September 3, 2004

Employee satisfaction on rise at VUMC

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Harry R. Jacobson, M.D.

Employee satisfaction on rise at VUMC

Vanderbilt University Medical Center leaders aren’t in the least dissatisfied with the results of the 2004 staff and faculty satisfaction survey.

“With this latest survey, we’ve seen significant improvement in comparison both with our own past scores and with national health care averages,” said Harry R. Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “It’s gratifying to find that we’ve come up in virtually every category covered by the survey.”

The survey was administered at VUMC June 14 through July 2 by Morehead Associates, the firm that surveyed Vanderbilt employees in 1999 and 2001. Some 7,560 VUMC staff and faculty took part in the 2004 survey, equating to a response rate of 63 percent, up from a rate of 54 percent in 2001.

Staff and faculty read a series of 62 plainly upbeat statements about working at VUMC — “There is a climate of trust in the medical center,” for example — and were given five choices for their responses to each statement, from one for “strongly disagree” to five for “strongly agree.” The higher the satisfaction, the higher the scores.

For the statement, “Overall, I am a satisfied employee,” the results were: in 1999, 3.51 at VUMC compared with 3.61 for the national health care average; in 2001, a somewhat improved 3.65 at VUMC compared with 3.56 for the national health care average; and this year, a much stronger 3.94 at VUMC compared with a national health care average of 3.74.

For the statement, “The Medical Center treats employees with respect,” the results were: in 1999, 3.28 at VUMC compared with 3.21 for the national health care average; in 2001, a an improved 3.44 at VUMC compared with 3.33 for the national health care average; and this year, a further improved 3.79 at VUMC compared with a national health care average of 3.61.

Morehead has current national health care averages for 39 of the questions that were asked at VUMC; in all, the Medical Center scored below national averages on only two of these questions, and scored above national averages on 15 (for the remaining 22 of these questions, VUMC scores were within the margin of error of national scores).

To derive a “commitment indicator,” Morehead aggregates responses to subsets of questions from their surveys. VUMC employees measure a strong 4.05 commitment to their organization, compared with a 2004 national health care average of 3.89.

The two questions where VUMC scores compared most favorably with national health care averages were: “The medical center’s leadership provides the direction necessary for the medical center’s continued success,” where the VUMC score was 3.83 and the national score was 3.46; and, “There is effective communication within my workgroup,” where the VUMC score was 3.60 and the national score was 3.23.

The two scores that improved most greatly at VUMC from 2001 to 2004 have to do with fair compensation and with trust. For the statement, “My pay compares favorably with similar positions in my job market,” this year’s score is 3.19, compared with 2.74 in 2001 (the 2004 national health care average is 3.04). For the statement, “There is a climate of trust in the medical center,” this year’s score is 3.43, compared with 3.05 in 2001 (the 2004 national health care average is 3.19).

Based on results from hundreds of more or less similar surveys, Morehead’s 2004 national health care average overall employee satisfaction score is 3.69. The 2004 VUMC overall satisfaction score was 3.79.

Because half the VUMC questions were new this year, no comparisons were ventured between current and past aggregate survey scores at VUMC.

“There’s more reason than ever to be mindful of and responsive to employee opinion,” Jacobson said. “The performance of our staff and faculty is directly related to the quality of our work environment, and we’re engaged as ever in a competition to attract and retain the best people to help us accomplish our goals. Any progress we achieve in employee satisfaction pays significant dividends to our organization.”

“Employee satisfaction results are providing strong clues to help guide our efforts to improve the organization,” said Norman B. Urmy, executive vice president for Clinical Affairs and CEO of Vanderbilt University Hospital. “We still have areas of employee satisfaction that are in need of improvement and these recent results can only encourage our efforts to continue to make VUMC one of the greatest places to work.”

“I think these results show above all that VUMC employees are confident in their senior leadership and in the direction in which the organization is headed,” said Associate Vice Chancellor Kevin A. Myatt, Vanderbilt’s chief human resource officer.

“As we’ve seen from past surveys, any ideas for change that may be suggested by this recent data will certainly be taken seriously at the Medical Center,” said Lisa S. Ponton, senior director of Human Resources. “You can’t put a price on someone’s desire to work for an organization they feel good about.”

“Employee satisfaction will continue as a focus area for the Medical Center,” said David R. Posch, chief operating officer of Vanderbilt Medical Group. “We’ve seen good improvement, but there are also areas where we could stand more improvement.” Posch in particular mentioned 2004 VUMC survey scores related to rewarding individuals when the organization does well, communication between different levels of the organization, adequate staffing, and employee benefits.

Ponton and Joel G. Lee, associate vice chancellor for Communications, are coordinating efforts to help the organization respond to the survey results.

Lee said planning is underway to help areas of VUMC with lower scores improve their performance. Work groups within VUMC have been divided into three tiers according to their overall satisfaction scores.

“If unit scores fall in the bottom tier, that’s an indication that the work unit is under some type of stress,” Lee said. “There may be any number of legitimate reasons for that stress, including new challenges from outside the organization, or ongoing efforts to achieve new levels of efficiency and quality.

“Low satisfaction scores don’t equate with poor management skills, and we mustn’t let any stigma attach itself to our tiers strategy. It’s simply that organizations improve employee satisfaction most quickly by focusing on low-satisfaction areas, and division into tiers is a means for us to begin that work.”

Lee said units with scores in the bottom tier will work with their supervisors and staff to determine causes of stress in their areas, learn what can be fixed to help relieve the situation, and carry out programs to improve employee satisfaction.