How to Motivate Health Care Employees


One of the most massive transformations of any industry in our history, due, in part, to mergers, reorganizations, cost containment, a changing workforce and technological changes that are doubling every 3 years. As new health care services reforms are implemented and standards are revised, the demand for continuous quality improvement and business management in these settings will also continue to rise. This will provide both opportunities and challenges for training to assist in the successful transition to effective organizations.

The metamorphosis occurring in the demographic and diversity of the workforce, the restructuring, re-engineering, downsizing, and current events facing those in the health and human service sector, understanding the needs of the worker becomes more essential than ever to promote a healthy work environment.

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One way to understand, and motivate, the individual is to revisit Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow 1954), which has and continues to be used as a means to assist in understanding human behavior. Regardless of the discipline, it has been and continues to be used for understanding what the driving forces are, or what is quality management.  Maslow created a visualization of his hypothesis in the shape of a pyramid which is divided into five levels. At the bottom of the pyramid is the physiological level which includes food, water, and shelter, the most basic needs for human survival. The premise is that unless an individual’s basic needs have been met, higher levels of the pyramid are of no relevance, as survival is the most basic human component. The need for belonging will be greater for one person than it will be for another because we are dealing with individual needs. Anxiety and stress may be a constant; we need to look at these elements on an individual basis and on a continuum from moderate to extreme. Finally, the individual, having met the needs of the former four levels is able to pursue self-actualization – or to ‘be all that one can be’.

Basic survival needs must be met with wages which in turn provide shelter, food, water, heat, clothing, etc. With adequate wages, the individual seeks safety on the job. This includes not only physical but mental safety. A secure working environment can also mean the decreased anxiety produced by adequate benefits, union contracts, etc.

However, the worker also associates the willingness of the company to spend resources, time, and money; on his/her training as an assurance that he/she is of value to the company. We seek pleasant working relationships with co-workers, peers, and others in the hierarchy; we seek to find our place in formal and informal work groups.

Although much consideration is given to the technical aspects of training, the social element cannot and should not be underestimated for establishing firmer workplace bonds. Thus, although Maslow specifically related training to only two of his levels – security and self-actualization, we posit that training, especially in the increasingly technological realm that it occupies, relates specifically to two other levels as well – social belongingness and self-esteem. As the individual obtains training, it presents an opportunity to feel and actually be more productive and confident in the work environment. In turn, as the individual’s confidence level grows there is greater opportunity to obtain rewards, recognition, and positive performance appraisals.

Training allows the individual to move toward self-actualization; to develop one’s potential, to learn new things, to take risks, and to feel even more confident in what one does. People fail to relate change to their perceived personal needs, or on a larger scale, to those of the sustainability in organization organization. First, there is a basic security concern that new technology will reduce the number of employees required to complete job tasks, or that it will require knowledge and skills that the individual does not currently possess. In this latter scenario, there is the perception that the lack of knowledge or ability to learn the requisite skills will place jobs in jeopardy. New and innovative training methods also require new knowledge, including operating computers, using new software, navigating websites, etc.

Workers may feel increased stress, particularly as the technological changes become more rapid. This constant communication often requires workers to respond even if it requires completing a portion of it from their personal computers at home during personal time ‘With the advent of e-mail and the internet, organizations are uncovering the benefits and challenges of reducing face-to-face communication and expanding the boundaries of workspaces and teams. This new form of communication also brings with it new problems. People often find a lack of what Murphy and Collins (1997) refer to as ‘social presence’ in online communications.

However, within the decision-making in health carearena, this can bring together different professional cultures that may clash. Communication and cultural training become even more imperative when technology is being used. The use of technology has enhanced communication and work groups and provided an even greater method of participating in this approach; it presumably allows more employee input into the decision-making process.

The Maslow Business Reader asserts individuals avoid: being manipulated, misunderstood, unappreciated, not taken seriously, and not respected. Finally, it should be remembered that, besides affecting stress levels, the perceived failure to ‘keep up’ with technology management can create self-esteem problems. People tend to hide what they feel is their technological ignorance from others, even when they are given the opportunity to learn.

The training industry reflects this optimism with its focus on education vs. training. Self-actualization offers its own set of challenges to both the organization and the individual. The Maslow model presents a means for understanding the needs of the individual and the worker; ever present and growing technology allows for new ways to meet these needs; and training makes the worker more secure, can enhance feelings of belongingness and self-esteem, and provides the opportunity for self-actualization.