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Cure for healthcare's high employee turnover is engagement, expert says

Healthcare leaders must accept that engagement is a "must-have" core leadership competency, shape their hiring practices around it.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Employee retention is one of the healthcare industry's most pressing problems, as well as one of its most expensive. Author and consultant Craig Deao said if you want to cure the high turnover rate plaguing the industry, engagement should be your key remedy.

Deao, who is a consultant for Huron and a faculty member for the American College of Healthcare Executives, estimated that if the average cost of an employee is $60,000 and an organization loses 20 percent of its 3,000 employees with an average salary of $45,000, turnover's hefty price tag tops out at $27 million.

[Also: Key to top-tier reputation, financial performance lies in workforce engagement, Press Ganey research shows]

There are also hidden costs like reduced quality of care and patient safety, lost productivity and lower morale, Deao said, and the solution is to embrace a hiring and retention strategy focused on employee engagement. Then reform your entire culture around it.

"Organizations must create an environment that actively engages employees. If not, the best ones will leave. Or, perhaps worse, they'll 'quit on the job' but stay for the benefits."

First, healthcare leaders must accept that engagement is a "must-have" core leadership competency and must shape their hiring practices around it. Hiring the right people is crucial, and it is important to set the right expectations for potential hires, use behavioral-based interview questions as well as peer interviewing. Follow through is crucial, so interviews at 30, 60 and 90-day intervals will make sure expectations are being met, the job it is a good fit and they have clearly defined goals and the tools to accomplish them, Deao said.

[Also: Nearly half of nurses consider changing careers as nationwide shortage looms, RNnetwork study says]

Also, it is important to cultivate talent at all levels including high performers, middle and low performers, by having a scheduled conversation with them mid-year. Especially for low performers, this is important as the conversation can serve as a clear message to them that they need to either improve their performance or find other employment.

Figuring out what motivates your employees will help you make a personal connection with them, Deao said, and one solution to this is called "rounding for outcomes." This is a focused and intense ten-minute conversation had with each employee monthly. This session should include the questions "do you have the tools and equipment to do the job" and "what could be working better."

[Also: Cultural competency crucial to patient engagement, bridging communication gap in hospitals, expert says]

Finally, finding the right method of communication is key.

"We need to standardize the rules for people," he says. "For instance: If the person is within 10 feet of you, think about actually walking over to them! If there is more than one email volley back and forth, pick up the phone. Make these distinctions part of your written standards so people can be held accountable for doing them."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn