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NUHS: Achieving Excellence Amidst Challenges

CE’s visit to NTFGH Emergency Department on 13 Feb 2020
(Photo was taken in compliance with prevailing SMM guidelines)

By now, the healthcare sector has recognised that the road to recovery from the worldwide pandemic is a marathon instead of a sprint. Having held the fort amidst major strains on the medical front and constantly changing protocols, the industry is experiencing an inevitable psychological toll. 

In mitigating the collective burnout, institutions such as the National University Health System (NUHS) had stepped up their efforts to support their frontliners who are putting up a real and tough fight during this time.

In this interview article, Ms. Priscilla Teo, Group Chief Human Resource Officer of the National University Health System (NUHS) shares with us how NUHS managed to achieve excellent employee engagement scores and emerge as a 2021 Top Employer despite these challenges. 

Ms. Teo receiving the 2021 & 2022 Top Employer trophy of excellence from Mr. Jorge Rodriguez, Group MD – InfluentialBrands at the NUHS Office.

Question: What has NUHS’s strategy been when it comes to employee engagement?

NUHS takes a multi-pronged approach in engaging our employees.  One of our key strategies include instilling and strengthening the OneNUHS culture and identity by building camaraderie and collaboration across the clusters.

Another important strategy would be to practice a holistic approach in promoting both mental and physical well-being to ensure that our staff’s welfare, safety and burnout levels are managed appropriately and adequately.

Besides that, we also find it important to equip our people with the skills and knowledge to retain our competitive advantage. And finally, it is to implement a robust internal communications strategy such that key messages will reach the last man on the ground, while providing safe platforms for staff to speak up. We believe in effective two-way and ground up communications.

Question: How did the team conceptualize and adapt this engagement strategy to suit the evolving needs of NUHS employees during this COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 has been stressful for our healthcare professionals. Recognising the critical need to focus on employee well-being especially during this period, NUHS has set up a dedicated Well-Being Office in 2021 to drive cultural and systemic change to enhance our staff’s health and mental well-being.

In addition, all our institution leaders have stepped up their effort to communicate extensively to all our staff, keeping them abreast on key updates, and rallying everyone to come together as OneNUHS to hold the defence line for Singapore.

Question: How did those strategies mentioned add to the overall employee engagement in NUHS, in terms of ROI?

NUHS saw an overall 6% increase in employee engagement score in our recent pulse survey conducted in early 2021, as compared to the first cluster survey conducted in 2019. Our staff have also feedback that they had noticed that we have ramped up on our efforts to communicate, engage and support them.

Question: What are some issues encountered while implementing the employee engagement initiatives within NUHS? And how does NUHS go about resolving them?

Restrictions in social interactions and gatherings were the biggest challenges and we had to work-around these restrictions by going virtual. 

Events such as corporate town-halls and annual staff recognition events such as Nurses’ Day were all conducted virtually during this time. Safe distancing measures aside, our senior leaders continued to walk the ground, in accordance with Safe Management Measures, to motivate our staff and personally hear from them on how we can improve and do better to support their well-being. 

To ensure that no one falls through the cracks due to burnout, staff counselling services are also made available to all NUHS staff 24/7. In addition, NUHS has appointed over 200 well-being champions to help provide support for staff across all departments. During this time, we also initiated a quarterly NUHS Cares Day to recognise our staff and cheer them on with special treats such as care packs and snacks.

Question: How does NUHS ensure that such engagement and culture can sustain in the long haul, beyond temporal effects?

Since 2019, NUHS has set up the People Culture Taskforce, comprising senior leaders such as the Chief Executive Officer, Deputy Chief Executives, and Deans across all institutions to oversee the engagement strategies for staff across the cluster. The purpose of the Taskforce is to ensure that employee engagement is driven in a consistent and sustainable manner.

These group initiatives are also further augmented with local initiatives whereby the respective institutions run additional engagement activities in alignment with the cluster’s engagement strategies.

Question: What initiatives have NUHS put in place to build the esprit de corps within the organisation? And to what extent have they been successful?

Apart from leveraging on the power of the OneNUHS identity to build esprit de corps, NUHS also strives to build a culture of honour through appreciation campaigns and the sharing of team success stories across the cluster. 

We wish to create an environment whereby everyone is recognised and appreciated for their individual contributions towards our larger shared purpose. As such, different staff and their stories are featured from time to time to build a strong connection across different teams.

Question: In such an industry, where work-life balance is difficult to achieve, are there any practices that NUHS has implemented to improve this aspect?

NUHS discourages non-urgent emails after working hours or during the weekends. Staff are not obliged to return work-related messages or emails unless it is a work emergency.

Apart from those, meetings after work hours are also discouraged. And to further promote healthy living, NUHS has a protected time of 60-minutes each week to encourage staff to get out and exercise.

Question: It was mentioned that one of NUHS’s key strategies is equipping the people with skills and knowledge. In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, what do you think are the implications for L&D strategies in NUHS?

Covid-19 has brought about the need to innovate and recreate learning in NUHS. The increasingly complex healthcare landscape and continuous need to enhance and integrate our services, processes, and systems, means that our staff has less dedicated time for L&D.

Hence, NUHS has leveraged on learning technologies and e-platforms to complement on-going workplace learning initiatives to ensure learning continues within the on-going COVID operating environment.

Technology-based learning also empowers our staff to be able to tune in to virtual classrooms at their convenience 24/7 and partake in bite-sized learning sessions as alternative channels of learning. Ultimately, learning needs to be convenient and accessible, yet impactful and enriching.

At NUHS, we believe that every staff has talent and abilities, and should be developed to their fullest, therefore we endeavour to create opportunities and embrace new methods of learning, to equip our staff with knowledge and expertise to enable them to deliver incredible care for our people and patients.