Cerkl Broadcast
Cerkl Broadcast

Modernizing Employee Communications to Drive Engagement and Retention in Healthcare: A Webinar Recap

Cerkl and Jarrard get together to discuss the best ways to overcome internal communications challenges in healthcare and modernize the approach.
Written by: Penny Swift
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Published: July 2, 2024
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It is vital to identify key internal communications trends in any industry including healthcare. More importantly, it’s crucial to ensure continuous learning and adaptation and to prepare for the future of employee communications. It’s a challenge, but with a thorough understanding of the healthcare landscape and communication trends, an understanding of your workforce, and the right technology, it can be an exciting one. 

A recent webinar, Modernizing Employee Communications to Drive Engagement and Retention in Healthcare with Maddy Rieman, Head of Customer Success at Cerkl, and James Cervantes, Senior Vice President and Regional Health Systems Practice Lead at Jarrard discussed the many issues in depth. Their objectives were to:

  1. Identify key contributors to workforce communications and engagement challenges
  2. Better understand employee audiences and what they want to know from leaders
  3. Explore comms tactics that build trust, transparency, and a culture of belonging between employees and leaders
  4. Prepare for the future of employee communications 

“It’s an interesting time in healthcare right now. For hospitals and healthcare organizations, externally we’re seeing increasing pressure from regulatory agencies, media, communities, challenging merger and acquisition deals, challenging hospitals and health organizations, nonprofit status, community benefit programs. Internally, we’re seeing the entirely new Generation Z enter the workforce. We’re seeing millennials move into manager and leadership roles for the first time. Baby boomers are fighting for their place among the ranks in leadership and trying to figure out what their role is in these emerging growing organizations. This is all coupled with an increasing shortage of healthcare workers.”

James Cervantes

Some Highlights:

  • The four current trends relate to the workplace, digital transformation, the need to modernize internal comms channels, and cybersecurity and privacy.
  • The average turnover in healthcare organizations is around 20%. 
  • Email is the tool everybody loves to hate, but it remains the channel used most (93.7%) in internal communications.
  • Transparency and employee engagement are today’s currency of trust. 
  • Nurses are local to their teams but not so much to supervisors and organizations.
  • Trust in leadership is a challenge that can be solved by ensuring effective two-way conversations.
  • Communication tools and inclusive communications can build a community and strengthen organizational culture. 
  • The future of employee communications and engagement will be driven by AI. 

“We are living in a day and age where literally every interaction we have is personalized. It is using AI machine learning. So why stop at the doorstep of an employee’s first day at work or every interaction? If Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon can personalize my experience for me, why can’t my employer do this with their communications?”

Maddy Rieman

The four key trends we’re seeing today are:

  1. Workforce growth and engagement
  2. A need for more sophisticated internal communications
  3. Digital transformation
  4. Cybersecurity threats that loom large

Workforce Growth and Engagement

“When we ask leaders what their number one priority is in 2024, most say the workforce is the thing that keeps them up at night,” says James. “After all, this is an industry that revolves around people taking care of people. So it’s not necessarily a surprise that our people should be a priority. Why this matters today, however, is that there’s more turnover than ever before.” 

Incredibly, in the past five years, the average hospital turned over 106.6% of its workforce. However, the current hospital turnover rate is 20.7%. 

James highlights the fact that there’s been a significant focus on mental health and total well-being. This is because “employees are demanding more from their organizations. We know that people in culture and HR departments simply need to be more competitive in the market to be able to attract the talent to their organizations.” He adds that, “Recruiting is key. Communication doesn’t just start when a new employee begins with your organization, but from the moment they see the ad and apply.” As a result, “we’re seeing a concerted focus not just on internal communications, but also the entire recruiting and onboarding journey.” 

Call for More Sophisticated Communications

Slides presented to the audience highlighted that effective team communication and collaboration increase employee retention by 4.5x. Furthermore, 40% of employees worldwide believe there is a lack of collaboration and communication in their organization. 

