You’re not the only one who’s struggling to retain top-performing clinical staff.
The health care market is vast—with more than 15 million jobs nationwide—and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it will expand by 18 percent from 2016 to 2026. This growth is happening against a backdrop of change: Baby Boomers are retiring at an increasing rate; the trend is moving toward traveling and temporary employees, and an aging population is putting new and complex demands on clinics, cath labs and hospitals throughout the country.
“It’s extremely difficult right now,” says Mark Baker, Director of Cardiovascular Services at Platte Valley Medical Center in Brighton, Colorado. “Everyone I talk to, everything that I’ve seen online, tells me we’re all having the same issues. Everybody’s asking for permanent help and they have full-time travel positions open. It’s in every cath lab I see.”
Baker oversees a broad range of cardiovascular services that includes the cath lab, stress testing, cardiac echo, EKG, interventional radiology and the cardiopulmonary clinic. He quickly realized that managing multiple teams meant he needed a solid strategy for retaining staff—one that would work across the disciplines and professional categories, giving him an edge at a time when candidates hold much of the negotiating power.
He starts with the basics—like providing mentorship, quality work conditions and a competitive salary package. But then he brings in creative tactics from other fields, including one you might not expect.
Here is Mark Baker’s formula for success:
If your employees don’t love working with your organization they’ll take their money and move on, leaving you with the costly and time-consuming job of filling their spots.
“I’m blessed because we have a good culture at Platte Valley,” Baker says. “A friendly, open culture in the lab, docs who are great to work with, and a support staff that’s fantastic. So we typically don’t have any problem getting our travelers to re-up.”
That takes care of one big piece of the puzzle. Baker spends far less time wooing traveling employees or scrambling to fill open positions because nearly all of the temporary employees who start on a 13-week contract with Platte Valley stay for their maximum term of one year. Even then, they leave reluctantly and only because tax law requires it. This way, Baker has great word-of-mouth and a ready pool of people who would love to be asked back.
As tough as it is to retain longtime permanent employees, Baker recommends doing what it takes to hold onto your most valued and competent staff.
“They know where everything is, they know all the changes that take place and they can help new or traveling staff members,” he says.
“These are the people that know how to get through everything. You need them.”
Director of Cardiovascular Services
Platte Valley Medical Center
Baker's best tip for retaining loyal employees is to be present. He walks through each one of his departments every day. He talks to the staff, making sure they know they can stop him to ask a question or voice a concern. He treats them as colleagues rather than subordinates. He laughs with them and lets them know they’re valued — every day.
“Day to day I go through and talk to every one of my permanent staff members,” says Baker. “I don’t have to have a formal sit-down with my people because they know they can come to me any time.”
When it comes to competitive recruiting, Baker looks to college football recruiters for his inspiration.
“What those recruiters do is they build relationships with the students, and with their families, long before the kid is coming to college,” Baker says. “They meet the kid, they find out about him, they learn about his background, they make calls. What I take away from this is that that’s how I should be handling my staff, when I can.”
This is a particularly good strategy for job candidates who are just coming out of school. Recently, Baker hired two young techs—one from Pennsylvania and another from Florida. He knew that the move to Colorado was a big one for them. So he not only interviewed them personally, he followed their move. He helped find them housing and met the father of one new hire who had helped his son drive west.
“Those kinds of things really matter. When you forget to build foundational relationships, that’s when you start losing good people.”
What does this mean? Simply put, if someone on your staff needs something, do what you can to support them.
“I really promote the team mentality of covering for each other,” says Baker. “I call it covering each other’s sanity… Everyone needs to walk out every once in a while.”
Beyond acknowledging his employees’ personal life, Baker tries for a teacher/student relationship—where he is always rooting for an individual’s success. When a staff member needs correction or motivation or encouragement, Baker provides it himself. He often encourages his team to take on more challenges, and is there to support them when they need direction. Because by supporting his team and demanding the best, he says his employees routinely outperform expectations and shine.
“I look at each employee individually and I try to recognize their achievements any way I can.”
Baker says, “for instance, when I moved up I promoted two of my longtime staff members into leadership and fill my shoes behind me. You have to give people the credit and recognition they deserve.”
Baker has been around long enough to see how the different generations approach work-life balance. He’s tried to educate himself in the values and needs that each set of employees—Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers—tend to bring to the job.
In general—though there are, of course, exceptions—Baker has found that staff members age 40+ assume their weeks will be long. They don’t mind being on call.
“But this newer group that’s coming up, they’ve seen the value in actually having a personal life,” Baker says.
In general, Millennials expect a flexible, 40-hour work week with overtime for additional hours, the ability to advance and compensation for being on call. They also have a host of brand-new career options, thanks to new hiring practices in the health care field.
“Say you’re a young nurse,” Baker explains. “You can go to a cath lab, work five eight-hour shifts, then take call 10-15 days a month where you have to stay within 30 minutes of the hospital. Or you can work in the ICU, perform at a high level, get job satisfaction and work three 12s with four days to yourself each week. Which would you choose?”
His point: cath lab and clinic managers have to recognize this dilemma and go the extra mile to add personal value in jobs that require more dedication and time. The youngest generation is chock-full of talented people who are eager to learn and grow. Value the diversity and vibrancy they bring to your organization and do what it takes to incent them to stay.
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