A quality of work life survey

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Are you happy in your job? Is it the salary and benefits? Or are there more subjective rewards-such as feeling valued, feeling that your work is appreciated or great relationships with co-workers and supervisors?

Member organizations of the St. Joseph’s Health System (SJHS) wanted to know.

SJHS understood that the overall effectiveness of the six individual health-care organizations comprising the System (St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton; St. Joseph’s Villa, Dundas; St. Joseph’s Hospital and Home, Guelph; St. Mary’s General Hospital, Kitchener; SEN Community Health Care, and St. Joseph’s Hospital, Brantford) were viewed as a function of its employees providing quality care. And it was clear that the views and perceptions of the employees about their working environment were vital ingredients in the evolution of a quality-focused organization.

SJHS commissioned the SJHS Research Network to conduct a survey of staff perceptions about the quality of their work life within each of the member sites. The first survey was conducted in 2000, with a follow-up survey undertaken in late 2003. Researchers will compile results from the follow-up over the next few months, while analysis of the first survey showed that of a combined staff of 5,486 at the six organizations, 1,819 returned completed questionnaires.

Dr. Kevin Brazil, director of the Research Network, says the results were intended to assist decision-makers in identifying key workplace issues. “Considerable research in healthcare has focused on improving patient care. Less attention has been paid to the stresses and concerns of health-care staff and its relationship to quality care. Directors of the member organizations of SJHS wanted feedback on job satisfaction in order to develop strategies to address and improve the quality of working conditions.”

Careful preliminary work helped to craft the survey. It was then field-tested to identify items that were poorly written or ambiguous. Staff received advanced notification of the study, describing the project, requesting participation and assuring confidentiality. Two weeks later they received a cover letter, the questionnaire and a return envelope. As well, a telephone number was provided where the director of the SJHS Research Network could be reached if staff had any questions. Confidentiality was of preeminent importance. Sealed drop-off boxes were conveniently located throughout the organizations and, subsequent to distributing the questionnaires, staff were periodically reminded and encouraged by email and notices throughout the facilities to complete and return the surveys.

The survey explored a number of elements within a health-care provider’s work life including: co-worker and supervisor support, autonomy, workload, communication, compensation, staff development and staff perception on the quality of patient and resident care.

The most critical issues identified by staff were benefits, compensation, orientation training and job demands. Work load and work schedules topped the list of what respondents to the survey liked least. Among the positive comments were those that indicated the facilities were good places to work. These respondents were happy and proud to be affiliated with the individual organization. Co-workers proved to be one of the main aspects of work life that staff liked. Some respondents described specific aspects of working with colleagues, including support and cooperation, teamwork and collaboration.

Staff who provided written comments identified several areas that needed improvement. These areas included more support from management and better access to administration. They stressed the need to increase staffing; thereby, relieving workload and stress. Staff also requested more educational opportunities by increasing the number and quality of in-services. As well, comments revealed a desire for more flexible schedules, job sharing opportunities and regular shifts.

“There is no single dimension to quality of work life,” says Dr. Brazil. “Rather it is something that is multi-dimensional including recognition, fairness and co-worker/supervisor support.”

The final report of the survey generated discussion at senior management that led to the development of initiatives to improve quality of work life issues. For instance, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton instituted a staff recognition program to demonstrate the administration’s appreciation of the many contributions made by staff, and changes were made to certain benefits packages.

The St. Joseph’s Health System plans to survey every three years in a continuing effort to improve working conditions for staff.