Biomedical engineering departments can be both one of the most difficult—and one of the most fulfilling—places to work within hospitals. Just review the results from 24×7’s recent 2007 Annual Compensation Survey. Although the majority of respondents expressed an overall satisfaction with their jobs, many were unhappy about workload and scheduling, which can negatively impact employee morale. Managers and directors need to pay special attention to these concerns in order to keep staff motivated and productive.

See the 2007 Annual Compensation Survey in the December 2007 issue here.

Maintaining an inspired workforce involves more than just a hefty paycheck. It involves developing a motivational climate that rewards employees for a job well done and encourages them to be the best they can be. Mike Kauffman, CBET, assistant director of facilities, Reading Hospital and Medical Center, Reading, Pa, understands the importance of keeping employees happy. Not only does he supervise 20 biomeds in a busy seven-campus hospital system, he is a key member of the hospital’s employee satisfaction team. Kauffman stresses that employees who feel appreciated for their efforts have higher self-esteem and more confidence, making them more successful in their jobs. Although people are motivated by different factors, he notes that there are generally three types of employees: 1) disengaged employees, 2) satisfied employees, and 3) engaged employees. “Disengaged employees give you about 10% effort, satisfied ones give you a little more, but those who are engaged end up giving more than they’re required,” Kauffman says. “Our goal is to end up with more employees who are engaged and go the extra mile.”

Support from the Top

According to Kauffman, the major reason he is able to convert many disengaged and satisfied employees into engaged employees is that his hospital’s administration is committed to allocating resources to employee satisfaction. Reading Hospital understands that when employees are recognized properly, they are more willing to take on new challenges and contribute new ideas to improve quality and productivity. The employee motivation programs the hospital offers range from small employee gifts (such as free turkeys during the holidays, free meals following Joint Commission inspections, and personalized water bottles), to much larger rewards such as tuition reimbursement, flexible scheduling, and all-staff seminars featuring national speakers.

Reading Hospital’s formal employee recognition program involves awarding employees who perform outstanding service or behaviors with Tower Cards (named for the hospital’s historic tower). After collecting three Tower Cards, employees are entitled to a gift certificate of their choice. The hospital awards about 300 gift certificates each month, which translates to 1,500 Tower Cards per month. The Tower Card program is just one of many incentives that Reading Hospital offers to improve employee motivation, and it clearly pays off. A recent annual employee perception survey revealed that employee recognition was among the areas within the hospital that received the highest marks. “This score went from being one of the lowest marks in the survey several years ago to one of the highest,” Kauffman says.

Summa Health System, based in Akron, Ohio, is also well recognized for its administration’s commitment to employee satisfaction. According to Kyle Klawitter, vice president of human resources, the six-hospital system practices servant leadership, which purports that a manager’s primary job is to serve people who serve the front line. Klawitter stresses that the best way to accomplish this is to be sure that all barriers have been removed, so managers can be better leaders. Summa achieves this through its leadership institute, which provides every manager with educational seminars, coaching, mentoring, and online classes.

To help employees avoid burnout and stay motivated under stressful situations, Summa encourages its managers to keep an open-door policy so employees can find immediate solutions to workload issues. “In many instances, transferring to another position outside of their department or to another hospital within our system is the answer,” Klawitter says. “They don’t lose their benefits but are given a fresh perspective.” Since Summa has both community hospitals as well as a trauma center, there are many different options for biomeds who wish to try something different. Summa’s employee assistance program is also available for employees who need help balancing their personal lives with their work.

Organizations also can improve employee morale by offering services that make employees’ lives easier. For example, Summa operates an on-site childcare and eldercare center for employees. “Knowing that their infant or elderly relative is being taken care of throughout the day provides comfort to employees and allows them to focus on their jobs,” Klawitter says.

Intangible Incentives

But aside from tangible perks such as on-site childcare centers and employee rewards, Kauffman is quick to point out that one of the most important ways to motivate staff is to maintain an environment that not only respects employees for making their own decisions, but also offers a fun place to spend time. “We work hard and play hard,” he says. Kauffman believes that the stressful nature of keeping hospital equipment up and running 24/7 requires that there are times set aside for relaxation. “It’s critical to carve out time for your team to catch their breath, reflect, and regroup,” he says.

Letting biomeds control their schedules also has helped them stay motivated and prevented burnout. Instead of assigning a rigid schedule for preventive maintenance, Kauffman allows biomeds to schedule their equipment inspections as they see fit. It doesn’t matter when the inspections take place, just so they are completed by the end of the month. If employees prefer working the first, second, or third shift, or on weekends, Kauffman tries his hardest to accommodate these requests. “The important thing is letting them feel like they are somebody and that they can handle their own schedules,” he says. He also encourages staff to bring their spouses and children to work. “This is an extension of their lives and home, and they should be proud to show their families what goes on in our shop,” he says. Since Kauffman encourages families to drop in, it is not uncommon for an employee’s spouse to bring in home-cooked food to share with the staff.

By treating employees fairly, giving them control over their careers, and creating a fun work environment, turnover at Reading Hospital is extremely low. Most employees who have worked elsewhere understand that Reading is different and they tend to stay.