Trust in executive leadership teams is weak and people crave interaction and collaboration. They want to feel like they belong. 

On the positive side, clear, real-time, and personalized communications create an elevated experience for team members.

Digital Transformation

A highlight here is that AI implementation and usage are becoming the “new normal.” Also, the adoption of digital communication tools and platforms is established and here to stay. 

Additionally, they report that telehealth and virtual care services are growing exponentially. 

“We’re in a digital transformation,” says James. “Communication is a key part of this.” But despite the move towards digital and AI, and new platforms and technologies, the primary way those in the healthcare industry communicate is via email (93.7%). Also, “it’s still intranet (72%), Microsoft Teams is increasing (52.4%), but we’re in this state of transition when it comes to communication.” While it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s “something that we have to plan for and really think about strategically as we move to the future.”

Cybersecurity Threats

Unfortunately, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to impact organizations financially, causing operational pressures. 

As care delivery evolves and becomes more complex, organizations are embracing consolidation. They are also creating internal structures that allow for innovation and collaboration. But, all the while it is clear that looming threats of cyber attacks remain top of mind

Because of the threats of cyber attacks, “needing to be able to communicate with employees and patients in real-time, up to the minute, is almost the new expectation,” says James. 

What Does Your Audience Value Most?

As Maddy points out, there’s an inherent difference between what you need to communicate either from a legal or business operational perspective, and what your audience values most. “It’s finding that balance that is key to ensuring that you’re putting your audience’s interest in what they value most at the forefront. And that will, as you know, increase overall engagement and awareness of what’s happening outside of your organization.” And then there’s the challenge to ensure the language is human and not “corporate speak.”

So what do employee audiences value most versus their leaders?

Culture and valuesOperational changes
Personnel updatesOrganizational goals
People operationsPeople operations
Business updatesPersonnel updates
Organizational goalsCulture and values
Operational changesBusiness updates

Understand Your Workforce

These three tips can help.

#1 Align Leadership

Managing and delivering clear, effective communications to your workforce requires aligned leaders, clear roles, and an organized approach. Ensure you have the right leaders moving in the same direction.

#2 Listen and Understand

It’s not difficult. Use shorter, more frequent surveys and polling — instead of lengthy annual surveys — to implement changes, address concerns and, make improvements in a more timely manner.

#3 Assess Your Workforce Culture

Use frequent polling to assess how you’re currently communicating with your workforce and their perception of the organization’s culture to inform and tailor content and messaging.

Combat Communication Overload 

This, says Maddy, is a widespread problem. “I’ve even had a customer come to us saying that they were sending over 50 emails to their employees every single day. It was baffling. And they knew that it was a problem.” The root of the problem was that they didn’t have a way to segment audiences. So, they simply sent everything to everybody

“Whether it’s through distribution lists or rule sets, it’s imperative to ensure that you’re getting the right content to the right person. Otherwise, they’re just not going to listen to anything. And then of course streamlining, communication channels. We’re in a day and age where I see something in one platform, why am I seeing it again in another platform? I’ve already completed my benefits enrollment for open enrollment. I’ve already completed the new policy change. So why am I getting it again? That all those things compound on each other and put employees in a position to tune out.”

Maddy Rieman

Here’s what you can do:

  • Prioritize quality over quantity, and focus on delivering clear, concise, and actionable information that employees actually need.
  • Segment your audiences. Tailor messages and messengers to specific team needs and roles to avoid irrelevant email blasts. 
  • Streamline communication channels. Analyze existing channels and identify redundancies or platforms with low engagement. 
  • Measure communication effectiveness. Utilize analytics tools on a regular cadence to identify which channels are most effective and what content resonates with employees.
  • Advocate for communications alignment. Work with leadership to ensure communications efforts prioritize clear messaging, avoid siloed workflows, and align with overall company goals.

