Don’t just throw money at healthcare workers to staunch the outflow of the Big Quit
(Second of a 2-part series)
In part 1 of this blog, I discussed why employees, including physicians, are leaving the healthcare profession in what’s called “The Great Resignation” or the “Big Quit.” This second part is about what you can do to prevent your healthcare employees from leaving.
Many practice managers believe that the quick fix is to increase salaries and benefits. The facts are that salary and benefits aren’t the main reason for the attrition of healthcare workers.
The first thing to do is see what’s causing employees to leave your practice. Many practices don’t do this and are missing out on valuable information that can not only help retain employees but improve the whole practice and patient experience as well. If you make changes without this essential information, you may well make things worse rather than better.
Employee recognition show and tell
“Give me enough ribbons to place on the tunics of my soldiers and I could conquer the world.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte.
Employees, like children and Napoleon’s soldiers, need constant reinforcement and motivation. You need to make your workers (and children) know that you value them for their unique contributions and efforts. Never take a motivated employee for granted: that’s a surefire way to lose her or him.
When you catch an employee going above and beyond the job description, be sure to acknowledge this behavior. If you recognize exemplary behavior, it is much more likely to be repeated by the employee who made that effort and will encourage other employees to emulate it. Tell the person directly. This improves the employee’s confidence and helps fulfill the need for self-esteem from fellow employees. This can only benefit your patients’ experience with your practice.
You can reward achievement by using simple and inexpensive methods.
- If an employee performs a task above and beyond what is expected, post congratulations on the bulletin board or social media for patients and fellow employees to see.
- Put information about your employees’ accomplishments and congratulations in your e-newsletter.
- Send the employee a personal thank you note.
Happy patient examples
An example of providing instant rewards and feedback occurred when a patient mentioned to me how helpful the medical assistant (MA) was in arranging an imaging study. I brought the MA into the exam room and asked the patient to repeat what she told me. The MA was beaming, and she shared the compliment with several other staff members, giving “legs” to the praise that she received from the patient.
Another example involved a patient who developed a rash after using an expensive medication that could not be returned to the pharmacy. Upon learning of this, a nurse asked if the patient could use samples of another drug with a similar pharmacologic profile but from another class of medication. At the end of the day, the nurse delivered the samples to the patient’s home. The patient wrote a glowing thank you note acknowledging this extra mile effort. I shared this note with the entire staff at the next staff meeting, giving credit to the nurse and letting the staff know how this kind of effort is appreciated by our patients.
Like Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, said, “A paycheck will buy one kind of loyalty. But nothing can substitute for a few well-chosen, sincere words of praise.”
Demonstrate personal interest in your employees
Show your staff that you genuinely care about them and their healthcare needs. One of my employees had an acute situation and needed to see a specialist but couldn’t get an appointment for weeks. I stepped in and called the specialist to request working her into the schedule sooner. The doctor saw my employee at the end of the day, which she appreciated. Making the appointment on her behalf demonstrated to all the employees that I was interested in their health and well-being.
Another way to show your personal interest is by trying to attend employees’ life cycle functions like weddings and graduations. If a family member of an employee has some good news or an employee’s child receives an honor, I make sure to offer congratulations. I try to treat my staff as family members. Remember that your staff won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Create a fun and positive work environment
Make work fun. I recommend the approach of taking your job seriously but yourself lightly. An environment associated with fun and levity will always be preferable to one associated with oppressiveness and a “do as I say” mentality.
There are lots of ways to make the job fun for the staff. For example, you and your staff might dress in costume for the holidays. Then have a picture taken and post it on social media and the bulletin board.
Our practice used the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as opportunities to dress up and share the holiday spirit with each other and our patients.
Flextime, or flexible scheduling: a popular offshoot of The Big Quit
Offer flexible work hours. The pandemic has shown that healthcare employees are productive when working from home. As a result, the best employers offer flexible scheduling or flextime, which means working the same amount of hours, just at different times. Flexible scheduling indicates that employers care about the well-being and preferences of their staff. It also lets potential candidates know they can have more control over their lives.
I know this may be a challenge for doctors and office managers, but multiple options make flexible scheduling possible. Flexible scheduling, also known as self-scheduling, allows employees to select shifts. A simple solution to this flexible scheduling problem is using automated tools such as scheduling apps. Using scheduling apps, employees can swap shifts in case of emergencies and communicate about scheduling issues on the app.
Flexible scheduling can:
- Save the office manager time while giving your employees the freedom to create a work-life balance.
- Attract and keep the best employees in an environment where many employees consider leaving the healthcare profession.
- Help reduce employee burnout and expensive turnover, which ultimately results in better care for patients.
Flexible schedules can be one of the ways to improve employee engagement. The well-being of staff directly affects every aspect of the practice, including the bottom line.
Support your healthcare workers’ professional development
Just as physicians need continuing medical education, your staff also requires ongoing training and learning opportunities. Investing in their professional development by supporting their efforts financially is an excellent motivation for your employees. When the employee completes the course, have the diploma or certificate framed and hung in the office for other employees to see.
Numerous books, videos and podcasts are available on personal skills such as stress reduction, time management, meditation, communication techniques and practice management. Employees can discuss what they learned at a staff meeting or luncheon. Continuing medical education can also be encouraged by creating an office library or e-library employees can access remotely.
Consider sending employees to seminars and workshops on subjects ranging from patient communication to writing website content. Some courses are helpful to medical office employees.
Stop the Big Quit by decreasing data entry duties
Data entry is consuming almost as much time as time spent with patients. Doctors and allied health professionals did not undertake an arduous training program just to do data entry on behalf of insurance companies.
When productivity is measured by the number of visits/charts completed, this demeans the doctors’ and employees’ value. Also, completing paperwork offers no credit for all the time spent on phone calls, documentation and scheduling.
The solution is not easy. Creative thinking by doctors, the practice manager and employees on how to reduce this burden can have significant results in retaining employees.
Wellness programs for the people who keep patients well
You might consider a wellness program if you are part of a large group practice. Initially, these programs were created to help employees cope with alcoholism and mental health issues and encourage employees to lead healthier lives. The goal of these wellness programs is to increase productivity and reduce the rising costs of medical care. Wellness programs have demonstrated a reduction in the number of days employees took off from work.
Studies show a significant return on investment for every dollar spent on employee wellness. Employees who participate in corporate wellness programs report more job satisfaction and higher happiness levels and thus a reduction in burnout. Wellness programs are a better practice strategy than back rubs and fancy, caloric-rich meals.
Bottom line: Employees and providers haven’t lost their passion for healthcare; they just want more autonomy, a better work-life balance and to know leadership cares about their well-being. If you and your practice can improve in these areas, you will stop the hemorrhaging of employees leaving healthcare and help solve the Big Quit.