020.
In a rapidly changing environment, communicate in probabilities
COVID-19 changed nearly by the day, and as the days went on we learned more about the disease and the treatment options so we had to be very nimble as a communications team. Throughout the process, we would communicate to our internal audiences what we knew, when we knew it. Something may not be black and white but we would still communicate, “This is what we know today, and it may change.”
This approach was a real shift for our physicians. We had to get them comfortable with talking about things before they were actually set in stone because a lot of communication is building trust by preparing people and guiding them on the journey based on the information available. That has been the overarching philosophy of our communications platform throughout COVID-19.
People like a steady flow of information in short, snackable bites
This approach allows them to breeze through and get the highlights, and then click through for more information. People like constant contact and they can accept change if you’ve prepared them along the way. You have to lay the groundwork so they know what to expect, and then if we have to shift based on new information, they’re more accepting of it.
Make information easy to find
Effective communication is about providing information in multiple areas so we can meet people where they are and respond quickly. Throughout the pandemic, we developed a robust platform that started with a landing page with a lot of FAQs. We also issued weekly videos featuring physicians along with a daily COVID-19 newsletter that covers what’s going on in the community, key operational issues and celebrations of our healthcare heroes. In addition, we have an employee app as well as a dedicated email address so any employee that wants to ask a COVID-19-related question can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
These initiatives worked so well with our internal audience that we shifted them to the external audience as well. We have a dedicated COVID-19 landing page, where users can email us a question along with the videos, FAQs and other resources. For patients, we can send SMS messages with links to information on our COVID-19 page. We’re also able to send direct-to-Facebook messaging for patients using our CRM. Through these efforts, our ultimate goal is to be the trusted source of information for all things COVID-19.
Physicians want non-medical information, too
We’ve seen physician engagement climb to phenomenal levels during the pandemic. I always thought doctors don’t necessarily care about operational issues, that they mainly care about their particular specialty or medical news only. However, when we started providing them with COVID-19 updates, we learned they also want to know about the operational updates at the hospital. They would even call and say they printed the updates and shared them with their staff. Our physicians read almost 7,000 articles in 2020—up a full 50% from the previous year — with up to 76% engagement rates.
Develop a partnership with your physicians
When peers see our videos online or Facebook Live and ask how I get physicians to participate and speak in plain language, I tell them it requires ongoing relationship building. To be the trusted source of information in our market, we need physicians to be a partner with us. We’ve provided our practices with scripting and flyers with a QR code that linked to our COVID-19 information page and early on, we established a core group of physicians we could always call on. We set the expectation that every day you’re on some station somewhere. We also share with them what our audience is wanting to know and what level of education they have so we can speak appropriately. We spend a lot of time sharing the questions we’re getting with physicians. We even share keyword searches to show them what terms people are using to find information so they can use that language in their messages.
My advice to peers is to get a core group of physicians who are willing to be your spokespeople and help you be the trusted source of information in the community, and work with them to be prepared and knowledgeable about what patients and the community are thinking.
People need ‘brain breaks’ from the pandemic
They need a sense of normalcy, moments to not be thinking about COVID-19. That is why we re-started production on our employee magazine Our Voice (produced in partnership with True North) that features inspiring stories and focuses on people living their personal mission in their everyday lives. It was paused for a while because of COVID-19, but we’re getting ready to ramp back up to an every other month schedule.
We’ve got COVID-19 really well covered, and people need to engage with their coworkers and return to celebrating caregivers as healthcare heroes.
Note: Lisa is a member of our Healthcare Insight magazine advisory board.
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