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A warm welcome and adroit coaching reduce turnover.

A warm welcome and adroit coaching reduce turnover

This second article in a four-part series on retention examines the long-lasting benefits of starting off new employees with a solid orientation program sustained by effective training.

You have done your best to hire people who are most likely to stay on the job for the long term. Now it's time to cement them into place.

One of your goals as a supervisor is to make employees so proud to work with you and so pleased with their jobs that thoughts of leaving will never enter their minds. Sound too idealistic? Maybe; but since your expectations will determine what you get, it's wise to be optimistic.

You can improve employee retention by concentrating on factors that encourage workers to remain. Financial incentives often offer "golden handcuffs," but they usually depend on the decisions of top management and may be beyond your purview. Nevertheless, a front-line supervisor controls indoctrination and coaching, both of which are just as important as material reimbursements in reducing turnover. * Sharp first impressions. Most new employees first glimpse their environments-to-be on the day of the pre-employment interview. Such impressions are often the strongest and most lasting. If interviewers keep them waiting or appear distracted and hurry through a perfunctory chat, potential candidates will form negative opinions early. These impressions tend to be carried over after the person is hired and begins work.

To start with, then, scrutinize your hiring practices. The highest turnover rates occur during the first year of employment--just when a solid indoctrination program could reduce turnover susceptibility. Common causes for turnover that could have been prevented include lack of supervisory support, inability to handle the work, and absence of a sense of belonging. An employee who is properly prepared from the onset can often avoid these problems. * The new worker arrives. If new hires know when and where to report on the first day and have studied the position description and policy manual before arriving, they'll start with confidence and enthusiasm. An advance letter of welcome or a phone call from the immediate supervisor helps put a new employee at ease.

In some organizations, orientation receives only lip service. Managers break in new hires while rushing down corridors, barking orders, and imparting bits of information along the way as the need arises, in an unorganized fashion. Even worse, the responsibility may be given to someone who lacks the time, interest, or ability to do the job right. Or it may be given to no one at all, so that the new employee is left to his or her own devices. * Drive out the welcome wagon. Most hospitals provide new employees with packets of information. Even if yours does, your department should provide its own kit. Give it a catchy title, like "Survival Kit for New Lab Employees." Include specific items you want each new worker to learn. Such a kit may contain department goals and objectives, organization charts, position descriptions, schedules, check lists, and evaluation forms for the indoctrination program and employee performance.

More important, the packet should include things trainees want to know: when and where they will be paid, how to apply for educational support, and whom to see about obtaining a parking sticker for their cars.

For most newcomers, the need to feel at ease socially is paramount. Greet new trainees like visiting friends. Introduce them to their immediate coworkers promptly. They will also want to meet other people in the organization. Rather than making such introductions at others' work stations, where they will be busy and distracted, do so in the lounge during breaks; people are more relaxed and friendly at that time.

Present newcomers at a staff meeting as you would a guest speaker. Ask them to discuss their education and work experience. Include questions about hobbies and other outside activities, which may enliven conversations about mutual interest. The resulting relationships help bond the new worker to your team.

A supervisor can make a new hire comfortable during the first few days by paying attention to details. Some gestures are as simple as taking time to say "thanks." Others can be more involved, but offer long-term rewards.

Many managers take a new employee to lunch on the first day. Whenever a newcomer is seen eating alone, at least for a while, he or she should be invited to join others.

Don't neglect new employees' fears and hopes. They may well have questions about the dangers of hepatitis and AIDS, especially if they are relatively new to the field. You can alleviate these fears by explaining the precautions you take and indicating where protective wear can be found.

Within a fairly short time of hiring, give new workers something special and specific to look forward to. They may want to participate in development projects, teach, or serve on special committees. Make it clear that you will always be willing to discuss such projects.

