Amy Joyce
Life at Work

Attitudes and Action

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By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Raise your hand if you think you could run your workplace better than those who are in charge now.

Yep, I thought so. Lots of us would say that's the case.

Sure, many companies ask for employee feedback through surveys, questionnaires and suggestion boxes. But do they ever actually do anything with those results?

At MedStar Health, the large Rockville-based health care system that includes the Washington Hospital Center, Georgetown University Hospital and National Rehabilitation Hospital in the District and four hospitals in Baltimore, doing something with the results has turned into a major organization-wide project.

The hospitals and companies that are part of MedStar all had their own employee surveys, but they never seemed to do anything with the results, said Margery Zylich, assistant vice president of operational communications and special projects. So MedStar decided a few years ago to do one survey for all of its employees, hoping to incorporate all of their issues and solutions across the entire organization.

The results from the first MedStar-wide anonymous survey in 2000 were abysmal. Just 50 percent of the 22,000 employees responded. Of those, only 26 percent were satisfied with pay and benefits and only 57 percent were "satisfied" overall.

Those results were the start of a program aimed to encourage employees to speak up about things they wanted to change and how they wanted to change them. They were encouraged to question their workplace without guilt.

Employee focus groups were created. Town hall meetings were held, even during the overnight shifts. Groups within the hospitals and companies started to have "huddles" during the week to discuss problems that arose, changes that could be made and solutions other departments had come up with.

"We were a new system. We wanted to unify employees," Zylich said. (The various hospitals and companies started to come together in 1998.) "We also wanted to build a two-way dialogue and trust and link the whole thing back to the mission of patient care and great service."

One of the first things the system did was to respond to dissatisfaction with benefits and pay. The group's most recent survey showed 51 percent of employees are now satisfied with pay and benefits, but the big change in the compensation was simply better communication about what the group offered.

"What was important to me was outlining the benefits in a clear way," said Nancy DiBenedetto, data quality analyst at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. The new information clearly showed how much NRH paid for each employee's insurance, "which I never saw before. Most people think their value is just salary. But when you see how much they pay for benefits, it's a lot higher."

Based on feedback from meetings and focus groups, 1,500 managers throughout the system created "action plans" for their departments. These plans are continually updated and entered into MedStar's Intranet so the groups can get suggestions from one another.


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