To answer this question, we need to look at the why, what, and how of shaping a workplace culture where the laboratory staff is willingly engaged in performing meaningful work.

How should leaders define the why,” “what,” and how” of working in a clinical lab?

A: Articulate the why by asking: Will the purpose of this work inspire people to do their jobs? In healthcare, we work toward a common goal of caring for patients and healing the sick—this is work with a true purpose. Our why is obvious. Not all industries have it so easy. Working in telecommunications, for example, might involve selling mobile phones and service to teenagers, which—though still important—is not as purposeful and inspiring as being involved in patient care.

Articulate the what by asking: Does the product of our work provide a true benefit? In laboratory medicine, the answer is a resounding yes. Clinicians absolutely depend on accurate and timely laboratory information to diagnose diseases and manage their patients’ health through the course of treatment and recovery. We don’t need to search far and wide to find the benefits of the work we do.

Then comes the big challenge—finding flexibility in the how by asking: Am I allowing my staff the freedom to use their intelligence and discretion to work independently as they solve the problems they face every workday? Do I trust them to want to do their jobs well?

How should these questions serve as a guide to engaging staff in meaningful work?

In our highly regulated, procedure-driven industry, trusting that employee self-motivation will yield consistent, reliable results can be challenging. However, staff members stay engaged when they feel like they have ownership over their work and that their work is meaningful. Evolved leaders who want to engage staff will not think in terms of structuring work to make the business better; rather, they will think in terms of crafting work that improves employees’ lives while still supporting business objectives. Leaders should not succumb to the sucker’s choice” of thinking they can have one or the other outcome, but not both.

This may sound counterintuitive to typical business practices, but business objectives tend to be greatly exceeded when supported by a staff that is fully engaged in meaningful contributions to the organization and its mission.

Understanding the high-level view of our industry’s why, what, and how is simply the beginning. Once you’ve grasped this big picture perspective, involving colleagues in defining the why, what, and how for your specific department and team is a vital strategy for cultivating engagement. Then circle back to what inspires employees to be passionate about their jobs by recognizing each person’s strengths and interests. Understanding what drives your laboratory staff enables you to craft work that aligns with personal motivations and beliefs so employees become fully involved in high-value outcomes.

As leaders, we should never forget that our staff typically spend more of their waking hours supporting the mission and objectives of our organization than they spend pursuing their own interests and activities. Engaging staff in meaningful work gives them a higher purpose, one that goes beyond just doing their jobs; this has the potential to transcend work into a personal calling—the holy grail of employee engagement. 

Chérie V. Petersen will delve more into Leadership Strategies: Cultivating Engagement Through Leadership,” during two brown bag sessions at the 69th AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo on Monday, July 31, from 7:30–8:30 a.m. and 12:30–1:30 p.m. in the San Diego Convention Center, San Diego.

Chérie V. Petersen, BA, is the distance program education coordinator for the ARUP Institute for Learning at ARUP Laboratories in Salt Lake City. In this role she also consults with hospital laboratory clients in the areas of leadership, service excellence, and communications. +Email: petercv@aruplab.com