Importance of Two-Way Communication

Trust in organizations and their leaders remains a challenge. The best way to increase trust is to use authentic and frequent two-way communications that build loyalty. 

Here are some tips to improve two-way communication at every level:

  • Set immediate supervisors up for success by coaching them on how to effectively relay information and gather feedback
  • Hold everyone accountable, especially leadership. Culture and communication start at the top. It’s unreasonable to expect staff to behave in a certain way if they don’t see leadership doing the same
  • Create space and offer resources for teams to strengthen their peer-peer and peer-manager relationships, away from the pressure of daily patient care.

It’s also important to create open channels for feedback:

  • Undertake frequent surveys and polls 
  • Hold regular town halls, virtually
  • Enable anonymous feedback options  
  • Utilize digital platforms for real-time feedback and discussion opportunities 

Transparency and Engagement

There is no doubt that transparency and engagement are the keys to trust. 

James tells how Jarrard undertakes surveys throughout the year. “I thought this question from our latest national consumer survey with physicians was really interesting as it relates to understanding what physicians are wanting in terms of communications engagement from leadership.” 

The question was: What is the number one thing that could help increase your trust in the leaders of your organization? “And fully one-third of open text responses include the words transparent or transparency or honest or honesty, which is a really important element of building trust among physicians. So, I share that because in the spirit of two-way communications.”

Another quote is: “We would have more trust if we felt like the hospital system was more human. It seems like everyone is just a tool in a giant toolbox.” 

Adding to this sentiment, it’s interesting that seven in ten nurses feel loyal to their team. Loyalty is shown to decline when it comes to supervisors and organizations.  

Leverage Comms to Create Engagement, Belonging, and Connection

This is something every organization strives for. “When it comes to the importance of belonging, there is a massive increase in overall employee wellbeing. The data shows that any communicator can see the idea of the potential burnout of their employees,” says Maddy. 

Issues to focus on include:

  1. Importance of belonging, which relates to employee well-being and organizational loyalty. “We see that when someone has been at an organization for a long time, they continue to stay engaged.”
  2. Role of communication tools that relate to inclusive communications and building a community. “There are lots of changes in technology itself, but make sure you’re keeping top of mind any ways in which you can translate your content.” 
  3. Strengthening organizational culture with culture-building initiatives and consistent messaging. 

How to Cultivate Engagement, Belonging, and Connection

When you discover that workplace belonging and connection lead to a 56% increase in job performance, that’s when you realize how important it is to cultivate employee engagement along with a sense of belonging and connection. 

Here are some excellent ways to do it.

  • Incorporate Interactive, visual, and multimedia content including video messages from leaders. Also, be sure to feature different departments and teams.
  • Foster connection with peer-to-peer recognition and spotlights and mentorship and support networks. Be sure to highlight organizational wins. 
  • Maintain regular updates that are relevant to employee audiences. Keep employees informed about organizational goals including diversity and inclusion efforts. Establish channels for employees to provide feedback and suggestions. 

Power of Effective Communications

Ultimately, as they point out, communications are foundational to any approach that fosters workforce belonging. 

If you have clear channels + personalized content + human connection, you’re going to achieve an elevated employee experience. 

The webinar produced multiple tips, and here are some more examples.

  • Clear channels will enable communicators to cut through the noise and connect with the workforce
  • Personalized content speaks directly to the people who matter
  • Human connection is elevated when it is a two-way street
  • Elevated experience is the goal because it can lead to greater trust, collaboration, and pride in the organization

Prepare for the Future

So, what is the future of employee communications and how can we prepare for it?

Clearly, technology is key. But what can we expect? In a nutshell:

  • AI-driven engagement with personalization and predictive analytics
  • Enhanced mobile communication using mobile-first strategies and push notifications
  • Integrated comms platforms with unified communication systems and collaboration tools

Two particularly interesting statistics that emerge here are that 68% of employees want their employers to use more AI technology and 81% perform better with AI integration.

