Know staff needs to reduce turnover

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Feb 01, 2001

Your most capable receptionist's hubby's job just got transferred 92 nautical miles from your Center For Applied Dog/Cat Maintenance & Repair.

She tearfully lets you know that the two hour commute each way interferes with her lifestyle. You did, however, come in a very close second in the choice between hubby and you.

Easy problem to solve just keep calling all the other hospitals in the area and tell their receptionists, "If someone applies for a job as a receptionist and you can't use that person, please tell them that we are hiring and offer a great place to work with above average wages."

You can be sure that if you call a dozen hospitals in your area, one or probably more of their receptionists is fed up with something or other about working there and will be scooting over to see what you can offer for someone with such extensive experience.

Ethical? No! Tacky, but effective? Yes! And done every day.

You want your receptionist sliding over to your colleague's hospital? Do ya? You know how to defend yourself from bait casting in your labor pool? Do ya!

You just cannot stop competing hospitals from sneak attacks with tacky but not illegal recruiting practices. You can prevent their success, however, by working with your current staff to assure that they are not tempted and stay just where they are now.

The question is not, why do employees leave? but rather, why does my staff stay with me? After all, I'm not the perfect employer. My medical training is the opposite of any human resource training. All I do all day is look at patients for the least thing that is wrong and may be hiding as a disease. I seldom if ever tell clients, "Your pet is perfect and you are taking perfect care of it." And I think my tongue would fall out before I could mouth the words, "You are doing a great job and you are a real asset to my practice."

Staff members, yours included, are humans with five basic needs and failing to clearly understand those needs is the surest way to increase your cost of labor through the magic of excessive employee turnover.

These needs, first described by ol' Abe Maslow in the 60's include;

1. Basic and trivial needs such as air, water, food and shelter.

2. Safety needs like security and continuity of lifestyle.

3. Belongingness needs such as friendship and affection.

4. Esteem needs like respect and the sense of being valued.

5. Last, but important, is a sense of purpose in life.

Enough of the academic stuff. How does this help me keep my staff? I need everyone on board to stay on board.

Basic stuff

Basic needs are actually, in fact, no kidding, basic needs. Until a staff member earns enough money to have a place to live and enough to eat, there is no contest; they will think of nothing else. You should never hire anyone for a receptionist or assistant position, who is totally dependent on their income from your practice to survive. It cannot be done unless you are willing to convert your attic into a small apartment for them. They will be able to afford an apartment of their own or a reliable and insured car, but not both. Even if they take a roommate to share an apartment and that roommate blows their rent money, your employee is homeless. This employee will accept the first offer from anyone.

Safety needs

Basic needs satisfied, we must look to the safety needs. You need to assure the staff that the neighborhood you practice in is safe and that their job is safe. That means that you do not intend to retire or go out of business in the foreseeable future. If there is turmoil in your practice, with mini-lay-offs, sending people home on a slow-season afternoon, more money may not lure them away but better working conditions are a tempting offer. These employees will often leave, but harbor a twinge of regret when they go. Touching, isn't it?

Belongingness

Belongingness needs are simple. Does your staff feel that they are part of a team or are co-workers out to steal their job? The old friction between the front staff who feel that the back gets to do all the "neat" stuff and the back staff who think that the front has it real easy is dangerous. If you have strictly compartmentalized staff to reception-only or kennel-only, you may be raided by a so-called "colleague" who offers more cross-training and that they can be "part of a team." These staff leave with great reluctance, but gone is gone. Really!

Esteem

Then there are the esteem needs. Staff constantly seeks recognition to feel satisfied, self confident and valuable. While daily feedback from co-workers and you are important, the best way to prove the person's value is with positive constructive performance reviews.

Annually is just not good enough and this consultant recommends reviews every four months for optimum staff effectiveness. It tells a good worker that, "We value you you so much that we want to help you to be the best you can be in all aspects or your work."

These staff members are difficult to steal. They will very rarely leave without letting you know that they are unhappy. You'll notice that they stop doing any extra work and wait for you to come to them to see what's wrong. Not being attuned to your staff's feelings is the only way you are going to lose these valuable staff members.

Purpose

And finally the need for a "purpose in life"-the need to feel that they are making a difference in the world. Staff needs to be given a chance to explore within their daily tasks to discover for themselves what skills they feel most comfortable with.

Dr. Snyder, a well-known consultant, publishes the Snyder Advisory Letter, a newsletter for practice productivity and is available for in-practice consultation. He can be reached at 17094-1 Boca Club Blvd., Boca Raton, FL 33487-1225; (800) 292-7995; vethelp@gate.net; FAX (561) 989-8558. Dr. Snyder is online at www.veterinaryproductivity.com.