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Case study: Why Singapore General Hospital is beating industry norms in engagement

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With a 93% participation rate in its recent engagement survey, here's why employees feel "it is safe to speak up", says Goh Leong Huat, director HR, Singapore General Hospital.

As Singapore's oldest and largest flagship hospital, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) is well into its journey of not only providing affordable and quality healthcare, but also nurture succeeding generations of healthcare professionals.

Maintaining this status rests squarely on our continued attraction and development of human capital talent – whether home-grown or from around the globe.

Thus, embracing fair and progressive employment is a strategic imperative and an intrinsic value proposition to our almost 10,000 strong workforce. In September 2006, SGH was among the 500 pioneer companies to sign the Employer’s Pledge of Fair Employment Practices.

SGH believes that fair, responsible and progressive employment practices, as evidenced in the Hospital’s policies and practices, facilitates the creation of an inclusive and fulfilling work environment which in turn fuels a highly engaged Hospital family with the energy and empowerment to deliver the best individualised care for our patients all the time, every time.

Action: Fair and inclusive workplace

Establishing a fair and supportive workplace has not been about a single overarching masterplan - rather, a continual journey of multiple sustained efforts at building a corporate culture of fairness, underpinned by a series of targeted interventions.

This has been possible only with the genuine commitment of the Hospital’s past and present leadership in setting out a shared collective vision, and in being role models towards it.

From a recruitment process aimed at matching the most suitable candidate to the job based on merit, to a vibrant L&D environment maximising staff strengths, SGH strives to provide the best workplace possible.

Action: Recruiting and selection

A fair and transparent hiring philosophy and process is the starting point of SGH’s fair employment practice.

Our hiring policy explicitly states that candidate selection is based on the competencies, experience and knowledge required for the job, and demonstration of personal values aligned with the Hospital’s core values - regardless of race, gender, age, religion, family status or disability.

To enhance the objectivity of the hiring process, customised selection tools are used, such as typing tests to assess speed and accuracy, psychometric tests to assess personality fit, language tests, or case studies.

Specific non-discriminatory hiring practices are strictly adhered to in support of national imperatives, including the re-employment of mature workers. The vast majority of SGH staff who meet the criteria for re-employment has opted to continue working with the hospital after retirement.

Recognising that many female nurses prematurely leave the profession to take care of their families, the Hospital’s Alice Lee Institute of Advanced Nursing has introduced a Return-to-Nursing programme, in collaboration with the Singapore Nursing Board.

SGH is a firm supporter of the Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP) in collaboration with the Employment and Employability Institute (E2i) and Community Development Councils (CDCs), where we offer Place-and-Train sponsorships for mid-careerists to switch careers to healthcare positions.

Action: Learning and growth

SGH invests heavily in staff training and career development through a Total Learning Plan (TLP) framework, that helps optimise the hospital’s limited resources in selecting the most suitable candidate for programmes, while ensuring a fair and transparent distribution of learning opportunities.

A hospital-wide Learning Fiesta is held every year to emphasise the importance of life-long learning and provide unique bite-sized learning opportunities for all staff.

Organisational development, and leadership and management training feature heavily in SGH’s learning suite. All staff are imbued with the importance of organisational excellence through a "Service with a Heart" programme.

Ongoing training continually sensitises supervisors with the knowledge and skills to effectively handle workplace grievances, manage diversity, and generally treat all staff fairly and appropriately.

To build our leadership talent pool, the SGH leadership development rubric focuses on leadership at three levels – self, team and organisation.

Selected staff members attend specially tailored corporate leadership programmes, as well as a customised SMU−SingHealth Graduate Diploma in Healthcare Management and Leadership programme.

Action: Reward and recognition

SGH offers a fair and market-competitive remuneration package benchmarked through:• The job size and level of work, and the scope of responsibility and accountability• Competencies and skills required• Industry/market value

As a strong believer in recognition as a driver of employee satisfaction, SGH has introduced a range of platforms to celebrate and acknowledge staff contributions, whether at the local level, or the Hospital or SingHealth healthcare cluster level, or even on the national stage.

Action: Staff well-being

Amidst a highly heterogeneous workforce, SGH has systematically set up various frameworks that emphasise inclusiveness and whole-person well-being.

This is done through a dedicated Work-Life Unit specialising in the design of well-being programmes targeted at physical, mental and emotional health, social well-being, and family life - by collaborating with a spectrum of stakeholders to deliver health interventions targeted at identified staff needs.

We take cognisance of the needs of working mothers by providing facilities such as lactation rooms, an on-site childcare centre with emergency care, as well as some work schedule flexibilities.

A Peer Support Programme run by our professional medical social workers provides free psychological counselling to staff in the event of critical work-related or personal incidents.

An International Staff Office delivers acculturation programmes for all our foreign staff to assist them in settling in and integrating within a larger SGH Family quickly and effectively.

Action: Safe work environment

A centralised hospital-wide safety network taps technical experts across all departments to anticipate workplace safety issues such as fire, waste management, radiation and biohazards; while a comprehensive set of workplace safety and health (WSH) policies assures the safety of patients and staff alike.

WSH is continually highlighted not only to staff, but also suppliers, delivery personnel and retail tenants, through the annual SGH Safety Fair, a simple yet effective platform for WSH learning through fun and interactive activities. Staff who champion safety at their work spaces are recognised through an SGH Safety Ambassador Award.

In the wake of the enactment of the Protection from Harassment Act, a workflow has been established to protect staff from public abuse, and a comprehensive programme developed to equip them with the tools and skills to de-escalate tense situations.

Results: Validating our efforts

The Hospital’s efforts at establishing a fair and inclusive workplace have been validated various measures and trends, such as the staff attrition rates that have been significantly lower than national benchmarks.

Our foreign staff acculturation programme has consistently been rated very highly by our foreign staff and their supervisors; the Hospital has not encountered any serious incident relating to our diverse staff profile despite our relatively large and heterogeneous staff mix.

Perhaps the most holistic and representative barometer of the overall health of SGH’s human capital is the feedback and results of the Hospital’s biennial Employee Engagement Survey (EES).

The most recent survey conducted in 2014 registered a resounding 93% participation rate, with the Hospital registering satisfaction scores significantly better than various national benchmarks across almost all the engagement categories surveyed.

SGH engagement survey statements

In addition, we have won the TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award 2016, reflecting the relevance of our initiatives.

SGH recognises that the journey we have embarked on is one of necessary continued change.

Even as the workforce morphs, whether in availability, profile or expectations, the Hospital will need to keep a close watch over the relevance and effectiveness of the components of our HR strategy, and calibrate and re-calibrate to meet business needs and objectives.

Notwithstanding, the bedrock principles of workforce fairness and inclusiveness will remain the beacons by which SGH will navigate the seas of turbulence that we will inevitably encounter in our unwavering quest to assure the best healthcare for all Singaporeans.

Lead image: Provided

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