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Satisfaction surveys improved our employee retention.

We didn't realize how much we neede to improve employee satisfaction and retention until about four years ago, when our turnover exceeded 30%. The time had come to seek a solution.

* Help wanted. We had been finding it increasingly difficult to fill vacancies. Although we tried to address staff complaints, the rising turnover rate indicated we were not succeeding. Close monitoring of more than 140 FTEs was close to impossible. Although exit interviews helped identify problems, we wanted to reach our employees before they resigned.

The loboratory's administrative director pointed out that the best way to learn how employees felt was to ask them. A satisfaction survey was the natural choice. I was asked to design it.

I framed questions that would encourage the staff to describe problems and suggest solutions. Distributing the surveys one month after each employee's annual evaluation would, I hoped, enhance candor. The procedure has worked well for us ever since.

* Composition. Our survey (Figure I), which has undergone revisions under the guidance of a committee of five section chiefs, asks employees to share their opinions about employee services, the department in general, and their section supervisors in particular. Ample space for additional comments is provided.

Employees are asked what factors contribute most to stress, whether they consider our facility's salaries competitive, what they like most and least about their jobs, and whether they would recommend our facility as a good place to work.

Understandably, some employees were reluctant to respond frankly at first. Many never returned their questionnaires. We would have liked to assume that no news was good news, but knew we mustn't take the easy way out. We needed it in writing.

* Fact to face. I decided to hold individual meetings to discuss employees' responses. This procedure would help urge employees to complete the survey and to share their problems firsthand, perhaps to a greater degree than they were willing to put on paper.

This tactic worked so well that we now enter the date and time of the follow-up meeting on the first page each survey. At these meetings, we discuss the individual's feelings about his or her supervisor, department, and the laboratory and how management might relieve certain strains. Some meetings last only 10 minutes; others take an hour. I usually set aside two days each month for these meetings alone.

The investment of time has paid off; our turnover rate dropped from 30% to 20% in a year and a half. That 10% represented most of those who might have left simply because they were disgruntled. Most of those who resign now leave not to escape the lab but to spend more time with their children or to take positions that will not require them to work on weekends or holidays.

Not surprisingly, most complaints involve overtime, workload, and inconsistent treatment of staff. Even when it isn't possible for us to accommodate every request, employees feel better after venting their frustrations to a sympathetic ear.

Every six months, I summarize each section's survey results. I present the summaries to the administrative director, the lab director, and the medical director of each section for review. I then meet with the section supervisor, who tries to solve as many of the problems cited as possible.

Employees' initial reluctance has evolved into full compliance. They understand that any negative comments will not lead to repercusisions. Best of all, they enjoy seeing their problems resolved and suggestions taken. For example, we recently added a section supervisor in the emergency department lab after several employees said one was needed. Staff members don't always wait for their survey forms to bring problems to my attention; they feel comfortable stopping by.

* Evaluating pathologists. Over time, we have made some adjustments. This year, for example, we began distributing semiannual satisfaction surveys regarding the seven pathologists on staff. These surveys go to the supervisory staff and six to eight employees randomly selected to comment on the pathologist in their department.

I subsequently meet with respondents individually to discuss how well their pathologists function as medical directors of the section. Respondents who work in pathology and cytology, rotating and working with all seven, complete a survey on all the pathologists. Every six months I send summaries to the lab director, who discusses the results with the pathologists. As a result of the survey, pathologists have developed a more positive attitude toward the staff.

* Sweet success. Our annual survey has not only helped us to identify and resolve problems but also improved the relationship between staff and management. Employees have come to feel confident that we care about their needs and that we will make every effort to satisfy them. A lower turnover rate amply compensates us for the time and effort we expend on distributing and reviewing the questionnaires.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Westfall, Jo
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:May 1, 1991
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