Published on : March 01, 2011

Greening Healthcare, a New Opportunity for Engaging Employees

Greening Healthcare, a New Opportunity for Engaging Employees

We have all heard about the challenges facing the healthcare world going forward.  Labor shortages for doctors, nurses and ancillary professions make for a difficult task ensuring your facility has the right staffing to ensure your patients get the best care.  Competition from competing healthcare organizations in shared geographic regions makes retention even more challenging.  On top of that, turnover rate is significant as people leave the profession and the education and credentialing systems are insufficient to provide sufficient new  professionals.  Employee turnover in the healthcare sector is extremely high; so high in fact that in some US states it is more than double the national average of 15.6% per year . This issue is being mirrored worldwide.  In some developing countries, they experience a brain drain.  In 2006, it reported that 57 countries, most in Africa and Asia, face a severe health workforce crisis.  It estimated that at least 2.4 million doctors and nurses and 1.9 health administrators are needed to fill the gap.   Healthcare can be a challenging field if you have responsibility for finding and retaining staff.

What is the answer to this growing crisis?  There are no magic wands, but organizations that recognize opportunity and adapt will find themselves in a better position to succeed in the future.  One such opportunity is the increased interest in being green.  Going green is not just good for the planet but good for business and in more ways than one.  By nature healthcare professionals tend to care about the planet.  An unhealthy environment makes for an unhealthy population. Many companies are finding that beyond this, employees are very interested in knowing what their own employer is doing and that’s an opportunity to engage them as employees in doing more things as an organization and to make them proud to be a part of the team.

Recruit and Retain

Employee retention and recruitment may seem like the same concept, but each require a very different approach to be successful.  With recruiting, the approach is one of educating potential employees about your organization and the benefits of working there.  Often this is focused on salary and benefits, with other factors such as working conditions, location, scheduling.  However in the last decade, an organization’s green performance has started to become more important and is a contributing factor in attracting new top talent.

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1. Citation: K. D. Jones : The Impending Crisis In Healthcare . The Internet Journal of Healthcare Administration. 2001 Volume 1

2. http://www.news-medical.net/news/20100830/Strategy-to-overcome-global-shortage-of-medical-staff.aspx

3. https://www.asrt.org/content/recruitmentretention/RetentionTools/Employee_Retention.aspx

Employee retention is appreciably different, with the focus being on keeping those employees already on staff satisfied.  This is often measured with employee satisfaction surveys.  Employee attrition is unavoidable to some degree with retirements and life changes but to retain top talent, it is useful to develop a strategy.   Whether it is retention or recruiting, greening your organization can be an asset that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Greening Healthcare a Human Resources Function?

With the new emphasis on greening of healthcare, much attention is directed towards tools such as LEED and other technical areas.  An often overlooked component of the Greening of Healthcare is the human factor.  We put our focus on the science, measurement tools such as LEED that tell us how we are doing and when we have arrived at the goal.  But greening healthcare is an extension of healthcare itself, the intersection of science and humanity.  Just as you cannot successfully treat a patient without considering the patient as a person, you cannot “green” healthcare successfully without including people in the equation.
So what does including people into the greening of healthcare equation mean?  It means engaging employees in every process.  It means considering the impact of greening efforts upon and for the patients.  It means thinking of the “greenness” of your organization as an asset when trying to recruit or retain top talent. 

Green Myths

Let’s start by dispelling a few myths.  The first myth is that employees might be slow to support the effort.  Most employees are interested in what their employer is doing to support being green.  Beyond that, they want to know how they can be involved.  Don’t overlook this opportunity.

The second myth is that it’s not something physicians care about.  So much emphasis is placed on professional titles that often misperceptions can occur.  One example is “doctors don’t care about recycling.”  Where this type of societal stratification might be relevant in some situations, it’s not the case with being green.  Whether a physician, nurse or housekeeper, when we all go home at the end of the day we care about the planet the same way.  

So with those myths brushed aside, let’s look at one way to use being green as an asset when trying to recruit and retain employees.

