How to retain your best employees

November 1, 2005

With a growing shortage of qualified healthcare workers, there has never been a better time to consider the importance of how to retain the best and brightest talent over the long term.

How one approaches employee retention directly impacts the bottom line. Yet many practices ignore the importance of incentive and recognition programs to retain their most valued asset: medical personnel.

"Your organization's ability to recruit, identify and keep high-performing employees has long-range financial and patient care delivery implications," says Cecelia Wooden, Ed.D., of Wooden & Associates, Louisville, Ky. "Unfortunately, practices too often use a short-term approach to recruitment and retention."

While there is no magical formula for retaining top medical personnel, there are steps that medical practices can adopt to prevent "job hopping" and to create an environment that will encourage employees to prosper and remain loyal to the practice.

Beyond standard compensation and benefits, medical practices are using imaginative incentives to keep talented employees happy. Some practices offer gift certificates for good attendance, flexible hours to accommodate family commitments, free memberships to health clubs and gifts on birthdays and anniversaries. Practice management experts agree that even inexpensive incentives can go a long way in improving employee job satisfaction.

Hire for positive attitude

Effective retention strategies will not be successful, however, if sound recruitment efforts are not in place.

The majority of hiring decisions are based on an applicant's educational background and clinical experience, but medical groups should also consider hiring people based on their attitudes, according to Thomas Atchison, Ed.D., president of the Atchison Consulting Group in Oak Park, Ill.

"You have to hire right. If the wrong people are hired, then retention isn't worth anything," he says.

The top three reasons why employees leave their jobs are because they don't like their bosses, there are no professional development opportunities and they don't share the same values or ethics as the practice, Mr. Atchison says.

To create a medical practice where employees want to stay, there are tangible and intangible factors to consider. Some tangible factors may seem obvious but should not be overlooked, including creating a safe and attractive work environment, having efficient computer systems, offering flexible work schedules, and offering competitive wages and benefits.

Crutchfield Dermatology strives to cover the basics while also offering many creative benefits.

Besides paying its nursing staff from the 60th to the 85th percentile of all clinical practices and offering a generous benefits package, including profit sharing, the practice has regular outings for its 26 employees.

"This past summer the entire staff, along with their families, spent the day at an amusement park to have fun and enjoy each other's company," says Charles Crutchfield III, M.D., who founded the Eagan, Minn., practice in January 2001.

"Medical practices must understand that people work for psychic income as much as they work for financial income," Mr. Atchison says. "If the practice doesn't understand that, it's going to have a terrible turnover ratio."

Acknowledgement, respect

Employees need to be acknowledged for their good work and respected within the office.

"Positive recognition can go a long way in keeping employees satisfied, because everyone wants to be appreciated for a job well done," Ms. Wooden says.

Positive recognition does not happen in negative environments. In fact, the way physicians start their day can have a dramatic affect on the mood of the practice.

Mr. Atchison recalls one medical group where the physicians would walk in the door and immediately begin criticizing employees' work.