Providing Emotional Support to Employees Can Deliver Bottom-Line Benefits

Corporate Culture | By Rev. Charles Millikan –

The phrase “our employees are our most important asset” is often used by companies, but rarely does a company act on this promise. It’s no surprise – maintaining a culture that supports and recognizes employees isn’t easy. And yet, successful leaders recognize that an engaged, focused workforce – one aligned around a shared mission – is critical. That’s especially true in today’s economy, where companies compete as much for skilled talent as they do customers.

It takes a supportive, nurturing workplace to encourage employees to do their best for themselves and for others – and in the case of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, for patients.

Creating a Supportive Culture

At Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, we take great pride in our values-based culture. Our I CARE values – Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect and Excellence – guide all of us in our day-to-day activities and interactions with patients, their family and friends and each other.

As an extension of these foundational values, Houston Methodist has formalized a program through the spiritual care department that assists employees in dealing with personal issues.  Employees cannot take care of patients unless they also take care of themselves. Employees who are struggling at home – or even with fitting in at work – aren’t at their best.

There are a number of personal issues that can impact employee engagement. Divorce. The death of a loved one. Aging parents or children with special needs. Family conflicts or financial difficulties. Mental or physical health problems. Home disasters. All of these issues – and many, many more – can impact employees negatively and remove focus from an organization’s core mission, leaving them feeling even more isolated.

Accessible Support is Key

To provide employees with the support they need to be productive in a happy, healthy work environment, the Houston Methodist system has a large staff of chaplains at each hospital – individuals with extensive training in listening and providing support to those in need.  Chaplains make their rounds visiting patients, but they also make themselves available to employees for confidential discussions. At times, a coworker or supervisor will alert chaplain staff that someone needs assistance.  And accessibility is important. It allows the team of chaplains to provide support when and where it’s needed – for both patients and employees.

Houston Methodist chaplains provide a much-needed sympathetic ear, along with counsel and assistance, to employees in need. Often chaplains are dispatched to departments that suffered some kind of loss. And they frequently recommend additional resources or follow-up.

The program works.  Houston Methodist ranks nationally as one of the best places to work in the United States with one of the highest rankings of Employee Satisfaction Scores of any hospital in the nation. They have been so successful that Houston Methodist is adding chaplains to support specific groups, including physicians and employees who deal with the most seriously ill patients.

A Growing Trend

Like most companies, Houston Methodist has a 24-hour employee assistance hotline. But many employees in need will never call. That’s why having on-site assistance is so critical.

Of course, hospitals benefit from having chaplains already embedded in the workplace. But more and more companies – across a range of industries – are providing access to chaplains as an employee benefit. A 2016 article in The Atlantic detailed the rise of corporate chaplains, citing the work of a Princeton professor who found that companies that hired chaplains could lower turnover rates, increase levels of focus and reduce stress-related illnesses.

Providing support doesn’t have to involve chaplains. Trained human resources staff or even staff psychologists can offer the same benefit. What’s important is giving employees the support they need at the worksite.

In today’s fragmented society, many people lack support systems at home or in the community. Providing emotional assistance at work helps individuals personally and professionally. And it ultimately helps the company, too, by improving employee engagement and nurturing a supportive culture where every individual is and feels important.

More importantly, it’s working. Houston Methodist is regularly named to lists of the best places to work, and Houston Methodist Sugar Land’s employee engagement survey scores are well above the national average for the health care industry. We have a saying in our business: happy employees = happy patients. Both, of course, very important to the corporate culture at Houston Methodist.