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Workforce report: Engagement

NOTE: This blog post features the Engagement section from OCH's newest report, "Strengthening the health-serving workforce". This report is directly informed by the work of OCH’s partners in behavioral health, primary care, hospitals, dental health, public health, community-based, and Tribal settings. As such, there is room for everyone in this important work. OCH aims to support a strong and healthy workforce, which ultimately produces a ripple effect that positively impacts individual and population health.

Engagement refers to whether employees care about their work and feel that their efforts make a difference. Engagement is a key component of supporting the healthserving workforce, as high engagement leads to strong development and ultimately increased retention. Common barriers to engagement include limited time and resources, staff burnout, and lack of flexibility. OCH is inspired by the creative approaches across the region to foster engagement, especially during a pandemic.

Capacity to collaborate

Over half of OCH partners identified “devoted staff time for team collaboration and team building” as having great impact on engagement. The impact of opportunities for collaboration and team building was particularly strong among partners in Kitsap County, as well as partners working in behavioral health and/or primary care fields.

One of the largest barriers to team collaboration is lack of capacity. This challenge has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as staff shortages and increase in demand have led to limited time and resources.

Though carving out time for collaboration is often a challenge, it is an area that over half of OCH partners have identified successes within.


Employee-informed solutions, Kitsap Children’s Clinic

To better understand staff capacity, Kitsap Children’s Clinic conducted an internal survey. They heard from over half the staff and received many great suggestions for reasonable improvements that could be made to improve workload. They embraced staff’s input and implemented those changes which increased employee satisfaction.

Monthly dedicated time for engagement, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe

Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has addressed the issue of busy schedules and lack of engagement by setting aside one day each month for staff training and collaboration. This time is regular and set on the calendar so that team engagement is prioritized. This approached has been received well and is appreciated by staff.

Managing burnout

Partners across the region, regardless of field of work or organization size has identified the presence of burnout as a challenge to engagement.xvi Burnout has increased significantly due to COVID-19, as major changes in both work and home environments add stress to an individual. One partner shared, “Because of the pandemic, we are super short staffed which is causing everyone to burn out. Everyone is at the end of their collective ropes and simply don't have the energy to engage.”


Personalized specialties, First Step Family Support Center

One way that First Step Family Support Center works to build engagement and combat burnout is to allow staffers to pursue personal passion areas as their "specialty". They do this by giving staff additional training and space to grow personally and professionally around a topic that engages them. This approach centers individual interests and keeps workloads balanced in a way that resonates with unique passions.

Positivity Patrol, Peninsula Behavioral Health

The nature of behavioral health workloads are often quite heavy and emotionally taxing. Peninsula Behavioral Health has implemented a unique strategy to combat burnout, especially during COVID-19 by launching their Positivity Patrol. This group plans, coordinates, and hosts events throughout the year that bring staff together, outside of normal work meetings and tasks, to inspire positivity and camaraderie. Previously, the group has organized mingle events at a staff member’s goat farm, group ice skating, and spin the wheel prize opportunities.


Flexibility in the work environment promotes equitable opportunities for employment and ultimately creates a sense of belonging and balance across employees. However, not all workplaces are conducive to flexible environments. Therefore, finding ways to incorporate flexibility into schedules that have little wiggle room is often a challenge.

Factors such as in-person necessity, access to high-speed broadband at home, and access to transportation often serve as barriers to flexible work options. Additionally, COVID-19 has created many challenges and opportunities for flexibility in the workplace. The pandemic prompted the quick transition of many workplaces to virtual work environments. Employers were then faced with the new challenge of cultivating team unity and collaboration across flexible work styles and environments as working remote became the new norm.

Though a challenge, the impact of flexibility on employee engagement is strong. This was affirmed through OCH’s partner survey where over half of the survey respondents, consider flexible work schedules and opportunities for employee appreciation to be key factors that contribute to engagement.


Fostering connection via staff shout outs, YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties

The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties has been fostering a sense of purpose and connection among staff members by highlighting staff successes in regular staff newsletters. This approach allows them to give staff "shout outs" that help build awareness across staff about what various teams and individuals are working on. Additionally, they invite people to share their story about "why the Y" to lift and inspire their teams. This is a digital approach to building team unity and celebration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Catering to younger workforce needs, Olympic Community Action Programs

Olympic Community Action Programs offers a hybrid work model, allowing for both remote and inperson schedules. To set remote staff up for success, they purchased office supplies needed to work from home comfortably. Additionally, they provide laundry services onsite, which have been utilized and embraced by their younger workforce, allowing them to do laundry while working instead of spending their weekend at a laundromat.

Want to learn more? Read the rest of the report!

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