Green Teams

Engaging employees is often a goal for both management and human resources and one creative way to increase employee involvement/engagement is through the creation of green teams.  Green teams are similar to many other committees or teams within healthcare only a green team focuses on ways to improve the way in which the organization performs on green issues.  Some teams focus on a limited number of issues like starting or increasing recycling while others take on more complex challenges like energy management programs

There are a few key steps to starting a green team.  The critical initial step is to make sure management is willing to support having a green team.  To achieve management support it helps to address a few key issues in your proposal.  First you should define the purpose of the team including defining the scope of what the team will do.  You should also have some idea what the benefits of such a team provide to the organization.  Second, you should decide who should be involved.  Although it is critical to ensure the involvement of key areas such as Supply Chain and Engineering, how you go about doing that should remain flexible.  Often in healthcare people are appointed to teams but in this case it’s useful to look at seeking volunteers who have a passion for the topic.  There are many benefits of doing this including cross pollination of idea’s between departments and creating an environment for employees who have not had the opportunity to participate in team projects.  This provides a new avenue for the organization to identify potential future leaders.

Once the team is in place there are some key steps to follow.  The first step is to make sure the team understands its role and charter.  The second step is to make sure the team has all the tools it needs to succeed.  This would include education about what green means.  From there developing goals and a timeline will help ensure the team accomplishes its purpose.  This is important not just to satisfy the objectives of management, but also as a way to create a satisfying experience for the team members.

Weaving Green into the Organizational Fabric

One of the benefits of the green team model is the change it can bring to the organizational culture.  There are many projects and tasks a team can tackle, but how the team takes on those projects is also important.  If you can identify ways to make accomplishing the goals fun, such as contests between departments, social activities and offering incentives for successes, then you won’t just be accomplishing the goals, you will make being green second nature and build camaraderie amongst employees.  This not only supports better employee involvement, but better patient care because it’s well documented that employees who like where they work provide better patient care.

Additionally management should support the efforts of the green team, not just by allowing them to form, but by making sure that the team is communicating to employees what they are doing.  This can be in a newsletter, making time for a brief green team report at management meetings and departmental meetings and supporting team communication effort such as promoting Earth Day activities.  It is important not to overlook the value of the green team activities on external communication as well.

Possible starter projects for green teams

  1. Start a recycling program or enhance an existing program.
  2. Help manage utility costs by participating in energy auditing and promoting energy awareness campaigns
  3. Help start farmers markets or farm stands on campus to promote local farming
  4. Help organize car pooling and other green transportation projects
  5. Help in efforts to reduce paper use
  6. Participate in Earth Day and other community activities

Green Teams, a Solution

As any manager knows, employee turnover is both expensive and disruptive. One recent survey found that the average cost to replace a departing employee is 30 percent of that employee's salary.  According to the Human Resource Management Association, 20.4 percent of health care employees one in five quit their jobs every year. The number easily exceeds the 12 to 15 percent turnover rate experienced in most other industries.    Recruiting and retaining employees, especially critical need employees can be enhanced by engaging employees through green efforts, especially the creation and support of a green team.  A green team implemented effectively can help any organization by building camaraderie, enhancing cross-functional communication and helping save money not only on retention costs but most green projects also save the organization money.

About the Author

Tom Badrick is President of Badrick Consulting specializing in healthcare sustainability program design and implementation.  Tom is a leader and recognized speaker in the healthcare sustainability field.  Tom successfully crafted and directed the nationally recognized and award winning sustainability program for a large health system in Portland, Oregon and has guided and assisted many other organizations with creating and expanding successful programs as well as partnering with suppliers.  Tom has a background in Environmental, Health and Safety in biotech, chemical manufacturing and the electronics industries.  Badrick Consulting offers a wide range of services from program creation/development to partnering in management of specific components of a sustainability program ranging from waste management to climate change initiatives.  The Badrick Consulting web page can be found at www.badricksustainability.com and Tom can be reached via email at tbadrick@aol.com.