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How EMS chiefs can improve employee engagement

Having an engaged, committed workforce is the best way to improve patient care

By Christine Zalar

Employees at all levels of an EMS agency must not only know what the organization’s mission is, they must support it. That might seem obvious, but it’s a fact that’s often overlooked by EMS leaders.

The mission communicates the values and vision of the agency, which relies on its leaders and, equally, every employee to develop and implement goals, strategic initiatives and tactics to assure that mission is being achieved. After all, it’s the people on the ground — from the caregivers taking care of patients to the billing office staff answering questions over the phone — who put the mission into practice.

It’s important to recognize the value of an employee’s emotional involvement or commitment to his or her organization. In other words, what is the level of employee engagement and how much does that engagement level impact their performance?

Research indicates that actively or highly engaged employees tend to be more productive, more customer-focused, safer and stay with the organization longer. Their engagement encourages them to give their best each day. The intensity of their bond with the organization helps them endure the ups and downs, while fueling their excitement about the organization’s (and their own) successes.

Many leaders struggle with how to measure and monitor employee engagement — meaning they have no idea where the organization’s relationship with its employees stands. The answer is simple; just ask. But how?

Survey says
One common approach to assessing employee engagement and dedication to the organization’s mission is through employee surveys. The most beneficial surveys are those that have a standardized set of indices that support benchmarking, yet still allow for customization by the organization so it can include its most current business, leadership and work environment practices.

The following areas represent the standard subsets that are included in comprehensive survey instruments:

  • Perception of their jobs’ importance to the organization.
  • Clarity of job expectations.
  • Opportunities for growth and improvement.
  • Quality of feedback from and dialog with supervisors and leaders.
  • Quality of the employees’ working relationships with co-workers.
  • Perception of the organization’s culture and values.
  • Perception of compensation.

The survey results may reveal specific areas for the organization to target to improve employee engagement. They often help pinpoint areas for organizational improvement as well, and allow an agency to benchmark its results against other similar organizations and share best practices with colleagues.

While the surveys help identify areas of improvement and measure progress toward goals, EMS leaders must initiate the most important piece, which is developing employees who feel strong, sustained engagement with the organization.

Talk it out
Talking to employees is sometimes more challenging in EMS organizations with numerous worksites and schedules, requiring EMS chiefs to intentionally plan to reach out and connect. But the return on time invested will be well worth it.

Sit down with staff and share the survey results. Discuss areas for improvement — both your priorities and theirs — and develop consensus. Then involve personnel in prioritizing and implementing an action plan.

Continue to seek their input, asking the key questions that arose from the survey such as what can the organization’s leaders do better to ensure not only the agency’s success, but also the individual employee’s? Listen to their responses without defensive or posturing answers. Engage in a meaningful, shared conversation.

Open, two-way communication strengthens engagement. Push and pull communication such as emails, memos and texting are support tools, but person-to-person communication will always be the glue.

Here are a few key ways you can foster employee engagement.

  • Seek input and provide timely feedback.
  • Involve staff in projects, especially planning.
  • Anticipate employee informational needs; provide information before questions are even asked.
  • Establish a schedule and be consistent with informal, in-person communication opportunities.
  • Use written memos and emails for timely and efficient (but usually impersonal) communication.

Employee engagement contributes profoundly to the vision and mission of the organization. It improves communication, and more importantly, improves trust. Engagement leads to better EMS care for the community and each patient your organization serves.

About the author
Christine Zalar is a founding partner at Fitch & Associates. She is responsible for the firm’s long-term management services contracts and leads the air medical consulting services division. Contact her directly at

For more than three decades, the Fitch & Associates team of consultants has provided customized solutions to the complex challenges faced by public safety organizations of all types and sizes. From system design and competitive procurements to technology upgrades and comprehensive consulting services, Fitch & Associates helps communities ensure their emergency services are both effective and sustainable. For ideas to help your agency improve performance in the face of rising costs, call 888-431-2600 or visit