Being successful in healthcare recruiting has always taken special individuals—those able to cope with constant change and challenge. Hard to believe, but these economic times are making things both more difficult and not as difficult. On one hand, we are keenly aware that 4.1 million jobs have been lost, and on the other, that 360,000 have been created in healthcare. Entry-level jobs that went unfilled for months now have many overqualified applicants, but many categories of hard-to-fill skilled positions remain open.
So do we have a problem with lost jobs or gained jobs? Predictions call for the unemployment rate to rise to 9.1 percent by the end of 2009, but unemployment in healthcare is only 3.2 percent nationwide. Morgantown, West Virginia, recently gained notoriety when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that it had the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.7 percent. As CNN, ABC and NBC television crews swarmed the city, they repeatedly reported that the low rate was, in large part, because of Morgantown’s economic dependence on healthcare.
Do we make applying more difficult or less difficult? Do we answer every application or only those in which we are interested? Do we jump across the desk for a pharmacist candidate but hide from the entry-level job seeker? It is important to remember how people—all kinds of applicants—feel during these tumultuous economic times. Of course you continue to make it easy to apply and you respect every candidate.
People are fearful—those with jobs and especially those without. People worry about losing their health insurance and their retirement, their savings and their dignity. And, most of all, they need communication to manage those fears.
When Kathleen Clutcher, a Nurse Recruiter at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania, asked about effective retention programs, I realized how much things have changed in light of these schizophrenic times. We need strong retention programs now more than ever.
People have long memories when they feel desperate. Talented nurses know they are in demand, but they may well have a spouse or partner who is out of work. A pharmacist can get a six-figure job in a single day, but they still worry about their retirement and their schedule. And the entry-level employee in a healthcare delivery system may be the only reason a family is covered by health insurance. Nobody wants to be looking for a job in these times unless circumstances force them.
Uncertainty is the only certain thing we have. Don’t question whether or not you need to keep people on the job, happy and productive. This economy will turn around and probably with the same vengeance that drove it down. So you absolutely need a good retention plan and the best ones involve communication.
When people don’t know what lies ahead of them, they most often fill the void with imagined facts that are far worse than reality. Then perception becomes reality. When individuals don’t feel part of the team, they begin to work in the other direction. Mentally they focus on blaming the employer as opposed to feeling lucky to have the employer. Employees will hold on until the economy turns around and then they leave, unless they can do it sooner. Regardless, they leave.
My answer to Kathleen is to overcommunicate. It doesn’t take a big budget and it works.
Front-line managers continue to be the most important element in retention and they are the ones most responsible for communication. They can make people feel included or left out. They can make them feel insecure and they can drive even the best employees out the door. Managers will be the difference now and in the future.
It should be the responsibility of Human Resources to provide the tools for the managers to communicate effectively. In addition, it is important for Senior Management to realize the need to communicate to everyone, and it can come in many forms—from town-hall meetings to e-mail and instant messaging. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
There are four kinds of front-line managers—the Victim, the Critic, the Observer and the Facilitator/Advocate. If possible, your retention program should drive the first three types of managers into becoming Facilitators and Advocates. While managers will maintain their base personalities, you can help them see the importance of team building, inclusion and, of course, communication.
As a person responsible for retention, keep in mind the characteristics of the four types. When I want to identify someone’s leadership type, I try to imagine what they might say if they need to deliver a message of change to their team. Here are my cheat phrases:
- The Victim—“Can you believe they are doing this to us?”
- The Critic—“This never worked before, why would it work now?”
- The Observer—“If I ignore this, it will go away.”
- The Facilitator/Advocate—“This change is an opportunity to do things better.”
After I use the phrase, I can almost see the Critic folding her arms across her chest or the Victim emphasizing the word “us” so he doesn’t have to take a leadership role. And, of course, I envision the Observer hiding in her office, avoiding all people and communication.
The Facilitator/Advocate is the bright spot, building her team, listening to her direct reports, keeping them informed of the good and the bad, and making people feel secure in an insecure world. Her employees will be productive in this down economy and they will continue to be productive and on the job when their options are much greater.
If you have a question related to healthcare recruiting you’d like me to answer on a future blog, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org