ASHHRA 2011 President Bob Walters says healthcare HR executives understand their critical role as financially challenged healthcare organizations grapple with issues such as engagement, recruiting and retention, and the linkage to bottom line issues like patient satisfaction.
"With disengaged leaders, you are going to have disengaged workers. So we have really focused on engagement," Walters says. "We have tried to look at productivity measures on engagement, and even with things like workers' comp, if you have engaged employees you aren't going to have bad workers comp experiences."
Tom Davenport, a talent management and organizational alignment consultant with Towers Watson, says many healthcare organizations have come to understand that engaged and energized staff really can make a difference.
"We have invested in technology. We have invested in facilities, structure, processes, any number of things. All of that can help. But ultimately – and I don't know why it took so long to figure it out – if you have energy and engagement then that stuff is a catalyst to outcomes you want," Davenport says. "And if you don't have energy and engagement all the other assets don't matter."
Davenport, who led an ASHHRA seminar on transforming the healthcare workforce, says senior leadership has often tried to downplay the HR factor.
"In some ways it is easier to conceptualize 'Well, what if I found a cool new way to treat or diagnose things? Then I'd be able to take the humans out of the equation,'" he says. "Humans are the hard-to-predict and hard-to-control part of the equation, whether its patients, executives, physicians, or employees. But we have finally come to the realization that you can't take them out of the equation."