Dedicated employees are the backbone of clinical laboratories. As the current job environment changes and employees are asked to adapt—to different regulatory standards and the increasing presence of automation in the workplace, among other things—maintaining a connection to the meaning of the work we do becomes increasingly important. While it may seem obvious to many that the role of laboratory results in patient care is highly meaningful, it is also easy for a disconnect to appear between a number coming from an analyzer and the patient behind that result.

On Monday, Chérie Petersen dug into details of this topic and offered strategies for increasing employee engagement. “Employees are most engaged when they are able to find the meaningful nature of the work they do,” Petersen said.

However, focusing broadly on the meaningful impact of the field does little to help with engagement of individual employees, Petersen noted. A more direct and tangible connection is required. “In order for an employee to truly be engaged, the meaning of the work must be specific to the actual work they perform,” she said.

The workplace for medical laboratory scientists is changing from where it has been in the past. Several medical technology training programs have been shut down, decreasing the visibility of the field as a whole. Professional societies have reported consistent vacancy rates for laboratory departments across the country. While the ability to recruit qualified and motivated individuals into the field is essential, retaining existing laboratory employees is equally important. Increasing employee engagement, which has a direct connection to employee retention, will become more critical in the near future as a large portion of the medical laboratory scientist workforce approaches retirement age, Petersen emphasized.

The ability to engage employees is dependent on both the direct supervisor and the institution as a whole, putting managers and supervisors on the front lines of tackling this important issue. “I do believe it will be a challenge for leaders in laboratory medicine to continually identify what motivates and is meaningful to the younger generation entering the field of laboratory medicine,” Petersen commented. “It’s imperative that our laboratory leaders not assume that what is meaningful to them and has motivated them throughout their career will be the same for those they lead.”

During the session, Petersen challenged audience members to think about, and share, how their own employees would answer the questions, “Why do you work here?  Why do you continue to work for me?”  Audience participation continued throughout the session as people shared anecdotes related to their own challenges and successes at fostering engagement.

After reviewing the differences between a job, a career, and a calling, Petersen emphasized that when people view their work as part of their calling, it becomes part of their identity and increases their confidence.