Thursday, October 9, 2008

Staff retention

Health providers in Australia and New Zealand, along with health providers in every developed and developing nation, are facing the impending impact of labour shortages. News media worldwide carries stories daily of the shortage of qualified medical staff at every level. Baby boomer, leaving aside current financial blues, are leaving the workplace to retire or work part time and that trend will continue to many, many years.

The healthcare sector embraces the extremes of earning capacities from highly paid specialists at one end of the scale to personal care attendents in aged care at the other end of the scale; in the middle are corps of nurses and medical staff. The majority of those employed in the health sector earn an average salary, the same as other people do in other industry sectors.

For the past five years Western Australia has dragged people away from other states to feed the mining sectors insatiable need for staff. There is no end in sight to that trend. The Western Australian situation does provide an insight into the problems a nationwide labour shortage may create.

The reality is that no single organisation, or industry sector, can prevent a shortage of labour. The shortage is being driven by shifting demographics as 20-30% of the population moves into retirement age. Health providers cannot afford the luxury of focussing on how they attract people to work for them; they must, instead, focus on how to prevent people leaving their organisations. If there was ever a time to be recognised as an employer of choice then that time is now.

The best people are attracted to the best employers. It doesn't take a Government funded research project to understand that. Good people do not tolerate mediocrity for long and when the shortage of labour drives up the price of labour; they dont tolerate mediocrity at all. Many, many employers will discover this for themselves over the next decade or two.

There is a number of things a health provider can do to improve its staff retention rate. Firstly, choose the right people to be managers and provide them with an appropriate level of professional development, coaching and mentoring. Secondly choose the right people full stop. Regardless of who you are hiring, hire them for their competencies and their demonstrated ability to do the required job, not for their technical knowledge or diplomas.

The younger generation of workers bring a far greater level of diversity to any organisation than at any time in the past. As much as you spend time and money on cultural diversity, spend more money on learning about and understanding how generational diversity can work effectively together.

A labour shortage will reverse one of the more insidious trends of the past two decades; that being to condemn mature workers to the scrap heap. It is possible employers will come to realise the inherent benefits in retaining knowledge and passing that knowledge on by mixing the old with the young. Mature workers, like younger generations, have their own needs and wants. As an employer you will need to retain mature workers for as long as possible - and you compete with their desire to spend the kids inheritance.

There is more, much more. Learn about various employer of choice programs and awards and put yourself on display. Even if you dont win you will serve notice to your employees that you wish them to remain on board.

Whatever you do, the solution does not rest with increased remuneration. You will never be able to compete with those driven only by the need for more money. Don't waste time on them, instead focus on the majority of your employees who simply want you to operate in a sustainable manner for the long term, be paid a level of salary that doesnt create stress, be treated with dignity and respect and be valued for their contribution - regardless of their age or position.

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