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Tips for motivating employees to help improve the quality of care

Updated at: 5 September 2023
6 tips for motivating employees to help improve the quality of care

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Every healthcare institution strives to improve safety and quality, and most include these organizational imperatives in their mission, vision, and core values. At the individual level, every healthcare employee can contribute to the achievement of safer healthcare environment by reporting incidents using a digital quality management system.

However, a quality management system is valuable only when it’s filled with data. The more incidents that employees from across the organization report, and the more transparency and analysis that occurs, the more likely the organization is to identify and correct harmful trends.

But in practice, many healthcare institutions struggle with the question “How do I get employees intrinsically motivated to report incidents and participate actively in improving healthcare?”

We provide six practical tips to foster engagement:

Tip 1: Coach your team daily

Research shows a direct link between daily coaching and the enthusiasm level of employees, and shows that an eagerness to improve can be contagious among colleagues.

To motivate employees to report incidents, they must feel that their input is valued and rewarded. Coach employees that they can speak up and have informative conversations about mistakes and the provision of safer care, without fear of retribution. Daily communication in the form of support, feedback, and encouragement to participate in incident management contribute to increased employee involvement.

Tip 2: Have a clear vision and communicate it

Creating a learning environment where safety comes first requires establishing a common mission, vision, and strategy for healthcare quality improvement.

But it’s not enough to stop there. Leaders at all levels of the organization must continue to communicate the message that safety improvements rely on employees’ ongoing participation. Strategies to reinforce the message can include articulating the overall vision, individual objectives, and progress of initiatives across multiple mediums, for example:

  • in printed signs around the facility
  • on the organization’s intranet
  • in the personnel manual

Ask directly and frequently: What are you doing as an individual to improve the quality and safety of healthcare in our organization? Or, consider organizing monthly cross-departmental lunches or theme meetings where safety is central, so care providers and support staff can discuss ideas with each other. Meetings provide opportunities for high-level directors to enter into discussions about safety with staff at all levels of the organization, esecially those they don’t usually meet with face-to-face.

Tip 3: Create a climate in which employees want to go the extra mile

It’s essential to describe what is expected of employees so they can identify the organization’s goals. When staff understand the quality and safety aspects of their roles, this strengthens the identity of the entire organization as a safe environment.

Employees are willing to go the extra mile to perform their best work and further the organization’s quality improvment goals when the following elements are in place:

  • There is emotional involvement in the work and the organization, so that employees are prepared to contribute to improving the quality and safety of care. This is accomplished by, among other things, giving staff confidence that reporting incidents has added value for all stakeholders.
  • There are clear organizational objectives, transparent information is provided, and leadership is regularly involved. Seeing healthcare leaders participate in safety initiatives motivates employees to participate in positive change.
  • Quality and safety leaders dive deeper into incident reports from employees. Doing so gives supervisors insight using employees’ valuable perspectives.
  • When incidents are reported, quality leaders keep staff informed of progress to the extent possible. This gives staff who report incidents clear insight into how the reports are handled in the organization, and how they individually contributed to improving quality and safety.
  • Employees are motivated using unique challenges to encourage incident reporting. For example, designate a new theme to focus on each month—“During October, we encourage all staff to focus on reporting [e.g., medication safety, falls, mix-ups, etc.] incidents.”

Tip 4: Let staff take the initiative

Supervisors, healthcare providers, and quality department leaders all play an important role in patient safety and incident management. But widespread employee involvement in incident management improves when staff are invited to take initiative to participate in event reporting.

Practical ways to encourage self-motivation among employees include inviting them to regularly post an incident for discussion on a regular meeting agenda or to contribute an incident-reporting theme, department- or organization-wide. Encouraging staff to choose the topic fosters involvement and motivation to monitor items they find important.

Another strategy to spur initiative is to use a survey to ask staff directly how they can contribute to improving care. Inquire whether they know what the quality objectives are, and solicit their input on how they think they can help to achieve the objectives. Use staff’s self-motivation to translate the quality improvement vision into practice, and to make the initiative more tangible.

Tip 5: Talk openly about incidents

Every incident that is reported is an opportunity to learn and improve. Open discussion about the causes, nature, and severity of incidents creates awareness not only about the specific issue at hand (e.g., a patient fall or a medication error), but also about the fact that there can and should be openness within the team and the organization.

When an incident occurs, encourage staff to share emotions and thoughts about what occurred. Be sure to include forms of peer support, so that emotions are processed. Open discussion helps leaders gain insight into the collective beliefs and values of a healthcare organization, and direct supervisors can monitor the way each initiative affects individual employees.

Tip 6: Involve employees in the handling of an incident

Healthcare employees with insufficient insight into the importance of reporting incidents may resist participation, based on the belief that nothing will happen with the report. Or, they no longer dare to report because they had a negative experience.

Staff who are kept informed of post-reporting steps not only contribute to incident fact-gathering and analysis, but are placed in a position to help improve related work processes. Ideally, staff gain a new perspective and become more motivated to report and participate in the improvement plan when they see the outcome.

Basic needs of employees

There’s a factory in Brazil with no fixed working hours, no uniform mandates, and other unique features. For example, most employees determine how much they’ll earn, and choose their own supervisor—whom they evaluate periodically. This organization is touted, arguably, as the most spectacular workplace in the world, because its management style creates a humane, productive, stimulating, and rewarding environment.

This practical example reflects the findings of several studies (e.g., Deci and Ryan, 2000) that positive outcomes such as commitment and perseverance arise when employees are free to pursue goals for themselves. The research states, however, that such experiments work only when three fundamental, psychological needs of employees are met:

  • Employees must be given autonomy in their work.
  • Employees must feel that they are involved.
  • Employees must feel competent in their role.

When employers meet these needs in healthcare organizations, patients are better served, patient and staff satisfaction increases, employee absenteeism decreases, employees remain in service longer, and it becomes easier to attract new talent. Below, we take a closer look at each of these three preconditions:

Precondition 1: Autonomy

The more employees are given the space to perform their work as they see fit within the overarching rules and guidelines, the more responsible they feel and the more opportunity they have to excel. Autonomy can occur when employees are supported, have options, and are given the opportunity to participate in decisions.

Precondition 2: Involvement

It’s human nature to desire to feel loved and cared for, to build positive relationships, and to take care of others. Employees who feel involved are more likely to share emotions and thoughts with other colleagues and feel that they are part of a team.

Precondition 3: Competence

Staff who are afforded proper training and who are well-matched to their roles are better able to develop and adapt to changing circumstances. When employees are competent and confident, they are better equipped to understand and control their environment.

Additional resources on employee satisfaction in healthcare


  1. Five benefits of deploying employee satisfaction surveys
  2. How to set up an employee satisfaction survey


Learn more about our satisfaction survey application.

Do you want to know more about creating motivation and engagement among healthcare employees? Download our eBook about staff commitment today.

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