Staying attuned to employee needs can lower turnover

A column answering your questions about the business side of your practice

By Karen S. Schechter amednews correspondent— Posted Sept. 22, 2008.

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Question: We have recently had some staff turnover in our practice. I always thought we offered a pleasant environment for work and fair wages. Am I missing something? How can I tell if my employees are happy and loyal to our practice?

Answer: There are several reasons employees leave their jobs, as well as many reasons they choose to stay. Sometimes, it's all right for an employee to leave, especially if he or she has had a negative impact on the rest of the staff.

However, if you are serious about retaining productive employees, the ones who have a positive influence on work environment, there are certain steps you, your partners and management must take.

A big pay increase is not necessarily one of those steps. Most employees do not leave for more money. At least that is not the primary reason. A review of articles on the topic concludes that people leave their jobs for a variety of other reasons.

This is not to say that salary and benefits aren't important. In today's economy, this is playing a larger role in people's decisions to move from one workplace to another.

However, this reason is almost always coupled with employees feeling one or more of the following: lack of respect, no room for advancement, lack of control over work, and inadequate leadership.

This is why it is very important to conduct exit interviews with all departing employees. Through these interviews, management is able to identify deficiencies in the practice, look for trends and address them.

But before it gets to that point, there are several warning signs of an unhappy worker. There are obvious ones, such as frequent absences and tardiness, or a reduction in productivity. Unhappy employees might also be the source of gossip, or be negative about almost everything at the office.

There also are more subtle signs, such as refusal to take on additional responsibilities or tasks, even when asked by management. Happy employees typically look for new challenges and opportunities to improve their situation.

Unhappy employees tend to focus on problems and offer no resolutions. They cease being team players and lack enthusiasm for the job.

Discontented employees view their jobs as a paycheck and will often do as little as possible to get through the day. They are usually the first one at the time clock at the end of the day.

Recognizing needs, meeting them

Every office staff consists of individuals with different needs, goals and temperaments. However, there are basic needs that are common to all. According to research by the Gallup Organization, these include the following:

  • The need to know what's expected of them at work and to have the tools and resources to get the work done right.
  • The need to feel that they are contributing to the workplace and that their contributions are recognized by others.
  • The need to "fit in."
  • The need to grow within the organization.

There are several ways to address these needs, with new hires as well as seasoned employees.

Make sure that new hires and employees taking on new responsibilities know what's expected of them and have received the appropriate training and resources to do their jobs. These expectations should be measurable and reviewed with the employee on a regular basis.

Show appreciation by praising someone for a job well done. Be specific about the action you are praising. Say "thank you" to show your appreciation for an individual's contribution. Also, remember to say "please" as a sign of respect.

Learn about things that are important to the individuals on your staff and show interest in them. Work with your manager or administrator to establish office celebrations and incentives for the staff, or develop them yourself if you don't have a manager. And participate with the staff when possible.

Be aware of the community's going salaries and benefits for the positions similar to those in your office and make sure to do what you can to compensate your staff accordingly.

Finally, provide opportunities for your employees to learn and grow professionally. This investment in them will lead to a greater sense of loyalty and commitment from the staff.

Two things to remember when attempting to retain your staff and keep them happy:

  • Not everyone may be worth keeping. Look for the early warning signs of discontentment and address it before it starts contaminating the rest of the staff.
  • Fair is not always equal. You will most likely have to employ several strategies and techniques to keep your most talented staff happy and loyal.

Karen S. Schechter amednews correspondent—

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