James adds an important point regarding a need for technology and content that need to work together. ”These two things go hand in glove. You can have the best technology, but if it’s not the right content or if it’s not customized, the technology is not gonna work. On the flip side, you can have the greatest content, but if you don’t have a sophisticated platform to push the content through, who’s gonna read it?”

“Then, as we continue to prepare for the future, make sure that you have that continuous learning and adaptation,” says Maddy. “So, keeping up with trends, understanding what’s happening.” While initially, everyone was afraid of the AI trend, “Now everyone’s starting to adopt it, and it’s being utilized across the board.” 

Her advice is to become involved with AI tools, “stay ahead of the curve, understand what things are happening in the tech space, and get ahead of those scenarios internally.”

Also, embrace continuous learning and adaptation – and keep up with trends. Use frequent polling and user data to implement changes, and address concerns and make improvements. Perhaps most importantly, invest in technology as part of strategic planning.  

Questions & Answers

These answers have been shortened. For the full answer, please log into the webinar recording on YouTube.

How do we reach employees who aren’t at their desks and aren’t checking their emails throughout the day? How do I ensure they see important communication?

James: I feel strongly that it’s sort of a multi-channel communication strategy is what’s best. Email is still sort of at the top of that list, but it can’t be the only thing on that list. It needs to incorporate several different approaches that you’re taking to reach your employees.

We’d love to understand more about email open rate standards given that channels are evolving and emails may or may not be a preferred channel in a bite-sized content world.

James: In the example that I mentioned earlier, when we saw there was one leader who would send a weekly update and it was literally three pages long, it was long form, all really great things to share, but people just weren’t reading it. And when we moved it to literally a one-page email with a couple of headlines, bullets, some hyperlinks, some pictures, the open rate went up like 15 percentage points, so it’s very possible to move that needle by simply making some small changes in the way that it’s structured. We’re not talking about drastic changes to content per se, but some small structure changes can really lead to an improved open rate for others. 

How can we ensure employees are seeing important communications? 

Maddy: Hopefully there are some ways in which you can pass that message down to the people managers. But look for ways in which your existing tools might be able to allow you to retarget that communication. To say, hey, I know I sent out this comms. I wanna resend this exact same comms to everyone who didn’t open it. So, you’re not inundating people with things that they’ve already seen or already engaged with. Also, being able to include things such as acknowledgment where they are required to click a button to say, I acknowledge this happening. And then being sure to extend on a cadence for those who haven’t acknowledged them. Obviously, those can be tool-specific, but there are lots of ways in which you can take that type of methodology. and apply it even if you’re just using Outlook as a communication tool today. 

As a healthcare communicator, how can I increase buy-in from leadership with new technology?

Maddy: It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s being able to show the ROI. If you take the stats that we just mentioned here today, that your turnover is 20.7%, that’s insane. If you as a communicator can contribute to reducing that even by let’s say six or five percentage points, think about what that does to the ROI of the business that is saving your organization hundreds, if not millions of dollars. Remove yourself from “I want this thing,” and think about it from a business perspective of what it can do in terms of revenue to the company.

James:  I think you gotta connect the communications element of it with sort of your other strategic priorities. Your retention, your recruitment. You know how to communicate with HR. So I think when we’ve seen leadership buy-in at the executive level, it’s because they see that communications also advance other strategic priorities that the organization has.

What’s Next

Cerkl Broadcast is an AI-powered internal communications platform that helps organizations effectively personalize and automate their internal communications. It uses AI to analyze employee data and behavior and then uses that information to deliver targeted, relevant, and timely content to each individual employee.

By using Cerkl Broadcast, organizations can create a more personalized and engaging internal communications experience for their employees.

Cerkl has already helped a number of healthcare organizations streamline their communications strategies by introducing personalization and segmentation

If you’d like to know more about improving your organization’s communications strategies, we’d love to chat.

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