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What makes healthcare workers stay in their jobs? Engaging employees to improve retention.

Coauthored by Milissa Eagle, MA, Director of Workforce Analytics.

Consider, for a moment, why you entered the healthcare profession.

Chances are, it was a calling. You wanted to help others. To alleviate pain and suffering—to make a difference in people’s lives.

Now ask yourself: Why would anyone abandon that calling—when their natural talents and passions brought them to healthcare in the first place?

Unfortunately, people are leaving the healthcare profession with increased frequency: In 2022, 10.9% of all healthcare employees considered leaving their organization—up from 8.8% the previous year. You’ve probably witnessed it firsthand—if not reconsidered your own role in the healthcare ecosystem. Leaders are suffering. Front-line workers are suffering. And the healthcare industry as a whole is suffering. For many healthcare organizations, nothing short of a paradigm shift in their approach to employee engagement and experience will reverse this trend.

The past few years have been tough on every front. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially—for individuals and organizations, patients and families, clinicians, and support staff. In a profession where life-and-death scenarios can be a daily occurrence, throwing a pandemic into the mix only increased stress and anxiety, leading job satisfaction and employee engagement to plummet.

Now, amid an ongoing healthcare staffing shortage, employees have options. Practically any talented healthcare worker who has chosen to remain in the industry could most likely find a similar job with another organization, anywhere in the country. Employee turnover has several consequences for healthcare organizations, from piling extra work on those who stay, to recruiting replacements in a highly competitive market, to the exorbitant financial implications.

And this raises an important question: Is your healthcare organization doing everything it can to engage and retain top talent?

We analyzed feedback from 1.72M healthcare workers to identify what they want from a career in healthcare, and what organizations can do to retain that talent.

What employees want from a career in healthcare

Press Ganey’s data has identified the key drivers of employee engagement and retention. This data, plus our work with top-performing organizations, offers insight into what healthcare employees want and expect from their jobs. By paying close attention to these wants, healthcare organizations can increase the chances that their most talented employees won’t seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Beyond any salary or benefits considerations, healthcare employees want to:

Provide high-quality care.

Ensuring that employees have the support, tools, and resources they need to practice top of license not only impacts the employee experience, but the experience of the patients as well.


Provide the training, technologies, and encouragement that employees need to perform their jobs at the highest levels. Use patient experience tools to help clinicians better understand the patients in their care so that they can predict and meet their needs.

Do meaningful work.

A passion for helping others is why many healthcare employees entered the field in the first place. But, too often, clinicians find themselves spending too much time on administrative work or other tasks that take them away from their primary focus: their patients. Getting back to the meaningful work of caring for patients helps reconnect healthcare employees to their passion, and boosts engagement.


Use technology, automation, and analytics to boost clinicians’ real-time insights into their patients. In addition to informing their decisions, this can save them time, cut down on the administrative burden, and allow them to spend more time with patients.

Be respected.

Employees expect to be treated like human beings who provide value to the organization. They want to feel that leadership values their contributions, they want to have a voice that will impact decisions, and they want to feel like essential members of a team that is making a positive difference in peoples’ lives.


Small gestures show respect—senior leaders taking a moment to say “hi,” taking time to personally listen to front-line staff, recognizing someone for their contribution to the organization. But leaders and organizations must not only communicate their respect for employees and what they have to offer, but also back up their words with appropriate actions. They need to involve employees in the solutions that impact their day-to-day work.

Be valued for their background.

Employees want to feel appreciated for the unique perspectives and contributions they bring to your organization based on their personal background and life experiences. They want to be treated fairly and given an equal opportunity to contribute.


Committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a major step toward successful workforce engagement, as well as improved patient care. Collecting feedback with an intentional focus on a wide range of viewpoints will help employees feel valued and appreciated while enhancing the organization’s perspective and wisdom.

Be—and feel—safe.

Safety has become an increasing issue in light of workplace bullying and threats from patients, as well as the ongoing risk from COVID-19 and other contagious diseases. Healthcare organizations must do whatever it takes to ensure that their employees are protected from violence, bullying, harassment, infection, and anything else that might put them in jeopardy.