New employees bring valuable knowledge they have gleaned from previous jobs. Tapping into that information can be rewarding. More important, inquiries encourage them to share observations and to be innovative. If creative employees can share their knowledge, they're more likely to be satisfied in their jobs. Unfortunately, there's a steady exodus of talented people from health care centers that squelch creativity in favor of conformity. * Turnover insurance. Proper training provides the solid base necessary to retain employees. Good trainers know that employees are most receptive at the very beginning. Supervisors must therefore foster healthy attitudes while satisfying the ego needs of new hires. Within a reasonable time, employees must be able to do everything listed in their position descriptions and to meet the performance standards required of them. Anything less will make them lose heart.

Knowledgeable trainers provide experiences that allow workers to experience success early in the job. Starting with the easiest tasks, they are patient, enthusiastic, and generous with praise. This nurturing attitude inculcates a sense of self-worth, instills confidence, and promotes a positive attitude. If trainers do an effective job of training, they'll have fewer people to train in the long haul.

A word of warning: Just as with parents and children, what trainers tell new employees makes less of an impression than what they see with their own eyes. If workers are told that quality is the top priority but note shortcuts being taken to achieve greater productivity, they'll know the truth fast. Hypocritical employers soon lose credibility.

When the indoctrination program is over, consider having a modest celebration--a rite of passage. It may be the last honor the trainees get for some time. * The real work begins. Part of being an effective supervisor means understanding that today's employees want more than a job. They want meaningful work and some say in how they do it. They want to go beyond the "what, when, where, and who" of their job to the "why."

The flip side is that taking a more active role in their jobs subjects employees to additional stress. They file more complaints, grievances, and torts and are more difficult to discipline and fire. This new brand of employee wants to be led, not managed. The situation requires the supervisor to extend his or her role from manager to coach. * Coaching the team. High expectations of performance are important. Bobby Knight, Indiana University's basketball coach, is a tough disciplinarian, even an autocrat. His autocracy is apparent to the fans who pack Assembly Hall. But Knight turns out winning teams. What's more important, almost all his players stay in school and graduate.

Coaching consists of face-to-face leadership. It involves paying attention to people. Good coaches are enthusiastic leaders who push people to the limits of their capabilities but not to a level of discouragement.(1) They're great listeners. They know a good deal about the families and recreational interests of the people who report to them.

The sensitive coach knows the motivational needs of each employee and responds appropriately. For example, one worker enjoys repairing laboratory instruments, while another is in her element when demonstrating a new procedure to her peers. Understanding what motivates each employee helps a supervisor communicate effectively and efficiently.

Winning coaches are alert and proactive leaders. They anticipate problems rather than merely reacting to them. They sense when a situation may become a problem and correct it beforehand.

Let's take an example. For the first few years of her employment, Sally has been most highly motivated by performing tasks well. In recent weeks, however, she has seemed less interested in her work, wanted more time off, and asked frequently about the amount of her next pay raise. Her supervisor, with whom she has a good relationship, asks whether there is any problem and learns that Sally's son has a drug problem with legal and financial complications. Although her personal problems are serious ones, they have nothing to do with her work. By providing some counseling, the supervisor prevented Sally's work from deteriorating--and learned later that she had prevented Sally from resigning as well.

Winning coaches are out on the floor, where the action is. Athletic coaches don't manage from offices; they practice Management By Walking Around (MBWA).(1) This means being where you're needed, when you're needed--not running around looking for something to complain about. Nor does it consist of rambling around saying, "How're ya doing?" MBWA is being a facilitator, a source person, a helper, a defender, and a morale booster.

Employees will be willing to attribute all those qualities to you only after you have earned their confidence. To inspire by cheer-leading means to find more to praise than to criticize. Nitpickers end up having to pick new employees. A winning coach's attitude is demonstrated by saying, "How can I help?" That's far more constructive than pointing out, "You're doing that all wrong."

Winning coaches encourage employee problem solving. In fact, they demand it. Furthermore, they encourage their associates to participate in departmental problem solving by assigning them to committees, task forces, quality circles, and brainstorming groups.

Winning coaches delegate. They know the difference between making an assignment and making busywork. They make certain that they grant enough authority to allow workers to get their assignments done without a lot of hassle.

The best delegators are "succession planners." By preparing their employees for promotion, such supervisors increase their own promotion potential into the bargain. The process of succession planning provides incentive and self-esteem for those being groomed, who are then less inclined to leave the organization.

