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Balancing Act: Happy hospital employees lead to more satisfied patients

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Ben Dunford

In early 2016, the community of Conway, Arkansas, nearly doubled its number of hospital beds when the state’s largest health system opened a 260,000 square-foot facility four miles away from the local independent hospital. Lured by attractive architecture and handsome benefit packages, many staff left to take jobs at the new facility — only to later return to their original employer.

Anecdotally, the CEO heard that his returning employees were just not happy with the new hospital’s culture, specifically its lack of work-life balance. To find out how well his own facility ranked on the work-family culture scale, he reached out to Benjamin Dunford, an associate professor of management and a faculty affiliate of the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering in Purdue’s Discovery Park. The results have relevance well beyond the Conway hospital’s walls.

Surveying 680 hospital employees nested within 60 hospital departments, Dunford and his collaborators found that departments with a high level of positive work-family culture — as defined by their employees — were more likely to also have higher levels of employee engagement, organizational pride, confidence in management and leadership, and intention to stay. A key finding: departments varied widely in their scores, meaning that an overall positive score for a hospital could mask key differences among departments.

Helping employees balance their work and family needs is increasingly important for not only attracting and retaining key talent in healthcare, but also for enhancing patient care; naturally, more satisfied employees can mean more satisfied patients. And yet, despite administrators’ efforts to develop a unified work-family culture, departments often take on their own cultural norms, Dunford says.

Ultimately, that could widen the disparities, leading to some departments being deemed more family-friendly than others, says Dunford, whose research focuses on how the management of people impacts organizational effectiveness, employee engagement and safety outcomes, with special emphasis on the healthcare industry.

“The key to instilling a positive, organization-wide work-family culture may be through a department-by- department focus,” he says.

Originally published in the Purdue University Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships 2017-18 Annual Report.