Employee Motivation That Works

Kyle Klawitter, vice president of human resources, Summa Health System, Akron, Ohio, offers these tips when developing an employee recognition/motivation program.

  • Make sure employees understand what the program is all about and how they can achieve a specific award.
  • Match the recognition to the person. Recognize that each employee values different forms of recognition.
  • Offer immediate praise. Recognition that is given late does little to motivate individuals to repeat the action.
  • Administer the program consistently, and avoid favoritism.
  • Publicize employees’ accomplishments throughout the organization. Allow them to serve as role models.
  • Be willing to step back and assess whether an employee recognition program is still working. Many become stale when used year after year.


Take Ken Bailey, radiology equipment technician, who has spent most of his seasoned career at Reading Hospital. “Biomeds are satisfied with their jobs here because they feel empowered to be able to make decisions on their own,” he says. “We don’t feel micromanaged, and we’re treated with respect, which is important in getting the job done.”

Bailey notes that burnout is usually not a problem at his hospital because even when times are tough, biomeds are given the opportunity to advance their careers through training and formal education. “We’re a very inquisitive bunch, and we recognize the value of learning—whether it involves new modalities or processes,” he says. “Keeping skill sets current is the best insurance in an uncertain business environment.”

Curt Doles, director of medical engineering at Summa, agrees that employees are much more capable of dealing with a heavy workload if they feel they have control over their work and their careers. The 17 biomeds in Doles’ department know that they are empowered to make decisions in order to get the necessary equipment into the hands of the user. “In the end, their decision might have resulted in having to spend more money or resources, but we’ll assess that after the fact. The important thing is that the biomed knows he or she has the authority to get the job done,” Doles says.

Summa (just like Reading Hospital) provides a variety of training options for its employees. “We think it’s important to offer training opportunities to staff members who want to refresh a given skill or learn a new one,” Doles says. “Not everyone will be interested in these opportunities, and that’s OK, too. But they have that option if they choose to exercise it.”

Communication Is Critical

Klawitter stresses that communication plays a critical role in keeping employees motivated. Employees become frustrated if they are unaware of their supervisors’ expectations and are uncertain about how they are perceived in terms of work performance. “It’s vital that employees understand how what they do impacts the success of an organization, not to mention patient care,” she says. “Without being in the loop, employees are just doing a job, rather than doing something that’s incredibly meaningful to them.”

Because Summa is such a large organization with more than 7,800 employees systemwide, it places a high value on communication. Its communications department uses a variety of vehicles to disseminate information, such as e-mail bulletins, newsletters, and speaking engagements. But Klawitter adds that employees also must play an active role in staying informed by taking time to read important information distributed by the administration and their managers. “We pay a lot of attention to communicating valuable information, but in the end it’s the employee’s responsibility for reading these materials,” Klawitter says.

Doles concurs that a department that encourages strong communication reaps rewards by creating a contented employee base. Each year, Doles (along with all Summa managers) fulfills his requirement to solicit feedback from his employees regarding areas that need improvement. For example, a year ago the overall consensus among his biomeds was that the department’s database had to be stored on notebook computers, so that when staff members were working in different areas of the hospital system, they would have access to the information. After obtaining approval from administration and working on a plan to acquire the right equipment, Doles was able to turn this suggestion into a reality.

To keep communication channels open, Doles conducts staff meetings at each campus every other week. The morning of the meeting, he e-mails an agenda to each staff member, allowing them to add discussion points. “My door is always open; I’m a real believer in being accessible and being willing to listen,” he says.

Personalized Motivation

One of the challenges for managers is that each employee is motivated differently. “In developing a strategy for improving employee motivation, you can’t use a cookie-cutter approach,” Doles explains. “I find I have to individualize rewards because not everyone is motivated by the same things.”

According to Klawitter, many employees are not motivated by monetary rewards. “What they do day in and day out is extremely important to the employee’s happiness and motivation level,” she says. “If what motivates employees is not identified, there can be a huge disconnect in an organization.”

Some organizations have even found that the most effective way to determine what motivates staff is to survey them on how they want to be rewarded and recognized, as well as what frustrates them about their jobs. From the survey, an individual manager can see what type of reward or recognition is likely to have the greatest impact on a particular employee. Questions that can be used for this type of survey include:

  • What would you like more of in your job? What motivates you to be more productive?
  • What would you like less of? What aspects of your job inhibit productivity?
  • Why did you quit your last few jobs?

The results of such a survey may surprise many managers who think most employees are concerned only about their paycheck. “In years past, people were attracted to health care because they had intrinsic reasons for wanting to help people or they knew it was a stable career choice,” Kauffman says. “Today’s younger generation expects more than just a paycheck; they’ve grown up being rewarded constantly—in school, sports, and even while playing video games—so we need to develop creative ways to recognize them for their efforts.”

Everyone knows that strong employee satisfaction results in low staff turnover. But fewer people realize that there is a strong correlation between a happier workforce and enhanced patient care. Klawitter explains that numerous studies have reported these findings, as has Summa’s own research. “If you have happier caregivers and support staff such as biomeds, you generally have more satisfied patients, which is the ultimate goal of all health care organizations,” Klawitter stresses.

Carol Daus is a contributing writer for 24×7. For more information, contact .