Healthcare Employee Retention: 3 Listening Strategies to Adopt Today
By Lauren Beechly, PhD - November 29, 2021
Healthcare employee retention trends have received plenty of coverage over the past year (and we’ve addressed some of those trends on this blog). In a poll performed by data intelligence firm Morning Consult, 18% of healthcare workers said that they quit their jobs since mid-February 2020. Of those that had kept their jobs, 19% had considered leaving since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' national job report further highlights the extent of retention concerns, reporting 534,000 healthcare workers quit their job in August 2021 alone, which is 100,000 more than one year prior.
To understand the decisions behind the statistics, we need to listen to the personal stories of healthcare workers who’ve chosen to leave. I spoke with one nurse who recently decided to leave her position at a hospital in St. Louis.
“My employer took many of the right steps,” she said. “But they didn’t take feedback seriously. Eventually, I felt like I couldn’t give them honest answers.”
Sarah’s experience certainly isn’t unique, and her employer’s listening strategy may carry an extremely high cost. Turnover is expensive in any industry, but in healthcare, it’s a particularly significant concern: According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the cost of replacing a registered nurse averages $36,567. The American Medical Association reports that replacing a physician can cost between $500,000 and $1 million.
Creating a Listening Strategy for Healthcare Employee Retention
By embracing a comprehensive employee listening strategy that combines the right listening methodologies for your organization, such as census surveys, exit surveys, and other methodologies, healthcare facilities can find creative solutions – and remove many of the barriers that limit employee engagement and retention today. Below are three ways you can enhance your healthcare organization’s retention strategies through improved listening.
1. Use exit surveys, but consider them within context.
Exit surveys can gather important data about why employees leave their jobs, but in order to analyze this data appropriately, employers need to connect the dots between exit surveys and other listening channels.
By nature, exit surveys are brief; they’re not intended to change the employee’s decision, but to gather information about the drivers of attrition. Ideally, exit surveys should also include qualitative items asking employees for feedback about what the employer could have done differently. However, even when employees provide detailed feedback, exit surveys have limited utility without context.
When perceptions at the time of attrition are connected with employees’ perceptions gathered earlier in their employment journey through other listening methods (such as census surveys or pulse surveys), insights emerge about how employees’ intentions changed over time and how their experiences differed from employees who remain: How did the employee feel after onboarding? How did they feel six months before they decided to leave? By answering these questions through relational analytics, leaders can identify more actionable insights.
For example, a recent study compared how the employee experience differed between healthcare employees within a critical role who had left and who remained with an organization. By linking exit survey data with employee perceptions captured one year prior from a broader employee experience survey, the organization identified stark differences in experiences. Those who left experienced greater barriers to performing their jobs effectively (i.e., lack of training and cross-team cooperation), greater work-life imbalance, and felt their ideas were not valued. These insights provided leaders with data, highlighting where to focus action to reduce future regrettable attrition.
2. Focus on the factors within your organization’s control.
Building a hospital staff retention plan isn’t easy within our current climate. Some drivers of attrition cannot be easily addressed by improving processes or increasing salaries. In the COVID-19 era, burnout is an especially significant concern – and with widespread labor shortages and unprecedented workloads, some amount of burnout is practically inescapable.
In a recent Perceptyx study, we looked at healthcare employee survey responses from mid-2020 and compared them to recent responses. “Intent to stay,” unsurprisingly, was the most significant predictor of whether or not an employee stayed, but burnout perceptions were similarly predictive with employees who left being two times more likely to report high burnout than those who stayed. Further analysis revealed workload was the top contributor to burnout, but it was not the only factor. Burnout was also caused by lack of appreciation for hard work and lack of listening to – and acting on – employees’ ideas. These data revealed factors within the health system’s control – better valuing employees’ ideas and contributions, along with improved workload – to reduce burnout and improve retention.
Most organizations have limited control over the demands on healthcare workers. However, they can offer support and facilitate resilience through evidenced-based interventions. I’ve detailed a few key considerations here.
3. Demonstrate willingness to change and improve.
In my conversation with the nurse, she described feeling uncomfortable when providing her employer with feedback.
“Nothing would change,” she replied. “I’ve seen other coworkers discuss issues with management – they had great ideas for improvement, but nothing happened.”
Unfortunately, this experience is not isolated to a single nurse, but rather psychological safety remains an important predictor of healthcare turnover rates. In fact, a study of Perceptyx’s Healthcare Benchmark Database including more than 1.36 million healthcare employees across 1,600 facilities reveals actively listening and acting on employee feedback is critical to retain, and engage, talent. In a psychologically safe work environment, workers can openly voice their opinions, identify their mistakes, and ask for feedback without fear of negative consequences. It’s a key component of organizational resilience.
Employees must also feel that their feedback will generate actual change. To that end, employers should build an inclusive environment in which employees feel comfortable speaking up – and just as importantly, employees need to feel that their voices are being heard.
Transform feedback into actions that improve healthcare employee retention.
Employees want to help their organizations build better workplaces with high levels of engagement, and they have excellent suggestions for doing so. To understand how to retain your healthcare employees, you need to first ask for their input – and follow through with action.
Perceptyx helps healthcare organizations create listening programs that facilitate retention and engagement. From crowdsourcing insights to developing always-on listening models, we provide organizations with crucial resources for limiting turnover and attrition. To learn more, schedule a demo today.