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You can learn a lot from your new employees.

Most of us know the merit of exit interviews: Departing employees can provide valuable information on ways to improve laboratory performance and heighten morale. We tend, however, to overlook what we can learn at the other end of the spectrum, from incoming employees.

Newcomers to the staff-whether experienced technologists, managers, or secretaries-are often able to tell us how others do things better. An extreme example of this type of intelligence gathering is the debriefing of a defecting spy.

Joyce, who came over from a highly computerized laboratory, may tell you much more about that lab than a visit would reveal. Jack, who left one of your competitors in a dispute over management's ethics, can explain why they get most of the area's outpatient work. In yet another instance, you may put in a stop order for that new analyzer after Edith relates the problems she and her ex-associates had with the instrument.

"All right," you' say, "but most new staff members come right out of training and still don't know which end is up." Are you sure about that? Didn't they pick up some practical pointers where they were trained? Even if they haven't much to share, you need to, know what knowledge and skills they possess. Otherwise, you will waste time on unnecessary training.

Stress upward communication from the outset. All the rhetoric about an open-door policy and participative management is hogwash unless accompanied by deeds. Sitting down with new employees and listening respectfully to their opinions provide a good start. Attentiveness must continue as you practice management by walking around. The goal is to convince employees that their input is wanted.

It's best to instill a positive attitude during the indoctrination phase, when employees are most receptive. If you tie new staff members into your formal communication system, they won't drift to the grapevine. One technologist I know joined the ranks of the water-fountain complainers because his supervisor was too. busy to listen to him.

Not paying attention to employees is bad enough; squelching ideas is worse. Creativity and innovativeness are fragile gifts, easily crushed by efforts to promote conformity. If you want to destroy creativity and block communication, just try saying, "You'll get along better doing things our way" or "She's been here for a big three weeks, and she's already telling us how to do things."

Expressing appreciation for opinions, refraining from criticism or ridicule, implementing suggestions, and publicly giving credit for ideas are essential for nurturing creative talents. When feedback is encouraged, new employees will perceive such communication as the behavioral norm for their work group.

Thus Janice felt comfortable speaking up soon after starting on the night shift. She pointed out that a number of practices and priorities were different from those she had been taught when working on the day shift. The night supervisor thanked her and arranged an orientation phase for future new employees on the shift.

The newly hired can see shortcomings old hands miss. Some managers want to hear only good things about their departments, but effective leaders want to learn ways to improve operations. Trainees can furnish an earful.

For example, Edwin suggested that some complaints about late delivery of test results could be eliminated by letting technologists other than supervisors sign out laboratory reports. He had noted piles of lab slips accumulating on supervisors' desks when they attended meetings or after they had left for the day.

Alice reports that her trainer tells her one thing while an outspoken technologist offers contradictory advice. Ann, the laboratory manager, never realized how stressful some physician and nurse callers could be until Judy, recently appointed to her staff, came into her office in tears. Other technologists in the lab had become immune to the angry calls.

New employees can verify information gleaned from the exit interviews of others. Before leaving the post of quality control coordinator, Jack had reported a lack of cooperation by one supervisor. Bill, his successor, similarly noted that person's negative attitude.

To gather as much information as possible from a new employee, follow this three-tiered approach:

* The debriefing interview. After thoroughly reviewing the newcomer's educational and occupational history, the section's senior members and the immediate supervisor should meet with him or her to discuss past work experiences. Don't put the employee on the spot by soliciting criticism of the laboratory at this time.

* The critique. The best time to solicit a critique is at the end of the indoctrination period, when most managers tend to chat with their new staff members. Traditionally, employees are congratulated and wished well, but more time could be blocked out for their suggestions. One-on-one meetings are recommended, not with the employee's immediate supervisor but with that supervisor's boss.

Among the topics appropriate to discuss at that time are position descriptions, policies, procedures, schedules, working conditions, and lab instruments. Probe carefully concerning the employee's impressions of his or her supervisors and personal relationships on the staff.

On the one hand, these workers may be reluctant to voice criticism for fear of getting off to a bad start. On the other hand, they'll be more willing to point out deficiencies now than later, after becoming 'assimilated into their work groups. This input must not place new employees at any risk; reassure them on that point. 9 Daily contacts. Positive reinforcement is achieved only if management shows continued interest in employees' opinions. Occasionally, supervisors should go out of their way to obtain them. Although most interchange

s lace at the workbench staff meetings also provide excellent opportunities to encourage upward communication. In too many labs, these meetings serve only for dispensing information.

Appointing new employees to committees and task forces expands the channels of communication. Brainstorming sessions stimulate creativity.

Step back and take a look at how well you are helping new staff members to become acclimated. When they volunteer suggestions at the bench, come to your office with ideas, and speak up enthusiastically at meetings, you'll know you have succeeded. n
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:997
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