Retention on the set of Grey’s Anatomy


Well, hopefully we’ve all recovered from the sobfest that was the Grey’s Anatomy season finale that aired last week. If you haven’t seen it, grab a box of tissues and prepare to bawl your eyes out… don’t read past this sentence because I’ll spoil the ending for you.


For those of you who aren’t avid fans, Grey’s Anatomy is a dramatic television show set in Seattle Grace Hospital with a plot revolving around several young residents, doctors and their patients. George, played by T.R. Knight, and Izzy, played by Katherine Heigl, are two of the young residents who are members of the original cast. In the last few moments of this season’s finale, both George and Izzy’s lives hang in the balance while their friends/co-workers desperately work to try and save them. So, why such a dramatic, tear-jerking end to the season? Rumors have been swirling that both Heigl and Knight wanted off the show. I can’t help but wonder if the scripted ending is purely coincidence. These rumors have yet to be confirmed and it’s possible that in true soap opera fashion, both George and Izzy pull through or… they both die. As viewers, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next season.

Assuming the rumors of Heigl and Knight’s impending departure are true, this would indicate that the show is suffering from a retention problem. Admittedly, I know nothing of retaining highly-paid celebrities in Hollywood. However, I diagnose retention issues and provide retention solutions for enterprise organizations every day. What follows is my advice to ABC and other companies on how to retain top-talent.


Katherine Heigl made her debut on the Highest-Paid Actresses List last year. She earns $13 million for her role on Grey’s Anatomy, making her the highest-paid TV actress. She’s even won an Emmy for her work on the show. It’s clear that she is a crucial team member, a key player, a star. And based on her salary, we can see that she is fairly compensated and recognized for her efforts. So why do employees who are making the big bucks and who are highly appreciated leave their employers? There are a host of reasons! But I personally believe Heigl feels she’s outgrown television is ready to make more appearances on the silver screen. She’ll have more opportunities to enhance her career with more prestigious roles.


Employees will simply jump ship if they feel an offer from a competitor is a better career opportunity. When employees feel they have limited advancement opportunities with their current employer, they often perceive a competitor’s job opening as a better opportunity. To reduce the likelihood of staff members seeking alternate employment, retention efforts should not solely focus on retaining employees in their current roles. Companies should strive to cultivate an environment in which employees want to not only extend their tenure in their current position, but grow and advance their careers within their current organization as well. Consider your top employees as free agents, not fixed assets. Meet with them individually to help them map their career paths within your organization. Create training programs and courses to enhance employees’ skills needed for their current role. It’s also important to offer additional training courses to assist employees in gaining the skills needed for a promotion or for moving from one department to another. When companies invest in their employees and give them the opportunity to acquire new skills, employees’ enjoy increased job satisfaction and are more likely to extend their tenure.


T. R. Knight has reportedly been unhappy with many aspects of his employment, including his reduction in screen time on the show. It’s true. George has been noticeably absent this season even despite his (stellar, in my opinion) performance last year. Who can deny that it was riveting to watch his marriage fall apart? (Am I a terrible person for saying that?) Perhaps Knight feels he isn’t getting quite the recognition that he deserves. Knight just may be shopping around for other roles that will allow him to hog the spotlight, sparkle and shine.


Employees want to be recognized and thanked for their efforts. A verbal or written thank-you goes a long way! There are a million ways to recognize your staff. One proven solution is the implementation of a Recognition Awards Program. This will serve as a platform to show appreciation for employees who go above and beyond their normal call of duty. The program must contain the following three components: fairness, high visibility and consistency. Offer rewards that will actually motivate your employees. Keep in mind that every employee may not be motivated by the same thing. One employee may be elated to receive a gift card for an upscale steak house. But, that same gift card will not be highly-prized by an employee who is a devout vegetarian. A perfect example of a finely tuned recognition program is TMP Rewards. The program allows for TMP employees to award their co-workers points, called Peer Reward Points, for a job well done. The points may be redeemed for almost any kind of merchandise imaginable… fine china, outdoor furniture, DVDs, jewelry etc. But at the end of the day, employees feel valued and appreciated just by receiving Peer Reward Points.


I’m unsure if ABC will be able to retain Knight and Heigl. Would it be too much for ABC to write George in the script more? Maybe, I don’t know. But if they honor his request, he’s more likely to stick around next season. If Heigl is determined to appear in more movies, perhaps ABC could offer her a part-time role. She’d have more time to film movies but would also have guaranteed work and income from ABC. She might be thrilled with that option. I feel ABC’s best retention tactic is to meet with them individually and pinpoint the factors that are making each of the actors unhappy. It’s vital that companies listen to their employees. How will you know if your employees are happy and engaged if you don’t take the time to ask? Find out what each staff member likes best about their job, what they’d like to change and how they are feeling about the organization they work for. Try to meet each employee’s needs individually. Even if you can’t, they’ll feel more fulfilled just having that conversation with their manager.

Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

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