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Retention strategies: keeping good employees.

Some good employees leave the laboratory for reasons beyond management's control--pregnancy or a family relocation, perhaps. Other good employees leave for the wrong reasons. Their depatures are preventable.

In a follow-up study of employees who voluntarily left a cross-section of laboratories, I learned that the recorded explanation they gave for quitting was often not the real stimulus. "Personal reasons," "a desire for advancement," and "greater opportunity elsewhere" masked a single problem: job dissatisfaction. This underlying dissatisfaction usually stems from three sources:

* Alleged mistreatment. The employee feels unfairly treated in terms of compensation, recognition, or workload. For example, Karen was an outstanding clerical worker, highly conscientious with almost boundless energy. But she received the same automatic salary increases as far less productive co-workers.

And Jayne, a hard working and efficient technologist, generally got loaded down with a disproportionate share of the workload. Despite her extra efforts, she received no special recognition. On the contrary, her supervisor was displeased on the infrequent occasions when Jayne fell back to an ordinary level of productivity.

* Conflict. An employee will feel troubled by a recurrent and unresolved conflict with peers, a supervisor, or others in the laboratory. In time, the employee's tolerance tends to diminish. What used to be mildly irritating has a deeper effect.

Take John, happy in his job for more than a decade until his long-time friends all left the laboratory. Much younger and less experienced technologists joined the staff, and John doesn't feel he has much in common with them. He frequently argues with the newcomers because they don't seem to be well motivated or conscientious. The situation is so upsetting that John is actively looking for another position.

Then there's Richard, a highly valued technologist who quit his job in a busy hospital laboratory. He liked both his work and his co-workers but was at war with the hospital staff for quite some time. He felt the house staff was too demanding, unappreciative, and inconsiderate. After several years of constant bickering and occasional shouting matches, he reached the end of his patience.

* Fantasies of a job change. Those who want to flee frustrating work situations and those who are plain bored both fall victim to the grass-is-greener syndrome. Unfortunately, the escape is usually temporary, and the green grass turns out to be full of weeds. Even laboratory personnel who change jobs successfully soon learn that each new job makes new demands and has its own frustrations.

Several strategies will help a supervisor hold on to valued employees. The most important is to do everything in one's control to create a healthy work environment. The supervisor must demonstrate to all employees that he or she is agreeable and cooperative, trusting, considerate, fair, open and genuine, flexible, tolerant, and understanding. Employees should feel cared about and respected.

That may sound like specifications for sainthood, but the supervisor does not have to be such a paragon of virtue all of the time. It's enough to be guided by the principle that behavior toward employees counts heavily with them. The more positive the supervisor's actions, the more they will have to think about when considering a job change.

A second important retention strategy is to set up an early warning system that detects the onset of motivational problems through employee behavioral changes. I call these predictable behavioral swings the woes--winding down, withdrawing, wandering, wailing, warring, and worrying.

Winding down is manifested by a loss of initiative and avoidance of initiative. Withdrawal goes further: Staff members behave like spectators. Instead of being personally involved with their jobs, they become disintereted onlookers and different performers.

The wanderer is suddenly, mystifying attracted to anything but the job. Work used to be the primary interest in this individual's life; now it's a weak secondary interest.

Wailing can be one of the most annoying behavioral changes. Employees become chronic complainers. Many of the inequities they cite are petty of imagined.

Warring is evinced by a general lack of cooperation. It also may take the form of agitation against supervisors or co-workers.

Worrying is related to persistent feelings of insecurity and neglect. Employees fret about their present situation and view their future as grim.

Whenever you suspect a case of the woes, you should meet with the employees as fast as possible. Try to help crystallize a realization that the exhibited behavior is characteristic of someone dissastisfied with a work situation. Then be prepared to listen and assist in problem solving. Selection of remedies will depend on the employee's specific unsatisfied needs. For example:

A technologist may be winding down because of frustration or dissappointment with the job. You could revitalize the technologist by providing new responsibilites or opportunities to enjoy a sense of achievement.

A case of withdrawal might follow feelings of neglect or alienation. Showing warmth, consideration, and genuine interest can create a needed sense of "psychological closeness." Also, you could enlist others in the work group to be more friendly and cooperative with their withdrawn colleague. Most of us are social beings and generally want to form good interpersonal relationships.

Wandering may reflect a desire to get away from a job that seems boring. Consider how to add variety to the work and provide a change of pace.

An employee who wails is very likely to feel unappreciated. Search for ways to accord deserved recognition.

Employees might be warring because they feel mistreated. By talking to them openly, you can bring their strong, negative feelings to the surface. Once those feelings are out in the open, you have a much better chance of nurturing efforts toward a change in attitude.

Finally, worry may arise from a feeling of being intimidated and, perhaps, a belief that one has lost status in the laboratory. The prescription here: Offer needed support and encouragement.

A third effective retention strategy is to meet with individual staff members periodically and help them evaluate their current job. This serves a dual purpose. Employees get a chance to air their grievances and are also stimulated to assess their jobs realistically. Here's how to structure the discussion:

1. Are you as satisfied with your job now as when you joined the laboratory? To what extent have your expectations been realized? In what ways have you been disappointed? Which promises were fulfilled? Which weren't?

2. Are you satisfied with your professional growth? Has your salary progressed adequately? Has your responsibility increased?

3. Are you prepared or getting ready for promotion? Do you receive adequate training and development, both formal and informal, on the job?

4. If you perform well, what career opportunities will be open to you? Do you anticipate few or many opportunities in the future? How strong do you think the competition is for future openings? Are many qualified people available? How would you rank among the candidates considered for promotion?

5. How much freedom of action and job discretion do you have? Can you make many of your own decisions? Are you free to do things your own way? Have you been encouraged to employ initiative?

6. How would you characterize your relationship with your supervisor? Is the supervisor a supporter or detractor? Does he or she respect you? Want you to be successful?

7. What is the reputation and influence of your supervisor and your department? Do they have a high visibility within the overall organization?

8. What is your image within the laboratory? Is it favorable or unfavorable? Is it stereotyped?

9. How much good will, bad will, or both, have you accumulated? Who are your friends? Your enemies?

10. What advantages, if any, might a job change offer? What would you gain? What would you lose?

It's costly and disruptive to lose valuable employees. So it makes good sense to appreciate that there are some things you can do to keep them on board. You won't be able to salvage everyone, but the time you invest in trying will be worthwhile even if only one employee forgoes a planned job change.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1984
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