Trend to Watch: Boost Staff Recruitment and Retention

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Finding and keeping top talent has taken on increased importance during these challenging times.


No industry has been untouched by the Great Resignation, with organizations of all sizes and kinds struggling to retain their best employees — forget finding new talent to fill open positions. The healthcare field has been particularly hard hit with many professionals dealing with burnout and other pandemic fallout. For outpatient surgical centers which already ran lean, the overall staffing shortage and an increase in many procedures that patients put off during the height of the pandemic are creating a double whammy. The good news: There are things that can be done — as individual organizations and at the industry-wide level — to make it easier to find and keep the best talent available.

Hardest-hit positions

Nursing positions are currently the most difficult to fill, an issue that predates COVID-19 and has only gotten worse since. Specifically, directors of nursing and nurse manager positions are difficult to fill and retain, according to Andréa Venezio, CEO of Sapphire Health Group, a staff recruiting agency for ambulatory surgical professionals. She attributes the squeeze to a combination of Baby Boomer-age workers retiring and fewer people entering nursing — a trend she’s seen increasing for the past five years.

Ann Geier, MS, RN, CNOR(E), CASC, chief nursing officer at Ambulatory Healthcare Strategies, concurs. “It’s a perfect storm of the pandemic, increasing patient demand … you’ve got longtime RNs who are burned out and younger nurses who are leaving the field,” she says. But she adds that many other roles are also facing severe work shortages. “You hear most often about RNs, but surgical techs are quickly emerging as the most critical key staff in short supply.”

In addition to the nationwide staffing issues, more states are requiring (or talking about requiring) surgical techs to be certified. But many existing techs have let their old certifications expire and may not have the time or money to retest or take required additional classes to remain current in their status level.

Ms. Geier says she’s also heard horror stories of facilities taking months to hire a business office manager — a position that hadn’t previously been tough to fill. In these cases, she says, the issues are more related to the generally tight labor market. While office positions don’t require someone with the specialized skills of a nurse, the role does require someone comfortable with technology, medical terminology and coding, as well as billing and collections. And there are simply fewer of those people looking for work right now — and more companies scrambling to hire them.

Preventing burnout

Pandemic-related burnout is real and medical professionals of all kinds were among the hardest hit for obvious reasons. The stress has led many workers to reexamine their jobs and life priorities and decide that they weren’t aligned. But how can a lone outpatient surgical facility counteract such pervasive forces.

One effective but relatively simple strategy is to do things that make employees feel valued and desired, according to Ms. Venezio. Anyone who feels important and respected at their job is less likely to consider other options. “Another way to get ahead of this trend is by promoting employees to do more or learn another aspect of their job,” says Ms. Venezio. “Management is like coaching and the more a manager can make their employees feel excited to come to work, the more the mentality of their staff will improve.”

Management is like coaching and the more a manager can make their employees feel excited to come to work, the more the mentality of their staff will improve.
— Andréa Venezio

Those efforts can take many forms. Ms. Venezio emphasizes the importance of cross-training current staff or teaching them new skills, so they don’t get bored or stale in their position. Ms. Geier notes that something as seemingly simple as greeting staff every morning and engaging them on a personal level takes little effort, costs nothing and can go a long way toward making staff feel more appreciated and valued. “If employees look tired, offer to set up their OR while they grab a coffee. Ask how a sick child is feeling. Have surgeons come in to talk to the staff periodically on a more personal level. Those little things do wonders,” says Ms. Geier. She mentions one facility that even started a staff book club to foster teamwork.

There are also more practical and tangible ways you can show staff you appreciate their efforts. Ms. Geier notes that surgical centers used to be able to offer better work schedules than hospitals — no weekends or holidays, for example — but that’s not necessarily the case now. Instead, they may need to reexamine their pay structure to ensure they’re competitive — or at least as competitive as possible — with other local facilities. At a minimum, says Ms. Venezio, facilities should ensure they’re paying staff a competitive salary that is in line with what the local housing market demands.
The financial realities of many surgical centers are such that, for some, raising pay isn’t possible, but Ms. Geier says that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to demonstrate the value you place on staff and their role in the organization. One option: Take a smaller amount of money and invest it in morale-building activities. Free coffee and doughnuts every Wednesday on its own probably won’t keep an employee from leaving, but it can help create a working atmosphere where staffers are less likely to want to leave.

More importantly, Ms. Geier says managers must communicate openly and honestly with employees. “Make sure you tell your employees exactly what’s going on. Don’t try to hide anything,” she says. That communication also needs to include space for employees to offer their own insights and feedback.

“Ask employees, ‘What do you need to do your job? What’s frustrating you? What’s making you happy?’” advises Ms. Geier. Critically, it’s not enough to ask the question — managers must respond and act on that feedback. “If they say something, they expect you to do something about it. And if you don’t, you just lost all your credibility,” she continues. “It can’t just be an exercise where you cross ‘have a conversation’ off your HR checklist. You need to follow through with a response.”

Finding new talent

CONSTANT COMMUNICATION Keeping staff informed and asking for their feedback about what can be done to make their jobs easier goes a long way toward improving their workplace satisfaction.   |  Glen Cove Hospital

Even if your organization has little to no problem retaining staff, any open position is going to be difficult to fill. That’s simply the state of the labor market right now. At the facility level, there are ways to improve your odds of being the employer local nurses, surgical techs and others want to work for. First, make sure you’re on their radar. Ms. Geier suggests borrowing tactics that have worked in other industries, such as offering current employees referral bonuses for bringing in new hires, using recruitment companies or hosting networking events for local professionals so they can see your facility and get to know some of the staff in a low-pressure environment.

Other strategies for finding new hires that Ms. Geier has seen work: forming a relationship with local schools to build a pipeline of potential new hires; contacting former qualified applicants to see if they are looking for employment again; asking anesthesia providers if they know of hospital nurses or other staff who are looking for a new position; finding local and regional hospital staff who work 12-hour shifts and may want to fill some of their days off with additional shifts at your center. Ms. Geier also recommends advertising positions in new ways. She’s seen centers successfully use LinkedIn, radio ads and even their own dedicated recruitment microsites to fill positions.

When evaluating candidates, Ms. Venezio advises using the hiring process to sell the candidates on why they should want to take your position and work for your company as well as to learn more about them and how they’d fit into your organization. Interviews aren’t a one-way conversation anymore. “Also, asking more in-depth questions during the interview will allow a hiring manager to get a better understanding of their personality and how they would fit with the current staff,” she continues. Similarly, Ms. Geier recommends having potential candidates shadow your employees for a day so they can get a true sense of your facility and how your team works.

When a new hire has been found, the onboarding process can be a huge factor in their initial impression of what working at your facility will be like — and on their likelihood of staying on for a long time. “Once you’re ready to train the employee, go above and beyond the first day they start work to make them feel welcome,” says Ms. Venezio. “Introduce them to all the staff, and make sure they have a designated space for their new office or locker.”

She adds that after the first week, it’s a good idea to have a brief meeting with them to find out how they’re adjusting to the role and ask if they need anything or have questions. “This will allow them to feel at ease about asking questions, and it gives them the impression that you care and want them to succeed,” says Ms. Venezio.

Ms. Geier agrees about the importance of onboarding and adds that surgical leaders need to be more willing to include training for new hires in that process. The applicant with the exact combination of skills, experience and personality you want simply might not be out there.  “Having an orientation and training program is absolutely the key,” says Ms. Geier. “You’ve got to train the people well and customize their training to make sure they’re providing safe patient care.” You owe that to your new employees — and your patients. OSM

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