Millions of baby boomers are nearing their retirement years. Soon enough, employers will be faced with the challenge of not only finding, but more importantly, keeping the succeeding generations of employees involved and satisfied.

Employee engagement has been a popular management concept as organizations seek to motivate workers. Convincing evidence now shows that improving employee engagement significantly improves company performance across several key areas.

As managers, keeping our employees engaged is perhaps the greatest challenge we face. It’s also a huge opportunity to gain long-term commitment and discretionary effort from our teams to apply their full capabilities and perform at the highest levels. Energetic and dedicated employees can make a true difference for organizations that want to be maximally efficient and productive.

The clinical labs at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have undertaken several initiatives to better engage our employees and improve retention, particularly among our younger millennial and Generation Z team members, whom we need in our workforce for decades to come. While these have been long-standing concerns of ours, staff surveys in 2016 and 2018 found that we had some ground to cover, so we focused more specifically on employee engagement initiatives. Our efforts, rolled out across CHOP labs, cover six key engagement strategies.

Encourage employees to speak up

When staff don’t feel as if they can speak up, they might be holding back valuable ideas and solutions that could move our lab forward. We ask our team members to bring ideas during daily huddles or meetings and to implement them if appropriate. We use bottom-up decision-making and encourage the staff’s input. For example, we created staff focus groups involving process improvements and design of a lab. They came up with workflow and design recommendations that made significant improvements in our operations.

Be flexible

We hold employees accountable for their performance yet give them flexibility as long as it doesn’t impact negatively on our operations. For instance, if someone’s train schedule were to change, we would allow the individual to modify work hours a little to better accommodate his or her needs while also ensuring that we had adequate coverage.

Help employees move forward in their careers and education

We have a comprehensive career ladder with multiple steps to accommodate staff development, which supervisors discuss during one-on-one check-ins with staff. Based on a team member’s interests, he or she will be assigned additional responsibilities, bench assignments, or projects to help progress toward those goals. If this includes pursuing further education, we will work with the team member to flex his or her working days/hours. We want to help employees reach their goals, even if that means they may someday leave CHOP.

Celebrate staff milestones

When employees feel like they’re getting the proper amount of attention, they typically have more of a pull to be as engaged as possible in their work. Each month, we have cake for staff members who have a birthday in that month. In our daily departmental huddles, every Thursday is recognition day when we acknowledge team members for their accomplishments and send to all 400 lab employees a communication about these kudos.

One-on-one check-ins

Our standard is that supervisors meet one-on-one with staff members multiple times a year rather than just once at annual evaluation time. We’ve found that this enables employees to open up, and it’s particularly helpful to those who are not comfortable making suggestions in public. It also cuts down on the work needed to fix any issues that come to light.

Bring employees into the hiring process

In our view, there’s no better way to make employees feel like they’re an important part of the organization than to bring them right into the hiring process. In our labs, when an applicant comes in for an interview, he or she after meeting with the hiring manager will spend 30 to 45 minutes talking with our bench staff in the absence of a supervisor. This exchange enables both parties to assess whether the job in question is a good fit for the candidate and vice versa. We value our staff’s feedback from these sessions.

We have more experience with some of these strategies than others and expect it will take some time to fully assess their overall effects. However, a very hopeful early sign that they’re having the intended results is that all the new graduates we hired in the last 1 to 2 years are still with us.

One thing for certain is that we’ll be monitoring our progress closely and evolving our strategies as needed to keep our valued staff with us and our operations moving forward.

Vipul Shah, MBA, MLS(ASCP), DLM(ASCP)CM, is division manager of clinical labs in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. +Email:shahv@email.chop.edu