In dispatching duties, avoid showing favoritism. Either give all qualified persons equal opportunities or pick someone who is already informally recognized as a leader. Take care not to make promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled; if you do, your plan will backfire.

Winning coaches support and defend their staffs. One major source of frustration in the working world is to be attacked by individuals against whom one is powerless. Nurses and technologists are often subjected to unjustified verbal abuse from staff physicians. Always stick up for your team. Coaches have been known to rush out on the field to protest an umpire's call even when they know the call was correct. Such gestures of support for their team are deeply appreciated.

Winning coaches give positive strokes at appropriate times. Praise is an effective reinforcement for one who has put out an extra effort. Yet like any other reward, it loses effect when used in excess or inappropriately.

If an employee has performed beyond the call of duty, worked extra long hours, or substituted for someone else, that worker deserves praise. Employees who return to work after hours or submit a report ahead of schedule should receive recognition for their efforts. Employees who handle a ticklish situation or who suggest a feasible solution when reporting a problem also merit praise.

Another opportunity to make a sincere compliment occurs when work has been consistent and dependable even if not outstanding. Supervisors spend a lot of time with underperformers--or worrying about them. Star performers get the next most frequent amount of attention. Those who quietly pursue the work ethic tend to be taken for granted. Eventually, they may come to resent it.

One way to acknowledge the efforts of these staff members is to meet with them individually in periodic positive reinforcement meetings and to express your appreciation there.(2) All too often, the only time workers are called into the boss's office is to be called down.

When subpar performers show improvement, seize the opportunity to offer praise. Winning coaches don't wait until a player's performance has surpassed all expectations before bolstering his or her self-image. Even an innovative idea that is not particularly practical deserves an "E" for effort on the athletic sweater. Caution: Don't offer praise if it is only flattery. When praise is manipulative, unearned, or embarrassing, it is best left unsaid.

Praise need not be elaborate. Some of the most effective types consist of two or three words: "Thank you"; "Good work"; "I appreciate that." When appropriate, follow up with a thank-you note and put a copy in the employee's personnel file.

Words alone aren't always sufficient to show appreciation. In The One-Minute Manager,(3) Blanchard and Johnson suggest simple but effective modes of praise that come across as sincere. They recommend, for example, praising immediately after the act that inspired the compliment, being specific about what the person did right, and stopping for a moment of silence that enables the person to feel your approval.

Winning coaches criticize carefully. Supervisors can offer employees direction without injuring their self-esteem. Team-building managers avoid the deadly word "but" between positive and negative messages. They use a non-directive approach rather than a direct reprimand.

Let's say that you overhear a new assistant giving confusing instructions to a nurse. Instead of saying, "Never give instructions like that," try something like this: "I couldn't help overhearing what you just said. Can you suggest a way in which you could have given a clearer message?" Figure I lists some guidelines for offering constructive criticism. * Forethought. There are no quick and easy fixes to improving a comprehensive employee retention program. To retain people, it's necessary to make their jobs interesting and challenging while preserving their self-esteem and meeting their social needs.

Not every employee who feels comfortable in the workplace and who has been well trained will necessarily feel committed to remaining. Reducing turnover requires constant effort and attention to employees by active and involved supervisors.

Powerful approaches to improve retention involve reviewing and strengthening the processes of preemployment, orientation, training, and coaching. Even beyond these, fighting turnover does not end once the new employee is settled. The team must then operate as a cohesive and efficient unit. The third article in this series, to appear in next month's issue, will address the impact of team building. [Figure 1 omitted] (1)Peters, T., and Austin, N. "A Passion for Excellence." New York, Random House, 1985. (2)Umiker, W. How to use the positive reinforcing meeting. MLO 19(5): 45-46, May 1987. (3)Blanchard, K., and Johnson, S. "The One-Minute Manager." New York, Berkley, 1982.
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Title Annotation:part 2 of series on retention of employees
Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Previous Article:Volunteers: an overlooked resource.
Next Article:Tapping into an electronic bulletin board.

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