Improve safety for both employees and patients by using data to inform the implementation of best practices that reduce Serious Safety Event Rates and achieve zero harm. Use this data to evaluate what you are doing to keep your employees safe. What security measures are in place? Do you have written protocol that employees are trained on for specific safety events? Have you communicated to employees ways in which the organization is striving to keep them safe? Do people know how to report acts of violence, harassment, or bullying?

4 ways top-performing healthcare organizations drive employee engagement

Employees who are engaged in their work not only want to stay at their job, but they have pride in the organization, and are more likely to refer friends and family to it—not only for care, but also for work.

Press Ganey analyzed feedback from more than 1.72 million healthcare employees, nurses, and physicians across 509 organizations and 4,500+ facilities to gauge how they feel about their experience. Through this research, we’ve identified four critical areas top-performing healthcare organizations are doing notably better than their lower-performing counterparts. Many of these areas, where top performers excel, are also key drivers of workforce engagement. Focusing on these areas can set a foundation for building a positive experience, leading to more engaged employees, who will in turn stay at your organization.

  1. Committed and involved senior leadership. Employees have confidence in senior leadership, and they demonstrate the organization’s mission and values in their behaviors and actions.
  2. Feeling respected and listened to. Employees feel the organization is treating them respectfully and using their feedback to drive improvement.
  3. Meeting basic needs. Employees have the resources and tools needed to deliver safe, high-quality care. They’re being recognized for their contributions and have a reasonable work/life balance. This area closely ties to components of self-determination theory, in which employees want autonomy, mastery of skills, and a connection to people and purpose to be motivated to give their best.
  4. Safety focus. Organizations are committed to zero harm and high reliability principles, which accelerate improvements in employee and patient safety.

Across the industry, healthcare employee engagement rates are at their lowest levels in years, and there are several reasons why reversing the downward trend must be a strategic imperative for healthcare organizations. Our data shows that higher employee engagement within a healthcare organization has a positive correlation with other industry priorities, such as patient experience, safety, clinical outcomes, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Disengaged employees are more likely to leave their organization for another one if offered a similar position elsewhere. And our data shows that physicians, advanced practice providers, registered nurses, and those in licensed technical roles such as respiratory and occupational therapists are the most likely to leave their current positions. For those in patient facing roles, job do-ability and practicing top of license are especially important for engaging and retaining—yet these roles are often asked to do more and more, with less and less.

Intent to stay by position

3 immediate ways to jump-start your employee engagement and retention strategy

Healthcare organizations must recognize their employees’ needs to improve employee engagement, and retain top talent. This means organizations must make sure:

  1. Employees feel heard. While workplace surveys are common among healthcare organizations, many aren’t always connecting that feedback to action. While not every idea can be adopted, insights about workflow, processes, and more often lead to improvements. Employees are more likely to engage in future surveys, crowdsourcing efforts, focus groups, and improvements if they feel their voices are heard. To make sure employees feel heard, they need to see the actions taken based on their feedback.
  2. There's the support, resources, and tools to do the job. To do their jobs at a high level, employees need support from the top. That includes appropriate staffing, recognition, encouragement, training, and the right equipment.
  3. The work-life balance is reasonable. Leaders must recognize that the people they supervise need and deserve time to rest and recharge. This can be difficult, as many leaders neglect their own needs in this area and fail to see that their staff is struggling with resilience and decompression too.

If your healthcare organization is coming up short in its efforts to retain and engage its workforce, it may benefit from a fresh perspective on best practices that will generate new solutions. Remind your employees of why they entered the profession—and let them know that you are there to support them in fulfilling that calling.

Reach out to one of our workforce experts to see how Press Ganey employee experience tools can help your organization improve your employee engagement and retention strategy.

About the author

As Chief Clinical Officer, Jessica leads efforts to support organizations in increasing clinician engagement and improving patient care outcomes, particularly among physicians. Her areas of expertise include leadership development, clinical care redesign through outstanding teamwork, addressing clinician burnout, and advancing professional fulfillment. Jessica also leads Press Ganey’s Workforce Well-Being Collaborative, an initiative designed to help healthcare organizations identify the varied and disparate needs of their workforce and enable them to respond to their physical, emotional, financial, and operational needs in both the near term and beyond.

Profile Photo of Jessica C. Dudley, MD