Moving to a Culture-Driven Organization Can Mean Saying Yes to Tattoos And Pink Hair

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Elizabeth Dunlap and Michelle Janney Elizabeth Dunlap and Michelle Janney

A 50-page dress code. A ban on visible tattoos and bright-hued hair. Signed contracts requiring college degrees.

Are these turnoffs to job candidates in today’s workplace?

Increasingly, yes. Which is why, at Indiana University Health, we’ve updated traditional workplace policies in the past year to give nurses and other employees greater flexibility on the job and in their career paths.

That 50-page dress code? Cut to just five pages. Visible tattoos and brightly colored hair? Allowed, within reason. Those educational attainment contracts? Replaced with incentives of tuition reimbursement.

As free-thinking Millennials move into the workforce to replace retiring Boomers, leaders at IU Health and other employers realize that sticking with HR policies that dictate instead of empower can be a losing strategy.

Put another way: A culture-driven organization stands a better chance to succeed than one that’s rigidly rules-based.

With 33,000 employees, IU Health has 33,000 good reasons to make it clear to team members that they are being heard.

Modernizing the dress policy for caregivers was a meaningful first step. The old code, all 50-some pages of it, was well-intentioned in its many rules and strictures, but increasingly felt out of step in today’s dynamic labor force and hiring environment.

To make sure patients felt comfortable with a loosening of the code, IU Health asked them. The answer: Overwhelmingly, surveyed patients said they felt comfortable being cared for by nurses or other caregivers sporting tattoos, piercings or brightly dyed hair. In fact, many patients with their own tattoos said they felt a kinship with tattooed caregivers.

Caregivers have embraced the liberalized dress code. We heard from one grateful nurse with forearm tattoos who said she could finally realize her dream of working in a specific hospital job where caregivers with forearm tattoos were previously barred. Another caregiver was thrilled she could put pink streaks in her hair to show support for fighting breast cancer.

Other changes in the move to a culture-driven organization:

     • Ending the practice of making new associate-degree nurses sign a contract to attain their bachelor’s degree within five years. Instead of contracts, IU Health is providing professional development, coaching and additional tuition reimbursement to support advancement of all nurses in achieving BSN education. The rationale: We prefer that nurses aspire to get an education and be part of a culture of learning and growing, rather than be spurred by a contractual obligation.

     • Relaxing the absence policy for caregivers who called in sick during the flu season by not requiring a doctor’s note or other proof of illness. Managers simply trust their team members to be upfront on why they must be absent from work.

     • Empowering managers to make individualized personnel decisions rather than making everyone go by the book. An example quickly presented itself during this summer’s closing of I-65 in the downtown area. Managers at our downtown locations were given leeway to use their good judgment to alter work schedules of team members to let them avoid commutes during rush hour, while allowing others to work from home.

     • Revamping the clinical ladder for nurses to a more contemporary design that offers multiple career pathways instead of vertical progression and a veritable caste system. Nurses now have an opportunity to be recognized earlier in their careers, with access to development opportunities, social networking and mentorship.

The workplace changes are not only popular with team members but have led to slowed turnover among nurses, who make up a large portion of IU Health’s workforce. That increases job satisfaction and performance of highly skilled caregivers, improving IU Health’s ability to do our most important job -- care for patients.

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